Reading that works: Pairing passages and sets of texts

Shannon Garrison

Editor’s note: This article is part of the series The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom that provides in-depth reviews of several promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.

While ReadWorks offers a huge array of reading comprehension resources for educators, two particularly promising features are its paired passages and text sets for grades K-12. The former consist of two passages with similar topics and/or themes, while the text sets are comprised of three or more passages that share a topic or theme. Both resources can be used to build vocabulary and background knowledge in order to strengthen student reading comprehension and content knowledge.

Paired Passages

ReadWorks provides teachers with paired passages to help build vocabulary and background knowledge around a specific topic. The reasoning behind each pairing is clearly stated and sets of questions that assess student learning and comprehension accompany each pair. Questions focus on each passage individually and then on the integration of knowledge from both passages.

For example, one 8th grade U.S. History text pair includes the passages Frederick Douglass: from Slavery to Freedom and Before Jackie: How Strikeout King Satchel Paige Struck Down Jim Crow. ReadWorks explains that “these texts have been paired because they both address the historical struggle for equal rights of African Americans.” Paired text question sets follow:

  • Compare the impact that Frederick Douglass and Satchel Paige had on African Americans’ rights. Use evidence from both texts to support your comparison.
  • Contrast the ways that Frederick Douglass and Satchel Paige helped to achieve positive changes for African Americans. Use evidence from both texts to support your answer.

Teachers can search for paired passages in the same way they search for individual passages – by keyword, grade, lexile level, topic, text type, and skill/strategy. They can also filter results to identify passages that contain vocabulary, questions, and/or a “StepReads” version of the original passage that is more manageable for struggling readers.

Text Sets

In addition to paired texts, ReadWorks has developed about 40 text sets for grades K-12. Each contains three or more passages and focuses on a shared topic, theme, or structure. Each “text set includes a learning goal, key vocabulary, and questions for each text.” ReadWorks also supplies a text-set learning goal with three additional questions that require the integration of knowledge from all passages.

Most of the text sets focus on nonfiction science and social studies topics and contain informational articles, biographies, essays, infographics, and speeches. They include authentic texts of varying structure, including articles from the New York Philharmonic, and excerpts from Ology – the American Museum of Natural History’s website for kids.

Unfortunately, it is challenging to find the text sets. Because they do not have their own section on the website, you find them by chance when searching through the paired passages.

ReadWorks also offers Article-a-Day, which is a “10-15 minute daily routine where students choose and read one high-quality nonfiction article every day, as part of a weekly, topically-related article set.” (These text sets are much easier to find as they have their own heading under Reading Passages.) While not necessarily on the exact same topic, the text sets appear to be thematically related (see weaknesses below). For example, one weekly article set entitled, “Health and Human Body” includes the articles: How Do Scrapes Heal?, Be Careful with Medicines, Learning About Your World, About Your Bones, How Your Ears Work, and Music in Your Ears. ReadWorks provides great guidance for teachers on how to implement this daily routine and provides resources and lesson plan ideas, too.

Digital ReadWorks

ReadWorks recently released a new website that provides access to its passages and teacher resources using a digital platform. This allows teachers to find passages and then assign them to students, who can then read them and take assessments online. Passages are searchable by grade or lexile level, text type (informational text or literature), and product (articles, audio, paired texts, StepReads, and Article-a-Day).

Although it is a separate website, users will find many of the same features, passages, and lessons as are housed on the original ReadWorks website. Digital ReadWorks has also added features such as audio recordings and eBooks to support reading comprehension. Text sets, however, are unavailable on Digital ReadWorks.

Once students have read an assigned passage and submitted their assessment, the multiple-choice questions are auto scored. The constructed response items show up in the teacher’s account under Assignments, so they can score them. Teachers can see individual student and class results for any given passage. This may help teachers identify students who need extra help, track data trends to see if specific skills needs to be retaught, and determine their next steps in reading instruction. Students can also review assessment questions and track their individual results in their accounts.

While Digital ReadWorks is a terrific resource, teachers must assign reading passages to students. (Students cannot read passages on their own or self-select topics of interest.) It would be great to see a library of passages that are available for students to read if they so desire. Let’s hope Digital ReadWorks also makes the text sets available, as these are a valuable resource for teachers.

How can teachers use ReadWorks Passage Pairs and Text Sets in their classrooms?

No matter the grade level or subject area, ReadWorks is a fine supplement to one’s reading curriculum, and there are many ways that it can be incorporated into a classroom.

Text pairs can be used to focus on a specific skill or strategy, such as vocabulary in context or drawing conclusions. Teachers can search by grade level and skill/strategy to find high-quality text pairs that can be used for classroom instruction, guided practice, or independent work. These passages can also be used for homework assignments so students can practice a specific skill or strategy on their own.

