Teaching Idea

Unlocking the Power of Informational Text with Five Creative Ideas

Lori Oczkus


This collection of teaching ideas, by author Lori Oczkus, was published previously in Reading Today and is re-published with permission of the author and the International Literacy Association.

The author describes five engaging practices that help students understand uses and usefulness of informational texts in daily life. Strategies are described in detail, with options easily adaptable to any classroom.

The Common Core State Standards call for a substantial increase in the sheer volume of informational texts students read. This means we need to put into action creative ideas for motivating and encouraging all our students to read more of the "real" genre.

Here are five easy ways to help unlock the power of informational text for all of your students.

#1: The Pillowcase Lesson: Modeling Everyday Informational Text Reading

It is estimated that in our adult lives, 85-90% of our reading is informational. The Pillowcase Lesson is a hands-on demonstration and modeling session where the teacher totes a pillowcase from home loaded with his or her informational text reading material. I first heard about this fun lesson from Kathy Au, former International Reading Association President. Sharing your informational text reading will get their attention as you help demonstrate a variety of purposes for reading informational texts.

Fill the Pillowcase: To prepare for this lesson simply take a pillowcase from your hall closet and have fun walking around your home filling it with informational texts that might include recipes, newspapers, magazines, maps, menus, advertisements, forms, directions, and more. 

Show the Pillowcase: At school hold up your lumpy pillowcase loaded with informational texts and ask your class if they'd like to see what you've been reading at home.

Create a Chart: Pull out each item one at a time as you build a three column chart with the headings Text, Purpose for Reading It, and Strategies I Used.

TextPurpose for Reading ItStrategies I Used
Newspaper To keep up on local and world news Skimming, summarizing
Voting Ballot  To learn about the local issues/tax measure to decide how to vote Rereading, evaluating, summarizing

Electronic Option: Some teachers admit to reading absolutely everything on their iPads. If you want, show the pillowcase but pull your tablet or phone out of it and look up directions, recipes, or other informational texts you read.

Table Team Option: If you go the route of rounding up your actual hard copies, you might even pass out one item per table (cookbook, newspaper ad, etc.) and ask the teams of students to tell three things about the text: the type of text, why you probably chose to read it, and one or two strategies you used to read.

Everyday Reading Station: Bring in "everyday" reading for students and keep it in a bin in the independent reading center or classroom library. Include brochures to local venues, restaurants, game directions, letters, maps, newspaper articles, and any other texts you think your students might like to read.

#2: Job Interviews: Modeling Career Informational Text Reading

In order to prepare our students for careers and college in the 21st century, they need to understand the ways people use literacy on the job. In this lesson, students study literacy use in careers and also interview parents, friends, and other adults about how they use informational text on the job.

Invite students to discuss how people in different careers or jobs might use literacy by brainstorming a list of careers and jobs. Ask students to think about what types of informational texts each of the workers reads while on the job. Then, create a chart that lists each job or career, the reading material required, and the purpose for reading.

Job/CareerReading MaterialPurpose for Reading
Chef Restaurant reviews

To see what the competition is doing that people think is "good"
To find new recipes to offer
Newspaper Reporter Online news feed

Online research
To see what stories are hot news that he /she may want to write about
To learn background for stories he/she is writing
Store Clerk Weekly Ad To figure out what's on sale

Consider asking students to interview family members or friends at home and add to the chart. Students may include photos of the people they interview and or photos of their reading material. Students may ask, "What kinds of reading material do you read on the job?" Interviewees should give examples and tell the students why they read each. Students may follow up by asking questions such as "What is the hardest reading material you have to read? What do you enjoy reading the most at work?"

Optional Video Interview (Skype/Google Hangout/FaceTime): Schedule a possible video interview for your class with an adult who can discuss and show some of the reading material he or she uses on the job. Allow students to ask questions.

#3: The Seven-Times-a-Day-Read-Aloud Challenge

Reading aloud to students continues to be one of the most important activities we can offer in our classrooms to build the skills and background for success in reading. Here is a creative way to use read-alouds to motivate your students to read informational text all year long. The goal is to read aloud seven different times throughout the day with six of the read-aloud spots lasting only a few minutes. This gives you the opportunity to expose your class to a wide variety of interesting informational text snippets. Of course, you'll want to make sure you secure an uninterrupted 15-minute read-aloud time each day to make your way through a longer text such as a novel.

Start a read-aloud bin and include informational texts. Keep a stack of read-aloud materials on your desk. Include poetry and the fiction book you are reading for 15-20 minutes to students, along with a variety of informational texts. During transitional times, such as between subjects or when lining up, consider filling the time with a one- to two-minute read-aloud.

Encourage rich talk. Allow students to turn and talk about what they learned or to ask a question. Use text dependent starters to get at main ideas, details, or author's craft. Compare and contrast and share opinions about the texts.

Assign a student monitor. One student can be in charge of the bin and check off the seven readings as well as select what you read to the class.

Share the reading. Move the materials into the class library so students may read the entire text or reread it.

#4: Read for Real: Reading Informational Text During Independent Reading

Researchers tell us the time students spend in independent reading is one of the best predictors of reading achievement. Try encouraging your students to add informational texts to their independent reading logs in the following ways.

Invite students to fill out an interest inventory. Encourage students to reflect on their interests and need to read informational texts by using an interest inventory or topic bank.

Use the inventory to conference with students. Invite students to keep a copy of the interest inventories in their independent reading folder along with a list of books they've read. Encourage students to keep a steady diet of informational text reading as well as fiction. Encourage students to read texts that are increasingly challenging.

My Informational Topic Bank

Topics I Want to Learn About
Why I Want to Learn About This
What I Want To Learn How To Do
Why I Want to Learn How To Do This
Places I'd Like To Learn About
Why I am Interested in These Places
Topics I Know About
Why I Want To Know More

#5: Literacy Centered Project-Based Learning

In the real world, we read informational text to take action. Students jump into texts with more motivation when they have a purpose for reading. Project-based learning projects can provide hands on opportunities as students share online reports, write letters to pen pals, interview senior citizens, or make brochures for local museums or historical societies.

One to investigate: the Read to Feed project from Heifer International. Read to Feed is a wonderful way to not only involve your students in a community service project but also to encourage them to read. Register your class online to track students' reading and at the same time collect quarters to save up for an animal to donate to a family in a third world country.

Your students can also upload their essays and quotes for possible publication in the magazine World Ark. The Read to Feed project offers opportunities for your students to read and write for a purpose!

Inspire Your Students to Read Informational Text

Whether you tote a pillowcase full of informational texts from home, try interviews, keep informational text book logs, read seven times a day, or sign up for the project-based Heifer reading program, your students will thank you for engaging them in meaningful experiences with informational text.

End your year strong by inspiring your students with the power of informational text!

Lori Oczkus is an independent literacy consultant and author. Her most recent book is Just the Facts! Close Reading and Comprehension of Informational Text.


Oczkus, L.D. (2012). Best ever literacy survival tips: 72 lessons that you can't teach without. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Oczkus, L.D. (2014). Just the facts! Close reading and comprehension of informatitional text. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.