I don't have a textbook, nor do I want one. I use magazines and trade books in my classroom. We live in the information age, and magazines are vehicles for accessing up-to-date information in the classroom. Magazines also provide the opportunity to integrate content area subjects into English language arts classes. I like magazines because the passages are short, so students get repeated exposure to multiple genres on varying topics, which is a quick way to build background knowledge. Below is a SMART Board lesson using Storyworks magazine that illustrates how much can be taught with two nonfiction magazine articles. (Download a SMART Notebook interactive lesson.)
Each student in our 6th grade class receives a weekly Time for Kids and a bimonthly Storyworks. In addition, I have one class set of 30 biweekly Scope magazines. The articles in the Scope magazine are used to meet the needs of my higher level readers. All these magazines are used in both the reading and English classrooms. Time for Kids, a weekly news magazine, exposes our students to current events that impact their lives, thereby building background knowledge on my topics. It also affords the opportunity to teach nonfiction text features such as:
- Bold words
- Word boxes
- Time lines
These skills are significant because they transfer into content area reading and real-life reading experiences.
If you haven't figured it out yet, you will soon. I am a huge fan of Storyworks. Each issue contains poetry, fiction, nonfiction, plays, and state test review — all wrapped up in one little package. The Lexile score is provided for each passage, which is helpful in diversifying instruction. Each issue contains grammar and vocabulary activities as well. My students love to enter the writing contest — an optional enrichment assignment. The reading and writing activities foster text-to-text connections across genres and depict the author's purpose for writing. The possibilities are limitless. Whenever I identify an area in need of improvement, Storyworks comes to the rescue.
In an earlier blog post "Engaging Students in Reading and Writing With Interactive Whiteboards," I wrote about utilizing IWBs in reading and writing instruction using Storyworks magazine. I utilized the online one-stop resource when designing the interactive lessons. This SMART Notebook lesson is based on Yesterday and Today articles: "New Sport Is Born" and "A Game of Big Stars” (Storyworks, January 2010). The lesson starts by hooking my students. We watch a video excerpt on YouTube of the 2009 NBA Championship in which Kobe Bryant helps the Lakers overpower Orlando Magic. Alex Burling refers to this historic game in the article. I use the articles to teach content area reading. Now that I have their attention, and I know they all understand who Kobe Bryant is, I focus on nonfiction text features: title connection, headers, subheaders, illustrations, captions, bold words, etc. I also integrate a little multiple choice state test review. It is important that students understand that not all multiple choice answers are found word-for-word in the article. Some require higher level thinking. In order to help them succeed, I teach Question and Answer Relationships (QARs): Right There, Here and There, Author and You, and On My Own. The image illustrates how we actually analyze the questions to determine the type of QAR.
In my classroom, every reading activity has an accompanying writing activity. With these nonfiction passages, my goal was to teach compare/contrast writing using the point-by-point organizational pattern. Point-by-point organization requires higher level thinking as my students have to come up with an insightful connection — a point they want to discuss. A matrix graphic organizer is used to organize our details and ideas. We discuss how to discern between specific details and commentary; both are important elements in writing. This needs to be explicitly taught at 6th grade level. So, we highlight details in the graphic organizers that are "specific details." We can actually go back into the articles and put our fingers on them. The information that is not highlighted is important, too, because it is necessary for a thorough discussion. However, they cannot make the mistake that commentary is synonymous with text details. My students know that in order to score above a five on our rubric, the highest level, they have to include commentary or a thorough, insightful discussion. If they answer the question correctly, but don't engage in the higher level thinking and thorough discussion, they score a four, as they have only demonstrated a literal understanding.
With all my lessons, I model the writing piece for my students, which is included in the downloadable lesson. They evaluate it, and then they write their own piece. For the paragraph, we use an interactive hamburger graphic organizer to organize our details in a logical manner. Notice that we have a word wall of compare/contrast vocabulary as well.
You either need SMART Notebook software or the downloadable SMART Notebook Interactive Viewer to interact with the the Storyworks Basketball Lesson. If you do not have a SMART Board in your classroom, you can still use the resources. Hook up a projector to your computer and project the online videos, digital articles, and handouts to provide students with visuals.
There is no doubt that technology is changing the way we teach. Technology helps us to meet the needs of visual, auditory, and tactile learners. However, time is an issue. It doesn’t make sense to invest so much time in designing interactive, engaging lessons if you are only using the lesson one time. So, I pay close attention to supplemental materials when evaluating magazines to use in my classroom. Many magazine publishers are creating digital versions of the magazines to support teachers who are using technology. Visuals are so important to too many students to overlook it.
This year, Storyworks has gone digital, and is available on the companion Web site. Many of the resources help me to meet the needs of the diverse learners in my classroom. You will find videos, digital copies of student handouts, and links to Web sites with enrichment activities. They address seasonal themes, but they also support varying intelligences and learning styles (e.g., visual, musical, and bodily-kinesthetic).
Don’t throw out those old magazines! When your librarian or colleagues clean house, snag them up. I subscribe to many magazines for my classroom library. These single-issue subscriptions were selected
because they enrich my curriculum or they hook my students’ interests. Sometimes, I use these magazine articles for state testing preparations. For example, I may read an article aloud to practice for the listening passage in our New York State English Language Arts Assessments. Students listen to the passage, take notes, and then respond in writing.
If you get a decent magazine archive, you can provide students with voice and choice in a collaborative project. For example, I have four years' of Kids Discover and National Geographic Kids magazines. The students can peruse the articles, select a unique animal, and write a persuasive piece discussing why their animal should be included in the classroom zoo. If I wanted to take it further, they could design an online exhibit or habitat, which integrates with science. The magazine would serve as one of the three resources required for a 6th grade research project.
The same applies for cultural magazines such as Faces and Calliope, which integrate with our 6th grade social studies. Students can take on the role of a travel agent and research other cultures to design vacations abroad or a trip back into ancient times.
Magazines can be expensive, so I evaluate them before investing. I primarily focus on content and quality of literature. Below is a list of the criteria:
1. Quality of literature
2. Varying readability levels
3. Connection to content areas
4. Student interests
5. Supplemental materials
I’m interested in knowing how you use magazines in the classroom. Please feel free to submit your ideas below.