Standard Lesson

An Exploration of Text Sets: Supporting All Readers

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Five 50-minute sessions
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In this lesson, students create text sets and use them to practice three strategies for reading for information. Students select a topic they want to explore and work in small groups to compile a set of texts related to their topic. Each group discusses their topic, jotting notes and images on a large piece of paper as they talk. They then explore the texts they have gathered, adding more information to the paper to create a "graffiti board" focusing on their topic. Next, students generate a list of key words they think that they'll find if a text contains specific information that they're looking for. After the teacher models skimming text for key words, students use the strategy on their own text sets. Finally, students are given sustained reading time, followed by writing time without the text, allowing them to put the information they have learned into their own words.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

Experienced readers are active in their pursuit of resources to support their learning. Text sets-collections of resources from different genre, media, and levels of reading difficulty-are more supportive of learners with a range of experiences and interests than any single text. They are particularly supportive of less-experienced readers, as NCTE leader, Laura Robb, notes in her Voices from the Middle article, "Multiple Texts: Multiple Opportunities for Teaching and Learning."

Richard Allington points out that "Schools have typically exacerbated the problem by relying on a single-source curriculum design-purchasing multiple copies of the same science and social studies textbooks for every student." He also notes that "many classrooms use textbooks written two or more years above the average grade level of their students (Chall & Conard, 1991; Budiansky, 2001)."  Text sets, the focus of this lesson, is one way to address this issue. Linda Crafton is the original author of the "text set" strategy, although many resourceful educators have invented versions of it.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 10. Students whose first language is not English make use of their first language to develop competency in the English language arts and to develop understanding of content across the curriculum.

Materials and Technology




  • Think about how you would organize text sets in your own classroom. The November 2002 English Journal article "Blending Multiple Genres in Theme Baskets" gives readers some insight into how such sets can be organized in a secondary classroom.

  • Read the Creating Text Sets for Your Classroom guide which includes additional information on creating and arranging text sets.

  • Gather appropriate materials for the text sets in your class (e.g., containers, labels) as well as markers and butcher paper.

  • Prepare yourself for this lesson by assembling your own text set. Model the process by choosing a concept that interests you and for which you will later have a purpose. If you'll be roofing your house this summer, make that a focus! If you've always wanted to develop a unit on the Harlem Renaissance, now is your chance. A sample text set on China: Then & Now has been compiled for this lesson. It is not meant to be duplicated, but to serve as an illustration of the range of resources that can be included.

  • Create sign-up sheets for the groups, so that all you have to add is the topics that students have selected for their projects.

  • Schedule the sessions, including time for you and for your students to visit the library. The project works well when begun on a Thursday (Session One) and followed up with library time on Friday (Session Two). Following this structure, students have their text sets gathered early in the following week and can spend the remainder of the week exploring the reading strategies in this lesson plan (Sessions Three through Five).

  • Test the Letter Generator student interactive on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tool and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

  • Prepare text and overheads for Session Four, which focuses on the second reading strategy, Browsing for Key Information, developed by Carolyn Burke. This strategy helps students process longer or denser texts, such as encyclopedias or nonfiction written above their independent reading level. If one of the text sets contains such a text, use it for the teacher demonstration part of this lesson. If not, you will need to locate such a text that contains information that addresses the students' questions. Copy at least 4–8 pages of the text onto transparencies. If you would like students to work with the same information midway through the lesson, make paper copies for them as well.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • identify topics of interest.

  • contribute resources to sets of varied resources for each topic.

  • explore the text sets through the use of three targeted reading strategies: graffiti boards, browsing for key information, and uninterrupted reading/focused freewriting.

  • provide evidence of their learning.

Session One: Introduction

  1. Begin the lesson by telling students that the purpose of the lesson is to explore texts through the use of reading strategies. Because the strategies, rather than the topic of the text sets, is the focus, and because we know that choice relates to being engaged as a reader, the class will help determine the topics of study.

