Archives For Informational Texts

That letter “O” morphing on your search engine for Mother’s Day?
That spinning Globe for Earth Day?
Those jigging leprechauns for St. Patrick’s Day?
These are all the Google Doodles from 2015 to celebrate holidays.

There are also Google doodle tributes to individuals. Emmy Noether (physicist), Laura Ingalls Wilder (author), and Anna Atkins (botonist), have been featured in doodles this year (2015) as individuals whose work was celebrated as having made an impact in our lives today. Each of the doodles represents the individual artistically using elements that best represent their work.

Some of the Google doodles are interactive. The Google doodle for Martha Graham is a 15 second celebration of dance. The Google doodle for Robert Moog provides a miniature electronic analog Moog Synthesizer (keyboard) that the viewer can play. The tribute to journalist Nellie Bly features a Youtube video scored with an original song (Music: “Nellie” by Karen O).

There are also international tributes not seen here in the United States with Google doodles for surrealist artist Leonora Carrington (Latin America/Australia); the oldest primary grade student at 84 years old, Kimani Maruge (Kenya); and womens’ rights activist, Henrietta Edwards (Canada).

The first Google Doodle celebrating a vacation at the Burning Man Festival

The first Google doodle celebrated a vacation by Google founders Larry and Sergey at the Burning Man Festival

The first Google Doodle (right) was a comical message that the Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were out of the office attending the Burning Man Festival. The Google Doodle Archive houses the entire collection (1998-present). A scroll through the graphics shows how Google’s primary colored logo is changed in a way that is often surprising or magical. Clicking on the Google doodle takes the reader to a page with information about the event or person, and information about the graphic design and artist for the page.

There are hundreds of doodles, and information on the archive states:

Creating doodles is now the responsibility of a team of talented illlustrators (we call them doodlers) and engineers. For them, creating doodles has become a group effort to enliven the Google homepage and bring smiles to the faces of Google users around the world.

Now, consider that a key shift of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is to build knowledge through content-rich nonfiction. The explanation on the CCSS website is:

Students must be immersed in information about the world around them if they are to develop the strong general knowledge and vocabulary they need to become successful readers and be prepared for college, career, and life. Informational texts play an important part in building students’ content knowledge. Further, it is vital for students to have extensive opportunities to build knowledge through texts so they can learn independently.

Students at all grade levels can independently develop an interpretation of the Google doodle graphic. After studying the logo created by Google illustrators (doodlers), teachers can determine if the link that takes students information on the holiday, the anniversary, or the biography is appropriate for age or grade level reading. Each link contains general information that aligns to the CCSS shift to “build knowledge through content-rich nonfiction.” There is information on these links that might lead students to investigate the person or topic on the doodle even further.

Should a student have an idea for a Google doodle, “The doodle team is always excited to hear ideas from users – they can email with ideas for the next Google doodle.” There are hundreds of suggestions daily, but the information of the website assures students that, “…rest assured that we’re reading them :)”

Another opportunity for students to submit ideas for a Google doodle (Doodle 4 Google) will be available in September 2015. The details for the 8th annual US competition will be announced then, and examples of student entry winners in 2014 are available for viewing on the website as well.

A quick click on the Google doodle can be an engaging mini-lesson for students in building background knowledge….especially when the information is offered in a logo that is dancing, leaping, morphing, twisting, falling, jumping, running, exploding, singing, growing….

If nothing else, the Common Core State Standards’ (CCSS) contribution to the academic lexicon will be the renaming of the genre known as non-fiction to a larger genre of informational texts. This renaming expanded the genre to include many forms of reading: textbooks, letters, speeches, maps, brochures, memoirs, biographies, and news articles, to name a few.

So where to find these informational texts? What is appetizing enough to make middle school students want to read a story, and then, answer the questions to check their understanding? What kind of high interest texts appeal to high school students who prefer to “Google” or “Sparknote” answers rather than read a text closely? What multi-media elements could be added to make an informational text palatable enough to be consumed by all levels of readers?

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The 2:12 video for accompanies the story

Well, teachers should look no further than the October 1, 2013, New York Times‘ feature article dedicated to Doritos Tortilla Chip titled That Nacho Dorito Taste. This short feature article combined photography and graphics;  a short video: and even shorter text that combined to provide an explanation on how this particular food is engineered so that “you can’t eat just one.”

The article is timely since the CCSS  requires that the student diet of reading should be 70% informational texts and 30% fiction by the time they graduate from high school.  The Literacy Standards specifically address reading in math, science, social studies, and the technical areas and recommends the increase in reading informational texts be completed in these classes. One of the technical areas content area classes could be a culinary arts class, a marketing class, or a health science class, but consider this particular informational text as scrumptious for any class.

In organizing this story, New York Times reporter Michael Moss, who also narrates the embedded video, interviewed food scientist Steven A. Witherly, author of “Why Humans Like Junk Food,” in order to better understand how all of the chemical elements combine in the Nacho Cheese Doritos chip to make it alluring to our taste buds.  According to Witherly, the mixing of flavors on this particular chip is purposeful:

 “What these are trying to do is excite every stinking taste bud receptor you have in your mouth.”

