Three Free Sources of Supplemental Texts

Last week I wrote a list of tips for including more reading in your lesson plans, but I didn’t talk about what to read.  Obviously, your textbook is a good start, but there are so many interesting sources of additional texts that may deepen your students’ understanding while engaging them a little more than dry textbook reading.  

Here’s a list of three resources for FREE texts you may want to explore for your next unit:

The New York Times Learning Network  A free resource with daily activities connected to free articles from the New York Times.  You do not need any subscriptions or accounts to use these materials.  

  • Enter your keywords or unit topics and search articles/activities dating back to 1998–many with complete lesson plans to accompany them.  
  • They also create catalogs of lessons across the curriculum relating to holidays/events, like this one for Valentine’s Day.  
  • English teachers should check out their annotated bibliographies of texts/lessons to accompany the classics we teach in literature.  Here’s an example for The Odyssey.   
  • Another feature worth exploring is the What’s Going on in This Graph? and What’s Going on in This Picture? collections–these could be easily projected for great bell-ringer discussion prompts. (Our students also need support with comprehending visual texts.)  You will need to create a free account for this resource. This nonprofit organization offers nonfiction and fiction passages, many including reading comprehension questions.  You can search by grade level (or Lexile level), by subject or topic, or by type of text.  Some passages included paired texts and paired videos.  You can print articles or assign them digitally directly through Google Classroom.

CommonLit  Like Readworks, you’ll need to create a free account, but then you’ll have access to thousands of reading lessons.  Once you’ve selected a text (use the Browse Content menu on the left to find your articles), you can assign directly to Google Classroom or download a .pdf for printing/posting. Be sure to check out these features:

  • They’ve compiled text sets on a wide range of social studies, science, and literary topics.  (Use the Browse by Text Set feature on the left menu to see all the choices.)  
  • When you’re viewing a text, use the tabs at the top to see paired texts and related media–sometimes I’ve searched a topic and then found something better (that didn’t originally turn up in my search ) in these tabs.  
  • The CommonLit 360 Curriculum offers English teachers complete text-based units, including performance assessments and activities focused on grammar or vocabulary.  

I have a few pieces of advice regarding these resources:  

First, do not assign these articles as independent reading and ask the students to answer the accompanying questions for a grade–even the written response questions.  If you Google the questions (copy/paste the question into a search), you’ll see that the answers are readily available all over the Internet.  Unfortunately, that’s the way our students do these kinds of assignments–most see no value in reading if the answers are out there already. 

However, since all these sources do include reading check/discussion questions, use them as a starting point for your discussion after a quick in-class reading of the text.  If possible, revise the questions to make connections between the other learning you’ve already done on the topic.  If you want them to write a response, try writing your own questions, or use a graphic organizer like Two-Column Notes, or any of the strategies on my 20 Things for Students to Do with Informational Text infographic (get a downloadable/printable copy by clicking on the link).

Also, don’t stress about the grade level/Lexile level of these supplementary texts–if anything, err on the side of choosing texts that are lower levels than your textbooks.  If the texts will improve your students’ understanding of course content, broaden their background knowledge they’ll serve your purpose.  Your textbook and other curriculum should provide the appropriate rigor.  Use these extra texts as scaffolding, helping your students build up to the higher levels of reading/thinking required by the standards. 

There are many other free sources of texts–and many types of texts.  I’ll share a few of my go-to resources for poetry and visual texts next month.  Please follow/subscribe to be alerted when I publish new posts.  In the meantime, if you’ve found a site that helps you add reading to your lessons, please share it in the comments.

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