Genres or Text Features and Scroll Bar Characteristics: Onions, Apples and Grapefruit

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Teachers can introduce new genres or text features, such as informational, argumentative and narrative, to young readers by making analogies to eating certain foods, including onions, apples and grapefruits. Meanwhile, the scroll bar can help students with consuming texts. 

Introducing Text Features or Genres: Narrative, Argumentative and Informational Text Lessons

An effective way that I have been introducing text features to students is by making food analogies. My informational text lessons normally involve onions. If you would like to know how to teach argumentative text, I suggest using grapefruits. Meanwhile, a good lesson plan about narrative text I often use is the analogy of eating an apple, especially in comparison to informational and argumentative texts.

Basically, if you don’t go about eating foods in the right way, for sure, you’re not going to like them. If they are quality foods and prepared well, then there’s a much better chance for your gastronomic delight. You still might not like grapefruits much, but you can have a discussion with me about why you’re wrong about the sugar. Food gives you the energy to do what you want to do. Words and reading give you the power and ideas to accomplish your dreams and goals. We consume texts—even those on assessments–to add to our knowledge and abilities. Don’t let anybody make you eat an unprepared onion. Take out that textual knife and carve that thing up for how you can use it best. You still might not think it’s your favorite thing to eat/read, but nobody—even yourself—should tell you that you can’t because you just don’t like it.

I’m now going to give my own spin on a rhyme that will make sense later once we get into each section. For now, enjoy:

The important thing about informational texts
is that a thesis is proved with ideas and organization.
The important thing about argumentative texts
is that they take a side and prove it with logic and evidence.
The important thing about stories
is that they are about people trying to do stuff.
But the important thing about reading
is that you track the differences along the way.

The Role of the Scroll Bar

First, let’s talk about how the scroll bar can be used to help consume texts. The scroll bar helps us manage stamina because we know where we are in the reading and how much is left. It also gives us an idea about our purposes and how they change depending on what kind of thing we are reading. I described a scenario of what that might look like in a text. But…my kids needed something a bit more…dramatic to get their buy—in.

“I hate reading.”
“I ain’t spending all that time reading that stuff when I know I won’t pass it.”
“Yeah, I’ve never passed it. Ever.”
“It’s so booooring.”
“It’s just a dumb test. I’ll just sleep.”

So much to say here. So many different things to tackle.
The kids aren’t lying. All of these things are true. Let’s stop acting like they aren’t.
It’s so long. (For me later. Show blueprint, text demand, and reading times.)
It’s boring, dumb, and futile. (Notes for me: The git real talk; car wreck skit—use all the comprehension skills.)

Eating Onions: Informational Text Lessons

Those topics are now on my to-do list. For now, let’s focus on what we can control. When I’m teaching students, I say: “If you hate reading, you’re doing it wrong. Nobody eats an onion like an apple.” Then I bite into an onion. Usually, I gag and spit it out. It’s so gross. Especially with the papery peel. One time, the onion squirted out that nasty white milk stuff into my face. The class went nuts. If you do this in class, get a Vidalia—the flatter, the sweeter. Have the trash can near or run toward it for exaggerated dramatic effect as you plunge your head into it and heave. No acting skills required.

That’s an uniformed, immature, and downright silly way to eat an onion. Reminds me of The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown.

The important thing about an onion
is that it must be peeled and prepared.
It’s spicy hot or sweet and mild.
You cook it or eat it raw
and it accompanies something delicious
to add texture and flavor.
But the most important thing about an onion
is that it must be peeled and prepared.

When I started coming up with some ideas for informational text lessons, I realized this type of text is like an onion. And Shrek is right: there are layers of ideas and meaning. But you don’t just dive into an informational text like it’s an apple. You think about what you want to do with it: in rings for a sandwich or fried for a side, diced for a casserole, sauteed for a steak, or skipped for now because you have a date. An informational text is no different—what are you going to do with the information? Usually, we just want to know something, like who is that girl in the video and what song was that? Other times, we need to know how to fix the brakes on the bike.

But on an assessment, folks think that the point is to find some answers someone else asked. That’s not really true. The real reason that text is there is because it helps the test writer ask some questions that let them know if you are ready for the next grade and what’s out there in the world. What they really want to know is: Are you the kind of person that just believes anything or just doesn’t know a thing? Those legislators who made the test a law want to know if you are the kind of person that’s prepared to have a good life or one that is at risk for being taken advantage of. A fool. Since you ain’t no fool and don’t want anybody to take advantage of you, there’s some good sense in preparing yourself and the text to make some meaning out of it.

An informational text or a descriptive poem all have the same parts. An introduction, a body, and a conclusion. That scroll bar tells you about where those things are in the text. If the scroll bar is long and skinny, then you’re probably seeing only the introduction in the text window. That tells you what to read and find out. You probably found out about the topic and major idea in the title. Now you read to find out why that topic matters. Once you find that, you’re ready to see what the important ideas are in the body of the paper. If that scroll bar gets too close to the end, you know the conclusion is coming and you have a chance to recheck what you thought the whole thing was about.

