Teaching students to use functional text is one of my favorite units! Why? Because kids are engaging with texts that they actually read in their daily lives! They get to see that the reading skills we teach are immediately useful outside school, and that’s always a win!
What is Functional Text?
Functional text, or authentic text, is any text that we read on a daily basis. It’s real world reading. It’s called functional because it is useful; it includes information that helps us make decisions and complete tasks. Some examples that students easily recognize are recipes, directions, menus, fliers, and signs.
The purpose of functional text can vary. Typically, it provides information, explains directions for how to do something, or allows us to share information with the author (like filling out a library card application).
Learning how to read and engage with real-world text is an important skill for developing readers! Read on for some tips to tackle this genre in your reading workshop!
Introducing Functional Text
Before kicking off this unit, I like to collect as many types of functional text as I can. The good news? It’s super easy! Bring home an extra copy of a paper menu the next time you eat out. Go through your junk mail. Ask your students’ families to bring in some examples!
I like to have a variety of formats and topics, with some that come right from our community. Kids get such a kick out of that! I also try to find examples that will work at different reading levels (fewer words on the page, more pictures, specialized vocabulary, etc.).
A super easy and engaging way to introduce this type of text is to just immerse your students in it! Give them 15-20 minutes to look through different samples. Then have them share their observations. If you like, you can have them record their thoughts on sticky notes or chart their thinking. Or you can provide graphic organizers!
Some things I want my students to notice about functional formats include:
- they are often organized into small chunks of information
- they usually include nonfiction text features, like headings, bold print, and captions, that help draw our eye to certain information
- their main purpose is generally to present information to the reader so that we can complete a task, make a decision, or solve a problem (some formats, like brochures and other advertisements, may be meant to persuade the reader to buy or do something)
- we read them differently than other nonfiction or fiction texts – we might skim them or only read certain parts at a time, rather than always reading them top to bottom in one go
- they might include specific vocabulary about their topic
One thing to watch out for is students who read the main content of the text but not the “extras”, like fact boxes and graphics. Important information can often hide right in plain sight, especially if the page is busy with lots of graphics or sections of text. Sometimes I ask students to look at all those extras first before the main text.
Analyzing Functional Text
It’s good for students to practice finding “right there” answers when they read functional text, since that’s what they would need to do in real life. In the upper grades, though, we know that we go way beyond basic comprehension questions. As students look through examples of authentic text, here are some guiding questions for them to consider:
- What is the purpose of the text?
- Who wrote the text? Is this person biased?
- Who would likely read it? Why?
- How would this text be useful?
- What is the main idea that I should take away as the reader?
- What information can we get from it?
Depending on the format, they can also use reading strategies like questioning, drawing conclusions, sequencing, and identifying cause and effect relationships.
The key is making sure they’re using examples that have enough “meat” to analyze. If you want to save some time, click here to find functional texts with questions.
Chances are that you’ve had students complete some functional writing in your language arts block, such as an expert or how-to book, or letter writing. Including a functional text unit in your writing plans can be a nice break for students who struggle with creative writing or report writing. In addition to the words, they can work on incorporating lots of nonfiction text features as well.
Functional text is also a nice tie-in to media messages, if you teach those. Comparing and contrasting different formats and purposes can help students take a deeper look at the media we consume each day!
Knowing how to read and understand functional text is an important life skill! I find this unit to be really engaging and authentic, and I hope you and your students enjoy it! Let me know in the comments what resources and activities you like to use when you teach functional formats!
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