Providing Background Information When Teaching Literature
Aug 18, 2013 Reading 2037 Views
With so many states adopting the Common Core and trying to increase the rigor of the reading that is required of students, teachers are faced with a "common core" problem. Many students, whether they are in a rural or urban area, have limited experiences outside of their immediate neighborhoods. The increased rigor of texts means that teachers will either adopt a "sink or swim" model or will increase the level of background information for the students. It is becoming essential for teachers to strike a balance between giving all of the background information and letting students "discover" it of their own accord.
One of the main issues teachers have with the "sink or swim" method is the great possibility students will complete a required reading and activities to go along with that reading and essentially take nothing from it because "something" was missing. The "something" that is often missing is the background information. This doesn't refer to just a little piece of information about the subject, character, or even the author. It refers to several key elements that create a greater understanding of the text for the student.
One of the first key elements teachers should address when introducing a new text is challenging vocabulary. This is vocabulary that may or may not be understood through context clues but is more than likely out of the realm of the students' everyday vocabulary and/or past experiences. By introducing vocabulary and reinforcing it daily, students not only learn the new words, but those words also become part of the students' vocabulary. Here are a few ideas to introduce and reinforce vocabulary.
• Have definitions of new words posted throughout the classroom. As students enter, randomly hand out the words that go with the definitions. Take a few moments at the beginning of class to see if students can guess which word goes with which definition. Go over the correct answers. Do this each day while working on a new text.
• Encourage students to use their new vocabulary words in their writing and speaking. Some teachers may even require students to use the words in the context of their essays and other written work within their unit of study.
• Use pictures to help introduce vocabulary. Use a digital presentation or even just pictures posted around the room. This will help visual learners a great deal.
• Use word walls. As new vocabulary is introduced, post the words and definitions in a special location in the room for students to reference throughout the unit or even throughout the year.
• Use graphic organizers instead of just definitions written out on paper. Have students define the word, use it in a sentence, draw a pictorial representation, and list synonyms and antonyms of the word in a Frayer model, bubble map, or some other creative organizer.
Another key element when teaching new text is to address student connections. It is not always for students to make connections to a text, and sometimes the teacher will have to help students make those connections.
Students can try to connect with texts on several levels. First, students may have a person connection or what we call a text-to-self connection. It could be with a character, a place, or an event in the text. Students may make a connection to world events. This is commonly referred to as a text-to world connection. Students may also make a connection to another text or film. These are called text-to-text connections. Sometimes, students may not be able to make a connection at first, and it may take time and further reading in the text. They may connect with feelings a character may have and that be the limit of the connection. Any connection can be a positive way to further the student's understanding of the text.
Providing background information such as historical information about the setting (if applicable) or about concepts or genres can also help student understanding of text. However, teachers do not have time to spend several class periods developing these connections for students. Teachers need to work to streamline the process of developing student understanding through vocabulary and background teaching keeping in mind that the goal is deeper understanding of the text.