How to Teach Argumentative Text By Eating Grapefruits

The important thing about a grapefruit
is that it must be peeled and prepared.
You can supreme it.
You can tear into segments or core and cut it.
You can broil it with sugar,
or you can taste it with salt.
But the important thing about a grapefruit
is that it must be peeled and prepared.

If you are wondering how to teach argument text to your kids, look no farther than grapefruits. Ain’t nobody gonna just take a bite out of that bitter ball like an apple. And ain’t nobody gonna slice it or saute it like they do onions. Arguments take a side. And most folks take a side about grapefruits and whether or not salt or sugar is best as a topping. That’s what you’re looking for in the beginning of an argumentative text: what’s the topic and what side are they promoting? Once you find that, you know you can start reading for the evidence and reasoning about why the writer believes that. They might even tell you why the other side’s point is worth thinking about, but why theirs is better. Sometimes, the writer will tell you why the other side is flat out wrong and why. All that stuff is going to be in the body of the paper. That’s the main part of where your scroll bar lives. When you see that scroll bar getting down to the end, you know the writer is coming to a close with the reasons. All of that helps you change your purpose for reading.

A Lesson Plan About Narrative Text: Eating Apples

Apples are like narratives, dramas, and story poems. Easy to eat and read because we all like stories and apples. (All except the red delicious ones. Pithy poor examples of apples. Bring me a Gala or a Pink Lady.) When the scroll bar is at the top, you know you are looking for the characters, motivations, and goals. When your scroll bar is in the middle, you know you are looking for how that character gets or doesn’t get what he wants. When the scroll bar gets down to the bottom, you know the story is coming to a close. And that’s the end of my lesson plan about narrative text.

The important thing about informational texts
is that a thesis is proved with ideas and organization.
The important thing about argumentative texts
is that they take a side and prove it with logic and evidence.
The important thing about stories
is that they are about people trying to do stuff.
But the important thing about reading
is that you track the differences along the way.

TEKS Commentary

Foundational Language Skills: Fluency: Students are building fluency for rate as well as accuracy when they select a purpose for reading based on the genre characteristics. When they know and predict the text structure they expect for the genre, the text features and characteristics help them monitor their comprehension as they are reading. They actually adjust their rate more fluidly when the text matches or does not match what they know should be happening in the text.
Foundational Language Skills: Vocabulary: Academic language about genres, subgenres, and text features and characteristics help students develop an internal schema about what text does predictably by genre and organizational structure. When students understand genre and structure, they can use this information to build fluency and monitor comprehension.
Foundational Language Skills: Self-Sustained Reading: How much text are students reading in each of the genres? It’s really important for students to be reading multiple genres instead of all one kind of genre at a time. We want them to be automatically switching purposes and monitoring for genre elements as they consume thematically linked texts of all kinds. This helps balance the knowledge-gap curriculum approaches and the skills-based approaches. Kids need both as well as exposure to wide reading across all genres. This is a red flag for curriculum developers in analyzing scope and sequence documents. The purpose is not for students to learn about different genres, but about how to use the genre characteristics to set purposes for reading and monitor comprehension (composition as well). A scope and sequence based on one genre at a time will not give the knowledge, schema, and skills needed for success. Curriculum committees should also be looking for a wide range of thematically linked texts. Right now, we are weak in poetry, drama, and authentically written argumentative texts. Most of what we see in argument bleeds into persuasion. More on that later.
Comprehension: All components of comprehension are working in concert at this point. There is an emphasis on setting purpose and monitoring.
Author’s Purpose and Craft: Author’s purpose and craft are integrally tied to claim, thesis, and theme. The author chose that genre because that form best delivered their ideas and purposes. In this lesson, purpose and craft are implicit and working in the background.
Multiple Genres: Literary Elements: These elements are implicit on the first read of a narrative or narrative poem. It is not advised to set reading purposes for literary elements other than plot on the first read. Students must first consume a text before they are able to critique its impact or craft. It’s fine if kids notice something the writer has done, but not essential on the first read. The first read is about understanding the whole.
Multiple Genres: Genres: All components of multiple genres are in play at a surface level and used for setting purposes for reading. In addition, monitoring may help a student realize that they are not reading informative, but an argument. Or a memoir with a claim/theme instead of a narrative.
Inquiry and Research

Up Next

Introducing text features to students isn’t always an easy task. There are many different types of informational text lessons I’ve used over the years, but I’ve found that using the analogy of eating an onion to be especially effective. If you’re ever wondering how to teach argumentative text, look no farther than another food group: the grapefruit. And since you’ll already be talking a lot about food, a lesson plan about narrative text can revolve around the apple. Next time, we’ll talk about offloading working memory on paper.

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About the Author

Dr Shona Rose

Shona Rose

Dr. Shona Rose, passionate about literacy and improving student experiences, researches and presents solutions to cause displays of learner growth. These displays become tools for teachers to provide support and intervention to accelerate the impact on student performance.
Dr. Rose uses her experiences as a baker at Kind House Ukraine Bakery, gardening and music, and budding interest as an outdoorswoman and overlander to make concrete connections to literary processes. Her rescue mutt, Joy, and ugly Cornish Rex cat, Youglie, often appear in her writings and activities.
When not researching and reading, Dr. Rose revels in being a “Nona” to her three grandchildren. 
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Or by email to shonarose67 at gmail