Spotlight: Navigating Science Texts with Wiley Blevins

April 11th saw the first webinar in the Twig Science Spotlight series. Author and Early Reading Specialist, Wiley Blevins, gave some top tips on the importance of teaching students how to navigate informational text. Here’s a quick introduction to what Wiley discussed:


What was the last thing you read? The chances are it wasn’t a novel. Perhaps it was a road sign, an email, or an instruction. Research suggests that 90% of what we read as adults is informational. That’s why, the balance between literary and informational text shifts as students move through the grades, with 50% of Grade 4 texts being informational compared to 70% in Grade 12.  We are preparing them for the real-world demands they’ll face when they leave school.


An increased emphasis on informational text can also help students to achieve more in school. High-stakes tests contain non-fiction, and some students, known as Info-Kids, prefer reading this type of text.


So, we know informational text is important, but why is it challenging? There are four main reasons:


  1. Text Features – From boldfaced words to headings, graphics, sidebars, and captions – understanding how to navigate text (what to read and in what order),  is something we have to formally teach students so they can access informational text.
  2. Text Structures – Most fiction has a common and predictable structure: a beginning, a middle, and an end. However, when it comes to non-fiction, there are lots of structures authors use. These organizational patterns are identified by the signal words that help to alert us to these structures. These signal words need to be formally taught.
  3. Content  – Understanding content is challenging for many students because it requires abstract thinking, integrating ideas across paragraphs and pages; recognizing complex cause-and-effect relationships; comparing and contrasting information from a range of sources mean that students often hit a wall.
  4. Vocabulary – Before a student leaves elementary school, they need to have learnt at least 75,000 new vocabulary words. These don’t come just from formal teaching. We know that many of these words come from Read-Alouds and from wide reading. Selecting academic words with extensive usage across texts should be the focus of our instruction.


For more information on these challenges and lots of ideas on how to overcome them, watch the full webinar now.