Students need the opportunity to read and write across the school day in every subject. Of course regular opportunities to read and write strengthens reading and writing skills, but it does so much more than that. Reading and writing every day in every class, leads to better speaking and listening skills, vocabulary, and most important content knowledge.
Before I get into a few of the strategies that can be embedded within content instruction I want to share the references that I used. I encourage you to check them out for yourself and continue to explore them on your own. For this blog I’ve only pulled out a few examples of easy ways to integrate reading and writing into the content areas but there are so many additional ideas within these resources.
The Writing Revolution: A Guide to Advancing Thinking Through Writing in All Subjects and Grades by Judith C. Hochman and Natalie Wexler, 2017, Josey-Bass
Providing Reading Interventions in Grades 4-9, A publication of the National Center for Education Evaluation (NCEE) at IES, March 2022.
#1 Make sure students know a strategy to decode multisyllabic words.
Readers and writers need to know how to break words into parts. It makes them more manageable and easier to decode. For students to be successful with the steps below, they need to have mastery over sound symbol relationships. If you suspect students haven’t mastered all of the sounds and their spellings, use a diagnostic assessment to determine where students might need to fill in the gap, teach the spellings for the sounds they need, and then use the strategy.
In the sample below, you will find four easy steps to decode multisyllabic words. You may find steps that are slightly different from different resources, for example, circling prefixes and suffixes first is a common first step. What’s important is that students have a system to decode the big words they come across so they don’t just skip them or guess. Use the steps that work best for your students. Consider teaching students the syllable types before or while you are teaching the strategies to decode multisyllabic words.
When you come to a multisyllabic word you don’t know how to read, try these 4 simple steps.
#2 Use syllables to help with spelling multisyllabic words.
Essentially we are talking about reversing the recommendation above, instead of trying to decode, there’s a larger multisyllabic word a student wants to write, but doesn’t know how to spell. Instead of just spelling the word for the student try helping the student pull the word apart and do the work themselves. That will help the sound-spelling patterns of the word stick into their long term memory.
The following scenario sets up the situation where you could use the strategy to support spelling multisyllabic words. In math class, a student needs to write the word perpendicular to explain his answer. He asks the teacher for help spelling perpendicular. The teacher uses the following steps to help the student write the word correctly.
When you want to spell a multisyllabic word and you’re not sure how, try these steps.
_____ _____ _____ ____ _____
#3 Determine if a group of words is a fragment or sentence while applying content knowledge.
Give students a string of words with no capitalization or punctuation. Ask students to determine if it is a fragment or a sentence. Then ask students to write a correct sentence. This activity helps students understand sentence structure and practice capitalization and punctuation at the same time they are getting opportunities to read and understand information about the content they are learning.
Sample based on a ReadWorks article How U.S. Immigration Changed in 1965 . Answers are in red.
Write “S” if the words form a complete sentence. Write “F” if the words are a sentence fragment. Then write each sentence correctly.
The United States Government has restricted immigration in different ways.
The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 abolished the quota system.
#4 Scrambled Sentences
When students have to unscramble sentences, they have to think closely about what they know and about how our language works. They have to think about sentence structure and content simultaneously to get it correct. Using scrambled sentences as a means to check-for-understanding quickly or review content is efficient and effective. The examples below demonstrate that a student would need both an understanding of the English language and an understanding of the content to be correct.
These examples are from The Writing Revolution by Hochman and Wexler and can be found on p. 32.
#5 Play Jeopardy
Students need to be able to write all four types of sentences: declarative, imperative, interrogative, and exclamatory. One way to learn content and practice writing questions is to play jeopardy. Give students answers to content that you want students to learn. Have students write questions that go with the answers you provided. Make sure the questions are specific enough to require the answer without question or reservation.
BONUS - #6 Sentence Combining
Sentence combining helps students think about effective grammar and encourages complex sentences (Hochman and Wexlar, 2017). Begin by using examples that are not content specific, this allows students to understand the process. After students have learned the strategy, embed this work into content area teaching.
Sample based on a ReadWorks article How U.S. Immigration Changed in 1965
Combine the following into one sentence.
Possible student response:
In 1965, President Johnson signed the Immigration and Naturalization Act that abolished using a quota system for immigration.
Integrating reading and writing content within the content of what students need to learn, is a win-win for students. It allows for authentic practice that is not isolated or irrelevant and encourages students to think critically about what they are learning. It sets students up to plan and write longer pieces of work. Remember these are just a few examples. I encourage you to explore the resources mentioned in the beginning and start with small steps!
Hochman, J. C. and Wexler, N. (2017) The Writing Revolution: A Guide to Advancing Thinking Through Writing in all Subjects and Grades. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass A Wiley Brand
Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, What Works Clearinghouse Practice Guide: Providing Reading Interventions for Students in Grades 4-9. (March 2022) Available for download https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/Docs/PracticeGuide/WWC-practice-guide-reading-intervention-full-text.pdf