Close Reading...of Numbers?

Thursday, January 15, 2015
We kindly welcome our very first guest-blogger, Elizabeth Miley 

Tables and charts and graphs...oh my! I'll admit that my knee-jerk reaction to anything math-related is fear. Numbers mean taxes, scales, and memories of high school Calculus. But even though this mathematics language form might not be my favorite, it does have value. 

State standards require procedural text analysis that can take the form of maps, charts, picture captions, etc. While English teachers are nowhere near graphing calculator territory, we're tasked with preparing our students for the real world which does include subway maps, recipe conversions, and graphed survey results.

So how do we go about incorporating this media analysis? The answer is the same as it is for all teaching. Small manageable, interactive chunks.

I've noticed that just like me, students sometimes have difficulty analyzing the purpose of a graph when it's surrounded by an entire page of text, so to help students do a close reading of survey results, I first isolated the graph. I printed and cut the pie chart into segments that students could manipulate like a puzzle. By playing with the segments, students made the connection between the numbers and what they represent.

Manipulating the puzzle piece also required that students carefully read each label.
Students then read a short excerpt of the accompanying article to complete this sentence stem: "The pie chart makes the information easier to understand because..." The goal was for them to understand how to "read" the chart but also to analyze why the author chose to include it.

Targeted passages provide students with the context they need.
Remember that you want students to answer reading analysis types of high-level questions regarding the image, caption, graph, chart, etc.
  • What conclusion can readers draw?
  • What is its primary purpose?
  • Why is it included with the text? Does it reinforce, clarify, or challenge something in the text?
So go for it! Give your kids a website screenshot, timeline, photo caption, or bar graph with a few guided questions and let them play to discover the meaning prior to reading the full text. Put the learning literally in their hands. 

Guest blogger, Elizabeth Miley is a Secondary Literacy Specialist in Richardson ISD. She was that girl on the playground who gave all of her friends report cards and taught lessons to her dolls and stuffed animals. She is now an instructional leader in her district. As a Region 10 Trainer, Certified Abydos Trainer, and RISD Star Teacher, Beth brings a fresh perspective to the world of ELAR. When she's not shaking up teaching in Texas, she zip-lines through the rainforests of Costa Rica and explores the underground aquifers of Istanbul. She is friends with The Curly Classroom gals because--despite her exotic adventures--she still knows how to kick it at the dollar theater with her smuggled Twizzlers. 

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