Writing Acrostic Poems with Thematically Related Texts in the Content Areas
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In this lesson students will use thematically related texts, organized from least to most complex, to gather a word bank of supporting details and content vocabulary about a concept. Then they use these words as a basis for writing acrostic poems, which support organization of information around a central idea, as the lines of an acrostic poem are held together by the topic or main idea spelled vertically.
Sample Booklist of Thematically Related Texts: Organized by level of text complexity, this list offers a model for the scaffolding process used in the lesson.
Sample Acrostic Poetry: Use these mentor texts to show students different ways of approaching acrostic poetry.
Alphabet Organizer Student Interactive: This tool facilitates the collection and organization of key vocabulary during the reading of multiple texts.
Acrostic Poetry Student Interactive: Students can use this tool to compose and publish their own acrostics on about the content they learned through reading multiple texts.
From Theory to Practice
Background knowledge is a vital part of comprehension. Teaching in the content areas usually requires a teacher to preview texts and determine vocabulary and background knowledge for direct instruction as students with limited vocabulary or background knowledge struggle to make connections. Doing so can lead to students’ dependency upon the teacher for information rather than viewing reading itself as a source of information and learning. In contrast, thematically related texts can be used to help students gather necessary background knowledge and sharpen their reading skills in the process.
Neuman, Kaefer, & Pinkham (2014) found differences in comprehension between successful and struggling readers can be attributed to a lack of background knowledge. Engaging literacy instruction, crafted in sequences of thematically related texts, can promote the attainment of literacy goals and develop reader’s content knowledge, vocabulary, and self-efficacy for reading (Gelzheiser, Hallgren-Flynn, Connors, & Scanlon, 2014).
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.
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.
- 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
Materials and Technology
- Animals in Winter by Henrietta Bancroft & Richard G. Van Gelder (HarperTrophy, 1997)
- Monarch Butterfly by Gail Gibbons (Holiday House, 1989)
- Over the Snow and Under the Snow by Kate Messner (Chronicle Books, 2011)
- Additional books about migration or hibernation from the Sample Booklist of Thematically Related Texts
- Chart Paper
- Computer with Internet access
The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) provides a list of great children’s literature that provides students with science background in trade book format.
The National Council for the Social Studies provides a list of trade books selected primarily for students in grades K-8 that pertain to social studies content.
Lexile.com is an excellent website for pairing texts with students within the lexile bands recommended by the Common Core State Standards.
ReadWorks provides nonfiction texts on many subjects and content areas. All passages are leveled by lexile.
- Examine the content area standards for your grade level and determine an appropriate topic or concept for this approach. In this lesson a booklist has been provided for the science content standard about animal adaptations.
- Locate as many simple informational books about that topic as possible in order to provide students with background. Use websites listed above and coordinate with your school library media specialist to locate books and passages of varying complexity. (Note that text complexity can be determined through a variety of measures such as lexile, DRA, Fountas & Pinell, and so forth. However, the most important method of matching the correct book with each student is through anecdotal records while listening to students read.)
- If you cannot find enough books for every student to have a copy, try excerpting a text and doing a shared reading of the section or page that directly focuses on the concept being taught. Shorter books could be typed up completely and students could follow along as the teacher reads aloud and shows the illustrations.
- Place the easy-to-read books in order of simple to more complex. Allow the literature to scaffold the vocabulary and background knowledge sequentially.
- Identify important words that deal with the concept being taught in each book. Write down on sticky notes questions to help students with comprehension strategies such as inferring or determining importance. Search for opportunities to help students with text structures such as cause and effect, sequencing, or problem and solution to meet students' needs as you read and discuss together.
- For ideas on supporting the direct instruction aspects of this lesson, see ReadWriteThink Strategy Guides on Teacher Read-Alouds That Model Reading for Deep Understanding, Shared Reading Opportunities for Direct Literacy Instruction, and Get Close to Think Deeply: Creating Primary-Level Close Readings.
- use both fiction and non-fiction texts to gather information about how animals change their behavior to prepare for winter (or another selected content area concept).
- discover the patterns and relationships among a variety of texts.
- build background and content area vocabulary through shared and independent reading.
- present information form multiple sources in an acrostic poem.
Sessions One and Two
- Begin with the simplest informational books in your group to focus on reading skills. Meet the needs of the students by using this text to address fluency, phonics, comprehension strategies, text structures, and so forth.
- Allow the students time to read the selected text, either individually or with a partner; or read the book aloud to the class
- As you discuss the reading, model how to rewrite headings and titles as questions to help students determine the main idea. For example the title to the book Animals in Winter by Henrietta Bancroft and Richard G. Van Gelder could be rewritten as What do animals do in winter?
- In addition to determining what is important in the text, ask students to identify keywords that the author keeps mentioning. If needed give students the first letter of important words repeated by the author. For example ask students “what word does the author keep mentioning that begins with h?” (hibernation). Use the Alphabet Organizer to keep track of important vocabulary words central to the thematic texts.
- Model how to use keywords from each text to make a central idea statement. Use one of these thinking stems to determine the most important information and the author’s central idea:
- What’s important here…
- What matters to me…
- One thing that we should notice…
- I want to remember…
- It’s interesting that…
- In the story Animals in Winter one could use thinking stems in this way:
- What’s important here is that hibernation helps animals stay alive through winter.
- One thing we should notice is that some bats migrate and others hibernate.
- In the next session, repeat the steps from Session One with the next book on the list, continuing the sequence from easy texts to texts with more complexity.
- Introduce examples of acrostic poems as mentor texts. Use the Sample Acrostic Poetry handout to compare and contrast the difference between a poem written with complete thoughts and a poem written as a disjointed lists of words.
- Share and discuss the expectations from the Acrostic Poem Rubric if you plan to use it to assess the poems students write.
- Look for a common topic from the texts read to model or do a shared writing. In the books Animals in Winter, Monarch Butterfly, or Over and Under the Snow, a topic or recurring keyword could be winter, sleep, hibernation, or migration. Have students help you come up with a topic or keyword to write vertically for you acrostic poem.
- Use the word bank created in the Alphabet Organizer to model an acrostic poem, or conduct a shared writing of an acrostic poem. Have students help create sentences that are placed within the frame of the acrostic poem.
- Once students have seen mentor texts and had guided practice invite students to write their own acrostic poems. Offer students access to the Acrostic Poem student interactive to help students organize and publish their work.
- Continue to build students background and vocabulary with other thematically related texts for different content area standards. Use the resources from the Websites section of this lesson to find more thematically related texts.