  2. Share your text set as one example of a collection, briefly talking about how and why you made the selections. Let students know that they will be creating similar collections, and then proceed with one of the topic selection options below.

    • If you are already working with a unit of study, you can help students identify personal interests within that study. For instance, working with the topic of earthquakes, a class generated these interests: What causes earthquakes? What can you do to be prepared? What should you do in case of an earthquake? Each question can become the basis for a text set, and several sets can contain copies of the same resource.

    • Generate a list of topics that are of interest to your students. One way to begin such a list is to start with several topics that you already know about (e.g., firefighting, because one student's uncle is a firefighter, or capital punishment because a local case dominates the news). Then open the list for the students' recommendations. It is preferable to generate a few too many topics or questions, and then select five to seven for this lesson. Save the others for another exploration.
  3. Ask students to select the question or topic that most interests them and indicate their choice on the sign-up sheets as they come in or leave the classroom. Establish groups of four to five students each to facilitate discussion and participation. If space for popular topics is limited and disappointment surfaces, reconfigure the groups so that two groups are addressing the same question.

  4. After this session, pull together a couple of resources for each collection and prepare to share them during the next session. If you can find textbook excerpts on any of the topics, copy that particular section or chapter, include the text book in the set, or in the case of an outdated book, cut it apart and bind the excerpt with a cut-to-size file folder. Have a container with these starter texts labeled and ready for students before the beginning of the next class session.

Session Two: Gathering Text Sets

  1. Share the initial resources you've gathered with students and invite them to participate in the collecting. Free time to explore and collect resources in the library as well as using Internet resources is ideal during this class session.

  2. As the sets come together during this session, as well as over the course of the next week, encourage brief "text talks" to pique interest.

  3. After students have had time to add to their text sets using the library resources, explain that families can share resources for any of the text sets.

  4. If desired, as a class compose a note home to families that explains the project and the resources that students are gathering. Students can create one generic letter for the entire class or individualized letters that focus on their group's text set focus. Use the Letter Generator student interactive to format and print the letters.

Session Three: Strategy One---Graffiti Boards

  1. Begin with each group sitting at a table around a large sheet of butcher paper. You or one of the students can write the focus of the group in the center with a bold marker.

  2. Ask students to spend the next 15–20 minutes talking informally about what they already know or wonder about their topic then to write and/or sketch some of that information. Some groups may talk together, and others may hold two or three conversations simultaneously. The author of this strategy, Wayne Serebrin, invented it so students could be "free of everyday constraints, so that learners have an opportunity to more thoughtfully and critically expand their thoughts alongside those of others and to share ideas that have attracted their attention. [The focus is on] ideas that most intrigue them, puzzle them, and propel their need to know more" (2004).

  3. After students have gathered their initial thoughts, place the text sets in the center of the paper and invite students to explore them. Don't worry if there are only three or four items in a set, as exploring what is available will inspire students to secure additional resources to address their interests. Again, students write and sketch as they work, adding new information or revising earlier entries.

  4. As the groups work, take the opportunity to walk among them and take anecdotal notes. Listen for active engagement, students' abilities to capture their ideas in a focused, informal way, and for questions the group finds compelling.

  5. At the end of the work session, invite groups to briefly share. An example of the responses from a fifth/sixth grade class is available for comparison. Twenty to thirty seconds per student works well. The sample prompts below can guide the discussion:

    • Share the most interesting idea or question that you heard today.

    • Share the idea that you want to know more about.

    • Share the value you found in this experience.
  6. Post the graffiti boards so that students can refer to them during the course of the study.

Session Four: Strategy Two---Browsing for Key Information

  1. Begin the lesson by talking about the challenge that all readers face when they're looking for key information in demanding texts. As encyclopedias are the only resource beyond textbooks in some classrooms, and as no one reads such texts in their entirety, this strategy help learners locate key information more quickly.

