How to Use a Text Set for Massive Teaching Power

Read alouds–specifically interactive read alouds, are one of the most powerful teaching tools at your disposal.  They are the perfect way to expose kids to beautiful language, build a love for books, and teach any concept.  They can also be the vehicle for teaching any kind of comprehension work AND are the perfect tool for teaching just about any writing lesson.  

But wait, there’s more!

Read alouds can be put together in a text set for even greater impact.

What exactly is a text set?

Keep reading!

Simply put, it’s a set of texts on a common topic.  The sky’s the limit here, so let me share some ways a text set might be built.

How to build one:

First, like I said, a text set is just a set of texts around a similar topic.  This works very well for building content knowledge.  This could be anything–I love to build a text set around upcoming social studies or science concepts.  For example, maybe I’m about to teach my class about the Dust Bowl.  Not only is the whole idea of this period in history unknown to most  students, there’s also a need for students to understand the hardship this caused people, how it began, and the huge lessons learned as a result. 

So before I even think about opening up the chapter on the Dust Bowl in my social studies textbook, I’m going to put together a set of 3-5 picture books on this topic.  I know that through these stories, students will get a good sense of what life was like during that time period. We’re also going to have amazing discussions about not only the causes and effects of the Dust Bowl itself, but also about empathy and themes.  And because these are interactive read alouds, I’ll also bring these same books into my reading lessons for reading skill work,  and into my writing lessons as mentor texts.  

But let’s add on to this simple little text set.  

Maybe I also show a few photographs of that time period, to give an even greater sense of what life was like for people living on the prairie during that time.  A picture, after all, is worth 1,000 words.  Maybe I find a diary entry  from a person living at that time, or a newspaper article.  Nothing adds humanity to a topic better than someone who actually lived it!  A favorite source for these sorts of things is the Library of Congress.  It’s a goldmine!  This is how primary and secondary sources–something that has to be taught anyway–can be authentically woven in.  Ask your school’s media specialist to help you on this.  Your media specialist is an invaluable resource who likely has tons of resources at their fingertips. They can help you curate a bank of different texts. 

After a week or so of sharing these texts (including photos, art images, videos, etc), students have built a very solid understanding of the Dust Bowl.  So when we do crack open that social studies text, the one that’s boring and dry and far above most kids’ reading level, students are able to access it. They already know about the topic–not just the causes and effects of it, but also the vocabulary around it.  So now, teaching that content as it relates to my social studies standards is a breeze because of the background knowledge we built.


Does it have to be content-related?

No, not necessarily.  Your class might also just show an interest in something.  One year, for whatever reason, some of my students were interested in flying squirrels.  So I built a text set around it, and used these books to teach lessons I needed to teach about nonfiction writing.  And then, because they also became mentor texts for the class, I was able to use them to guide my writing lessons, where we wrote a class book together all about flying squirrels.  Man–were they ever invested in this–because I followed their lead!  So no, a text set can absolutely just be interest-driven. 

But considering the limited time every teacher has, it’s a good idea to think about how you can tie in the literacy skills you also need to teach (and spiral back to). It makes sense to get as much bang for your buck as you can.  

A text set can also highlight concepts, like a particular theme.  

One of my favorite ways to use a text set is to think about digging into a theme.  Friendship and community are two obvious choices for the beginning of the year (or when they’ve all long settled in and are beginning to fight like brothers and sisters).  Other common themes might be standing up for what’s right, trying new things, and being yourself, to name just a few.  

Three of my favorite picture books for the theme of being a good friend are I Walk with Vanessa, The Invisible Boy, and Gibberish. They all have the very same theme, and in all of them, the illustrations are some version of the idea of becoming more and more visible as the protagonist becomes more and more secure–because of the actions of someone else.  Now, in addition to the beautiful conversations we’ll have and the lessons we’ll learn from these stories,  we can also do some comparing and contrasting across texts and dig into how the illustrations create a mood.   

And oh my gosh–the vast amount of vocabulary that comes along in each story!  Vocabulary is something ALL of our students need to develop.  It’s a huge help to their reading comprehension and their ability to write with clarity. 

One stone.  So.  Many.  Birds.

Where to find books for a thematic text set?

I’d first go to your school’s media specialist.  Again, I cannot underscore enough what an under-utilized resource this person is.  The Ramped Up Read Aloud by Maria Walther is another fantastic resource. And check out the Cooperative Children’s Book Center out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Always deserving of an honorable mention is Pernille Ripp, who has curated incredible book lists of titles that fit together.  If you’re not already following her, you must!  And there’s always Pinterest.  But be sure you do a small bit of research of the books you choose (Amazon reviews and the “look inside” images are great for this!) before you make any purchases.  You want to be sure what you choose is just right for your purpose.  

What kind of text set might you begin with?  Will it be a theme?  A social studies topic?  Science?  Or just for pure interest?  I’d love to hear about it! Send me a DM on Instagram, join my private Facebook Group, or send me an email!

Would you like some help creating a text set and using it strategically with your students?   I’d love to help. Contact me to set up a coaching call!

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Related posts:  Interactive Read Aloud vs Read Aloud:  Which is Better, Powerful Instruction:  Interactive Read Aloud, What Balanced Literacy Really Means, Teach the Reader, Not Reading

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