Teaching Text Connections to First Graders

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Making text connections is an easy way for first graders to begin to think a little more deeply about what they are reading. As they draw on prior experiences to help them understand the text better, they become more active readers. Start with text-to-self connections and then move on to teaching text-to-text and text-to-world connections.

Text-to-Self Connections

Text-to-self connections are made when students are able to connect something that happens in a story to something that has happened in their own lives. First graders can easily learn how to make these connections and once they have they will be able to transition to making the other types of connections.

Day 1 Begin teaching text-to-self connections by model making connections during a read aloud. Explain to students that when we read we use what we already know, our schema, to help us understand what we are reading better. Then tell them thatyou are going to show them how to make test-to-self connections. Choose a book that you can make connections to and as you read stop and think out loud about the connections you are making.

I like to use the book “Wemberly Worried” by Kevin Henkes, for this first lesson. Use very specific language when you make your connections. “The part where Wemberly was worried about the noise the radiator made reminded me of when I used to worry about the noise that the icemaker in our new house made.” or “When I read the part about Wemberly and Jewel becoming friends it reminded me of when I met a new friend on the first day of school in first grade.”

Day 2 Follow the same procedure as the previous day, using a different book. At the end of the lesson call on a few students to tell about a connection they made when listening to the story.

Day 3 Read aloud another picture book. A few good choices are Owen or Sheila Rae the Brave both by Kevin Henkes, The Art Lesson or The Baby Sister both by Tomie de Paola, or Thundercake by Patricia Polacco. After you finish reading, have the students turn to the person they are sitting next to and share a connection they made. Model the language you want the to use - “When I heard the part where …, it reminded me of …” Call on a few students to share and write the responses on a chart.

Day 4 Read aloud another picture book. After reading and discussing the book, give each student a graphic organizer where they can record their own text connection. An easy way to make text connection organizer is to draw a line down the middle of the paper and write “When I heard (or read) the part where” on one side and “it reminded me of” on the other.

The students should write about and draw a picture of the part of the book they have a connection to and then do the same for their connection. A few students will probably insist that they don’t have ant connections to the book you’ve just read, so you might give them the option of using one of the books from the previous days if they can’t think of one.

Continue to have the students practice making text-to-self connections. You might have a small group write a text connection after a new book in guided reading or add a text-to-self connection prompt to your reading response journals. When they become comfortable making text-to-self connections, you can introduce the other types of text connections.

Text-to-Text Connections

Now that your students can make text-to-self connections, they are ready for text-to-text and even text-to-world connections.

You can introduce these new comprehension strategies following the same outline of activities you used to teach text-to-self connections. Start with modeling how to make the connections and then continue to practice together as a class until the students are ready to try on their own. You’ll need different books and you can easily adjust the graphic organizers for each type of connection.

Students make text-to-text connections when they make connections between two books, songs or poems that they’ve read or heard. First graders will usually get this type of connection pretty quickly. To introduce the concept, read related books in pairs, so that your students can easily see the connections.

Books to use:

  • “Oliver Button” is a Sissy by Tomie de Paola
  • “William’s Doll” by Charlotte Zolotow
  • “Julius, the Baby of the World” by Kevin Henkes
  • “My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother” by Patricia Polacco
  • “The Baby Sister” by Tomie de Paola
  • “A Baby Sister for Frances” by Russell Hoban
  • “The Two of Them” by Aliki
  • “Now One Foot, Now the Other” by Tomie de Paola

To make the graphic organizer, draw a line down the center of your paper. Leave space at the top of each section for the title and author of each book. The top of the first section can say " When I read (or heard) the part where …" and the top of the second section can say “it reminded me of … " The students can use the space underneath to write and draw a picture of their connections.

Text-to-World Connections

Students make text-to-world connections when they relate something that they read in a book to a bigger issue that is going on in the world, such as poverty or racism. These are harder connections for first graders to make, but it’s a good idea to at least introduce the concept. Your students might surprise you.

Books to use:

  • “The Great Kapok Tree” by Lynne Cherry
  • “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss
  • “Night in the Country” by Cynthia Rylant
  • “The Seashore Book” by Charlotte Zolotow
  • “Whoever You Are” by Mem Fox
  • “The Story Of Ruby Bridges” by Robert Coles
  • “Something Beautiful” by Sharon Dennis Wyeth

You can use the same graphic organizer as above with only one space for the title and author of the book.

As your students begin to use their background knowledge to make connections, they will have a better understanding of the things they read.