  2. Ask several of the group members what questions or ideas they have been discussing.

  3. Then ask what key words they think that they'll find if the text contains the information that they're looking for. (In an exploration of the thirteen colonies in an encyclopedia entry on one of the New England states, for example, students generated these key words: Colonial America, 1700s, colonies, runaway slaves, Boston, and "life, liberty or death!" This list helped them locate three to four pertinent pages within a 40-page entry on Massachusetts.)

  4. Write the key words your students generate on the board or on chart paper.

  5. Place the first transparency on the projector without turning it on.

  6. Explain the process of browsing for key information to students. Explain that the process begins with running your finger slowly down the very center of the text, top to bottom, for about 15 seconds while you scan the text for any of the key words.

  7. Before turning on the projector, designate a manageable way for students to share their discoveries (e.g., raising hands, calling out, thumbs up).

  8. Turn the projector on and proceed through the browsing for key information process with the transparencies. Pass out paper copies of the text, if you have elected to use them, at the point when you want students to participate more actively. Highlighters or pens can be used to mark key words or passages.

  9. If desired, extend this strategy by having students convene in their groups and try it out with their own texts. It's also a great strategy for a teaching librarian to use in support of your classroom teaching. Again, key to the success of the lesson is that students identify information they are seeking, that they generate the key words, and that the lesson is followed by meaningful use of the strategy.

Session Five: Strategy Three---Uninterrupted Reading/Focused Freewriting

  1. This strategy helps readers put new information into their own words. Think about using the strategy three or four times during a unit of study.

  2. Schedule 15–20 minutes of uninterrupted reading time. Each student should have a couple items from the text set to read. Don't forget that maps, Websites, and videos are viable texts to read.

  3. Set a timer or designate one of the students as timekeeper [a stopwatch is helpful here].

  4. At the end of the reading time, students put away the texts and prepare to write. Working in inquiry/research journals can contribute to more serious writing, but notebook paper is also fine, as is working on computers.

  5. Again, designate a number of minutes that everyone will write and keep time.

  6. Ask students to title their papers with the focus of their writing and then to begin writing and/or sketching information they have learned framed by that focus.

  7. Alternatively, choose one of the variations below, which are supportive options for English language learners or students who struggle to write. Please note that by keeping your focus away from how to spell individual words, less confident writers are freed to take more risks. Spelling does not need to be conventional when students are preserving new learning in note form.

    • In this strategy from writing researcher, Donald Graves, a more experienced writer, such as a teacher, intern, or parent, asks the student what s/he wants to say. As the student talks, the teacher writes down short phrases, rather than entire thoughts, from the conversation. The paper is then passed back to the student, with a comment like, "If you would like to use some of your ideas, here they are." This strategy could be used with a small group of students, as well as with an individual student. The student then uses the notes in support of his or her own writing.

    • Students can dictate new ideas they've picked up during the reading into a tape recorder. It helps to have a supportive adult prompting them with statements like, "Say more about that" or "Really? How does that go again?" so that quieter students add more detail to their reporting. If there is time, the reader can listen back to the tape, and sketch or take notes from the recording.


Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Anecdotal Notetaking

    • Teacher takes anecdotal notes of the learning, particularly that of the less experienced readers, while using reading strategies. Watch for active engagement, ability to focus questions, and the degree of success in finding texts to add to their sets.

    • Read graffiti notes and focused freewritings for details that support your observations of students' interactions.

  • Student Self-Assessment as Evidence of Learning

    • Ask students to copy a book jacket or identify a URL and write an accompanying reflection that explains why the jacket or Website is their “One Best Resource” on the text set topic.

    • Ask students to write which of the resources in their text set was most supportive of their learning and why on a Post-It® note; then, attach the note to the resource in the text set.

    • Use reflective responses to photographs to prompt student self-assessment. As shown in the Graffiti Board example, ask students to reflect on how the photographs of their text set discussions demonstrate what they were doing as well as why they were doing it. Keep your questions as open––-ended as possible. As the focus of this lesson is particularly on supporting less experienced readers, these students could be interviewed individually.

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