Paired passages can be used to focus on comparing and contrasting. They are also perfect for students to practice “analyzing how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take,” as called for by Common Core.

The site’s text pairs and text sets are a great way for teachers to supply background knowledge and vocabulary for students. These can be used prior to the start of a unit or to supplement instruction during the unit. For example, if a first grade teacher was planning an astronomy unit, he/she might include the ReadWorks text set that includes the articles, “Day to Night,” “Does the Moon Really Shine?” and “Why Don’t We See Stars in the Daytime?” All of these articles help to build background knowledge and vocabulary essential to understanding the first grade Earth and Space Science standards.

Finally, the “Article-a-Day” resources are 10-minute daily routines that use weekly text sets to build reading comprehension skills via four easy steps. First, the teacher sets the purpose for reading. This could include building vocabulary or simply gaining more knowledge of a topic. Next, the students read the passage independently. (Of course, kindergarten and first grade teachers can do a read aloud if necessary.) The third step is called “The Book of Knowledge” where students write or draw about one or two interesting things they learned from the passage. Finally, students can share what they learned with the class.

What are the Greatest Strengths of the ReadWorks Text Pairs and Sets?

ReadWorks’ greatest strength is that it provides teachers with quality, research-based literary and nonfiction passages, text pairs, and text sets – all at no cost. (See here for why text sets are so valuable.) It is often a struggle for teachers to find quality passages to supplement their curriculum. ReadWorks offers a huge number - over 2,600 - informational and literary passages from trusted sources.

ReadWorks is also user friendly. Of the various text set resources available online, this website is particularly well-organized. In a matter of minutes, teachers can find relevant passages and text pairs (not sets; see below) for their classes.

The passage pairs and text sets can be used to address many of the Common Core standards, such as analyzing multiple texts to build knowledge.

Many of the paired passages on ReadWorks also have “StepReads,” which are slightly more accessible versions of the original passage. This provides teachers with a way to differentiate the reading passage while providing all students the same content. Currently, ReadWorks has developed at least one StepReads passage for approximately 280 of its 2,600 texts.

How might ReadWorks be Improved?

While ReadWorks’ text sets are a wonderful resource, finding them is a big challenge (in contrast to the text pairs, which are more easily accessible). I spoke with a ReadWorks staff member who emailed me a list of the 40+ text sets, but I could not find a way to specifically search for them on the website. The site would be much improved if its text sets were a more conspicuous feature.

The text sets themselves could be made more valuable for teachers if they supplied guidance on text order and some ideas for classroom implementation. Teachers have such limited time that it’s exceptionally helpful to have resources that suggest appropriate text order based on text complexity, vocabulary, and content. Lesson plans and suggested activities would further strengthen the text sets.

While the Article-a-Day routine is a great way to get students reading, the weekly text sets suffer because many of the articles in them are loosely related by theme rather than closely focused on the same topic. To build vocabulary and background knowledge, text sets need to be tightly focused.

A further shortcoming: the questions for each passage are not included in the Article-a-Day section, so teachers must search for the individual article to access the questions. It would definitely be handier for teachers if everything could be accessed in one place.

Another weakness is the inconsistency of resources available for ReadWorks passages. ReadWorks offers some amazing resources for teachers, including question sets, vocabulary, StepReads, and text pairs, but there is no consistency with regards to which passages have these resources. For example, some passages have only question sets and vocabulary, while others are missing question sets. While ReadWorks is adding new content all the time, this could be very frustrating for teachers if they find a passage that they would like to use, but then have no question set or no StepReads version to use with their struggling readers.

A weakness of the Digital ReadWorks site, as noted earlier, is its lack of text sets. While all other passages and text pairs are available on the new platform, text sets were left off. This is really too bad, as text sets are such a great way to provide students with background knowledge and vocabulary to strengthen reading comprehension.

Conclusion

ReadWorks is a valuable resource that provides teachers with a wealth of reading comprehension resources at no cost. The passages, text sets, lessons, comprehension units, and novel study units are research-based and thoughtfully designed. While there is some inconsistency in terms of passage resources (questions, vocabulary, StepReads, Text Pairs, etc.), the passages are generally high quality and come from reputable sources. The paired passages and text sets have many classroom uses and are a fine way to build student vocabulary and content knowledge. ReadWorks is an excellent site for teachers seeking additional texts, text sets, and lessons to supplement their curriculum.

 

Stay tuned for my third and final review of another text set resource, this one by Student Achievement Partners’ Achieve the Core. For my review of Newsela’s text set resources, please see here.

Shannon Garrison is a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher in California with two decades of teaching experience. She holds National Board Certification, serves on the National Assessment Governing Board, and was also recently selected as a Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year.