Whether you are reading a text aloud to the class, sending your students off to read a text independently, or assigning text for homework, you are likely to encounter the same obstacle: some students aren’t ready to independently access the text. Students that are reading below grade level or are Multilingual Learners may significantly struggle to access text in a meaningful way without direct teacher guidance and instruction. To help these students, and any others that could use a little extra support, you can engineer the text.
What is Engineered Text?
Engineered text is a text that has been modified to provide access for students that need additional support. These modifications can include vocabulary reminders, additional background information, scaffolded questions, format changes that make the text easier to read, and visual aids. The goal of engineering text is not to lower the rigor or change the text itself, but rather to add text supports that allow all students to engage with the material.
When deciding which type of text supports to use, consider how your students will see the text and their familiarity with the topics and type of text they will be reading. For example, if the text you are assigning is on the dense side, maybe it’s all one big paragraph, some students may immediately feel intimidated and unable to jump in independently. Instead, you could break the text up into smaller, more digestible paragraphs with headings to help students follow the narrative.
Next, you might decide to include a note at the top of the text explaining who the narrator is and connecting this particular text to previous learning within the unit. As students are better able to conceptualize how the text fits in with everything else they are learning, they are going to be better prepared to recognize the key takeaways you hoped they would find. Below is an example of how you might engineer a text to activate prior knowledge and provide guidance on the type of text from our 4th grade unit Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans.
Why Should I Use Engineered Text?
No matter where you teach, it is likely that you have at least a few students that are Multilingual Learners or reading below grade level. Engineered text is a way you can ensure that these students are able to actively and meaningfully engage with text and participate in classroom discourse. Without text supports, some of these students may simply stare at the page with no entry point to understand. Imagine the discomfort you would feel as one of these students: Your teacher has given you something to read independently and expects you to answer questions about it in five minutes, but you aren’t even sure what you are looking at.
If you’ve taught before, you probably have a few ideas about how this plays out in your classroom. Maybe this student gets discouraged and withdraws, maybe this student acts out because they are uncomfortable. Now, engineered text may not be the cure-all for these issues, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. Engineered text shows students that they can at least begin to engage with the material as they examine images, review vocabulary, and activate prior knowledge.
In this portion of the engineered text from our 4th grade unit Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans, key vocabulary is pulled out of the text and students are prompted to analyze the chunk of text they have just read before moving on. These additions can help students better understand what they are reading without direct teacher intervention.
In a previous Fishtank blog post, we talked about engineering texts to support students during remote learning. Although we probably saw more struggles with reader access during remote learning, there are many students sitting in classrooms or working on homework that would benefit from engineered text today. Engineered text can help students build the metacognitive questioning habits that will improve their comprehension in the long run. By including the scaffolding questions for students today, we teach them what to ask themselves when they read in the future.
How Can I Engineer Text?
Now that you know the what and the why, it’s time to talk about how: How can I engineer text for my students? The first thing you’ll want to do is decide how you are going to give the text to students. If you are looking to engineer a PDF, you can annotate it directly, print it, and then give the engineered version to students. If you are hoping to engineer a section of a book, you can make annotations directly on the book and share copies of the specific pages or you can retype and annotate particularly challenging sections.
Once you have decided what the text will physically be, you can consider the specific supports you will include. You want to think about what makes the text complex, what vocabulary students may not be familiar with, how you can chunk the text to be more visually inviting, and what background knowledge you can activate for students. From there, you can actually engineer the text.
Fishtank ELA supports the process of analyzing a text and preparing to support students through a few key features. The Unit Launches (available with a Fishtank Plus subscription) make this part of the process much easier as you have a dedicated time to digest the unit texts and consider when and where students will be challenged. You can proactively begin to plan your supports, including engineered texts, as you begin to prepare for the unit. Additionally, Fishtank Plus users have access to ELA Teacher Tools that help you identify types of text complexity, prepare supports for complex text, and identify scaffolds for Multilingual Learners.
When you are ready to engineer your text, you may start by adding questions to activate background knowledge at the top of the text. From there, you may decide to provide definitions for unfamiliar vocabulary words, questions to prompt student thinking, and visual aids throughout the text. Within the Enhanced Lesson Plans (available with Fishtank Plus), there is additional guidance on activating prior knowledge and both implicitly and explicitly teaching vocabulary. As students get used to working with engineered texts, you can even ask them what types of supports they find most helpful. You can explore an example of an engineered text with the reasoning behind each addition from Lesson 19 of our 5th grade unit Exploring Mars.
Want more strategies for supporting students in ELA? Check out the Fishtank ELA Teacher Tools and upgrade to Fishtank Plus for access to additional material and guidance for your classroom.