Informational Texts -- Just a Click Away

September 15, 2014
CATEGORIES In the Classroom, Tools, Technology Integration

With the switch to Common Core and its increased emphasis on informational texts, many elementary school teachers have found themselves having to seek out more nonfiction resources. Common Core reading standards require that students use a variety of skills to analyze, discuss, and write about informational texts, such as using text features and search tools to locate information, using details and examples from a text in answering questions, and comparing two texts on the same topic. This reading and analysis should be practiced in both print and electronic environments. In fact, hyperlinks, digital sources, and Web pages are specifically mentioned.

Luckily, a quick search of the Web will reveal that many sites featuring non-fiction text articles are appropriate for intermediate grade levels. Some of these sites also allow for sharing and commenting. These are some of my personal favorites:

This website supported by Thinkfinity and the Verizon Foundation features well-researched, high-quality, non-fiction articles on a variety of topics. Articles run the gamut from “What Is a Civil Right?” to “Why Do You Get Lint in Your Belly Button?” The “wonders,” as the articles are called, can be browsed or searched. There's a Common Core State Standard search feature, but I found this search to be very imprecise. Most articles include video and a few links to related audio files. Every article has read-to capability to support students. New vocabulary is highlighted for each article in the Wonder Words section, and students can even complete a word-matching exercise with the new words. Students may vote on and suggest future article topics. The site’s editors and contributors are very responsive to kids’ posted comments and user emails.

This site is a great source for hundreds of kid-friendly current event articles. Though the articles on this site are chosen from submissions, I feel the editor does a great job of selecting the featured articles. You can browse articles by topic and search by keyword. Recent articles include a story about the meaning of Memorial Day, an account of the unearthing of a Titanosaur skeleton, and a piece about Malavath Poorna, the youngest female to climb Everest. Every article includes images, and some include graphs, maps (courtesy of Google maps), and videos. (Many of these are embedded YouTube videos. If your school district blocks YouTube, your students won't be able to access these on the school’s network.)

Each article has Common Core lesson plan suggestions for grades K-8, a vocabulary word list (which links to definitions), and comprehension questions. When pertinent, articles link to National Academy of Science Standards or National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies. Students can share and comment on articles of interest. DOGOnews also provides a place for kids to comment on books and movies and watch movie trailers. A special feature allows teachers to create a class and assign readings. This site just keeps getting better and better. In the few short months I've been using DOGOnews, they've made the articles more teacher-friendly and have added features that make better use of the medium.

TT Junior 
The younger sibling of Teen and Tween Tribune, TT Junior is perfect for elementary students, K-4. Like its sister sites, it features news articles for students. These articles are selected from news sources by professional journalists. Many of the articles are illustrated with AP photos, and some feature Ask Smithsonian videos. Unfortunately, because it's the new kid on the block, there's not as much content. Keyword searches yield few or no results, but students will have better luck with the browse feature. You can browse by topic or reading level. A recent reading level browse for first-grade articles brought up such titles as “Baby Elephant Is a Big Hit” and “Would You Ride This Thing?,” which is about a quadracycle. A recent browse for articles for third- and fourth-graders included titles such as “Which Animal Lives Longest?” and “He’s Not Heavy; He’s My Brother,” an article about a 14-year-old boy who walked 40 miles with his brother on his back to raise awareness for cerebral palsy. Students can comment on the articles. Teachers can set up an account, add their students to the class, assign articles for reading, assign article quizzes (the results of which are delivered to the teacher), and moderate student comments.