Sparking Interest with Themed Text Sets

March Madness is here outside of our classrooms on the courts, and inside the classroom as the signs of Spring emerge and as we grow nearer to the dreaded end of year testing. At busy times like this, it can be quite challenging for teachers to motivate readers, so today, I thought I'd share a motivational idea with you that will help increase student engagement...

 Using Text Sets in the Content Areas
Using Text Sets in the content areas is a great way to reach and motivate ALL readers. They offer multiple viewpoints on a topic which helps students grasp challenging content. Learn how to put them together and make the best use of them in this post on Comprehension Connection.

Last week, I shared with you a few ideas for motivation in [this post], and today, I blogged about a newer teaching idea called Project Based Learning over on Adventures in Literacy Land. We know how important motivation is to student achievement, and using text sets has been found to be a very effective method for reaching more students where they are.  

Using text sets in the content areas is not necessarily a new idea, but it is well 
supported with the following benefits:

  • allows the teacher to easily differentiate instruction to meet the needs of individual learners
  • encourages higher level thinking skills as different points of view on a topic are explored
  • gives additional exposure to content area vocabulary as well as academic vocabulary
  • offers opportunities to explore different genres and build researching skills
  • allows the teacher to reteach and apply literacy skills in another setting
In addition to these benefits, teachers find it helpful for practicing critical thinking and comprehension skills (which I LOVE). Students learn to analyze the importance of text and learn that not all information has equal value

Text sets can include a variety of genres on the same topic. In the text set above, the theme is clearly basketball, and although basketball may not be a topic in science or social studies, it most definitely is a topic that fourth and fifth grade boys love. Text sets can be formed by theme in this way, and the goal with the set is to make sure you include both a variety of genres AND especially, a variety of levels

One easy way to build text sets is through yard sales and your local thrift shops. Gently used books are readily available, and again, your aim is to find them at all levels.

Why do I need text sets when I have a text book?

I hate to say this, but the answer is simple. Textbooks are often written at a reading level beyond many of the students and include vocabulary that only a few students can access. This one-size-fits-all approach worked for us to some degree, but with increased demands placed on our students, we have to get the most mileage we can. We know text sets meet our individuals and by using multiple books, you build interest with student talk. That repeated exposure to the content better solidifies the concepts for our students.

In the example above, I shared books with a basketball theme. In the collection, I included picture books about basketball such as Salt in His Shoes and Cam Jansen and the Basketball Mystery. These could be used in guided reading groups or for paired reading. I also included biographies on Stephen Curry and Michael Jordan, and you can certainly teach your students the rules of the game and the history of basketball with Gail Gibbons book, My Basket Book. Finally, you can also show students books like Play Basketball Like a Pro or The Sports Illustrated Big Book of Who Basketball.

In science, if you're studying plants or the phases of the moon, say, you could have your librarian help you by gathering up the titles related to the topics. Your local library is also a great source for book collections. In addition to book sets, you can also find articles on Readworks and Newsela   You should also be aware of internet sites and apps that offer free reading materials. These can be especially helpful for researching and for your kids that just can't get enough technology. You might even look for Webquests that capitalize on this excitement by providing direct links to related information.

There are many activity options by topic on Pinterest as well as on Teachers Pay Teachers. If you do a search, you may even find a themed board to support your topic. Here is a board I put together to go with the March Madness theme, but can do this for your content area units too. It makes it so much more interesting and fun when it comes time to implement the unit.

Follow Comprehension's board Basketball Themed Resources on Pinterest.

Of course for activities, I also recommend you search Teachers Pay Teachers for materials that emphasize using a variety of resources. Here are a few activity freebies you might enjoy with a basketball theme.

Boston Celtics and Larry Bird Close Reading FREEBIE  Book Madness: A Tournament of Books

For additional tips with text sets, check out these links:


You may also find this video helpful.

I hope you'll give text sets a try in your classroom. I have enjoyed using them for research and with themes for many years, but they are a wonderful way to support all of the readers in your room.

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