The graphics for the article by Alicia DeSantis and Jennifer Daniel are cleverly combined with photographs by Fred R. Conrad, also from the The New York Times. A separate page layout with the graphic/photo mix delivers tidbits of information about the Dorito chip. Each detail is organized by topic, as this example shows:

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A teacher does not even have to work at organizing questions for students to answer since the New York Time Learning Network, a free educational blog offered by the paper, organized an entire lesson plan on this article. The lesson is titled 6 Q’s About the News | The Science Behind Your Craving for Doritos, organized by Katherine Schulten. The questions on the blog include:

WHAT is psychobiology?
WHAT is “dynamic contrast”?
HOW do the acids in Doritos work on the brain?

WHAT is “sensory-specific satiety”?

WHERE do half the calories in Doritos come from, and, according to the graphic, HOW does that work on the brain?

WHY is “forgettable flavor” so important to Doritos’ success?

The higher order questions invite students to consider:

Now that you know the formula behind Doritos, are you more likely to eat more or less of them? WHY?
HOW many processed foods do you eat a day?
WHAT might a graphic explaining the effects of this food look like?

So go ahead. Read the Nacho Cheese Doritos article. See how irresistible an informational text can be. Once you read one this good, you will be searching to find another!

Mash-up are usually the blending of music from two or more sources. However a different mash-up was featured in a story by National Public Radio (NPR) where street signs in New York City were rewritten into Haiku poetry, Haiku Traffic Signs Bring Poetry To NYC Streets. This story illustrated how a mashup could be made of a very basic informational text with a strict poetic form. “Caution: Oncoming Traffic” was expanded into a poem of  of 5 syllables/7 syllable/5 syllables of “8 million swimming/The traffic rolling like waves/Watch for undertow.” In the NPR story,

“Traffic warning street signs written as haiku are appearing on poles around the five boroughs, posted by the New York City Department of Transportation. The poems and accompanying artwork were created by artist John Morse.”

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NYC’s Department of Transportation hoped the signs would catch new eyes in order to communicate important information. The unusual combination of graphics and verse on street signs presented pedestrians with additional information, a different point of view. The reordering of information is just one example of how presenting information in a different genre also provides new writing opportunities for new audiences.

Since the English Language Arts Common Core is rattling its standards calling for an increase in informational texts, the 9th grade curriculum is including a non-fiction unit where students choose a non-fiction text of their own to read. The CCSS  require this increase based on:

“…extensive research establishing the need for college and career ready students to be proficient in reading complex informational text independently in a variety of content areas. Most of the required reading in college and workforce training programs is informational in structure and challenging in content…”

Our students may choose a text to read on topics that range from animal or adventure topics to travel or war. There are titles that have been made available in bulk on the secondary market, such as public library book sales or thrift stores and added to our classroom book carts. The books purchased for $1.00 each (see how) include:

  • Girl Interrupted-Keysen
  • Guts-Paulsen
  • Tuesdays with Morrie-Albom
  • The Tipping Point– Gladwell
  • Left for Dead-Nelson
  • Iron and Silk-Salzman
  • A Night to Remember-Lord
  • Hiroshima-Hersey
  • The Teammates-Halberstam

iron and silk Night to remember dog year Tipping

There are also a number of books that deal with animal literature that are stocked on the classroom book cart. Many of these texts will also be available for the senior elective, “Critter Lit”:

  • With Love from Baghdad-Kopelman
  • Tell Me Where It Hurts-Trout
  • Seabiscuit-Hillebrand
  • Winterdance– Paulsen
  • A Dog Year-Katz
  • Wesley the Owl-O’Brien
  • Alex and Me-Royte
  • Modoc-Helfer
  • The Pig Who Sang to the Moon-Masson

Students may chose from these titles or another non-fiction choice though the school library, which also offers the online book shelf Overdrive. The students organize themselves into thematic groups while the unit runs for four weeks (block schedule) with some overlap during the standardized testing weeks. The students spend time reading in class, and they organize themselves into thematic groups. Rather than respond in essays or traditional research papers, the students are given an opportunity to create genre mash-ups.

First, to prepare for writing mash-ups, the students generated a list of the kinds of non-fiction writing they see everyday including:

  • License plate
  • Newspaper article
  • Letter to the editor
  • Ad
  • food labels
  • Menu
  • Directions
  • Q&A Interview
  • Diary
  • Weather report
  • Sports report
  • Billboard
  • Tweet
  • Blog post
  • Directions

Next, the mini-lessons that begin each class are quick( 5-10 minutes) and focus on the characteristics of a particular genre from the list so that students can create rewrite each text in that genre. For example, students review how information is arranged on a food label before creating a “food label” for the books they are reading. Students read billboards and street signs before creating the same.  After each mini-lesson, students write about their text in the assigned genre and use a Google Docs folder to develop a portfolio of authentic writing. The result is a portfolio of mash-ups of informational texts rewritten by students into other genres.

Like the haiku and street sign mash-up, these mashups will still communicate essential information. Students can write about the texts they choose to read in the authentic genres they encounter everyday.

Finally, when April comes around, the students may try writing their essential information in poetry: sonnets, limericks, villanelles and even haikus. After all, April is National Poetry Month!