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April 4, 2015

Helping Children Understand Informational Print with Thinkmarks



In this post, I am going to tell you how to use a simple tool called “ThinkMarks” to help young children understand informational text that they are reading or hearing someone read aloud.  ThinkMarks are really just small sticky notes with symbols on them that represent different types of thoughts, such as what the topic is or perhaps an important detail or new word.  Teachers might want to have children put them on things like the table of contents, glossary, or index, too.  Children can also be taught to put Thinkmarks in books when they catch themselves using critical thinking skills such as inference or predictions, so they can be used in a wide variety of ways and at many different levels, and can also be a great part of a close reading lesson!

Using ThinkMarks to Boost Comprehension and Critical Thinking Skills in Young Readers
Click here to see my post on using Thinkmarks to help children read and understand fiction.

I first wrote about Thinkmarks in my January, 2014 post, “Using Thinkmarks to Boost Comprehension of Fiction and Critical Thinking Skills in Young Readers.”  Just click on the link to find out more and to download the Thinkmarks that I created for fiction.  The Thinkmarks that I made for this post are specifically for informational print, (which we used to call “non-fiction” when I was in school!)


How to Use Thinkmarks at the Kindergarten Level to Help Children Comprehend Informational Print

The plan below assumes that you’ve already introduced the ideas of finding the topic and some important details about it in an informational book that you’ve read.  To be successful comprehending Informational print, children need a basic understanding of how to find the topic of the book and some details about it.  After that, the rest is just gravy- it’s great to have, but not the most important thing, at least not in my opinion.

The great thing about using ThinkMarks when teaching kids to read informational print is that you can also use them to help them find and mark the topic and details in the text, which I found to often be a difficult thing for many children. Of course, finding the topic and the details might not really critical thinking in the way we usually think about it, but they are an incredibly important part of comprehending informational print.  And I think that it is important to establish this basic comprehension of the text first before moving on to teaching more complex levels of thought.

For best results, don’t try to introduce ALL of the Thinkmarks in the same lesson.  (I tried this, and it didn’t go very well!)  I would introduce just one or two to start with, and then introduce another new one later when they seem ready (probably just one more new skill/Thinkmark at a time.)

1. Show the Chart:  Show the children the informational Thinkmark chart, and tell them that they are going to use these sticky notes to mark the important things in the book that they find.  Let them know that we may not need every single Thinkmark for every book.

ThinkMark Chart-Informational Text K1

2. Read a Book:  Start by reading a book aloud to the whole class.  Invite the children to raise their hands and let you know when they find the topic, details, or any other of the items on the chart.

Informational print for Kindergartners
This is a good example of an informational print book at a level that Kindergartners could read themselves. It’s a good starting place for a whole group lesson like this, too, because it’s SO short and quick that you would have time to talk about how to use the Thinkmarks.

3. Find the Topic & Place the Thinkmark:  Hopefully, a child will raise his or her hand as you begin reading and identify the topic of the book.  When that happens, invite the child to up to come find the Topic Thinkmark and place it on the page that shows the topic, which will probably be the title page, the cover of the book, or one of the first pages of the book.  If none of your students do this, then ask them if anyone knows what the topic of the book is.  Call on one of them and ask that child to put the correct Thinkmark on the book.

Here is a photo of a child as she tries to place a Thinkmark on a book independently in a small group lesson later on.

4. Find a Detail and Place the Thinkmark:  Tell your students that since you have already identified the topic, then they should look for information about the topic, or “details” about it, and raise their hands when they find one.

This photo shows one Detail Thinkmark.

5. Find Another Detail and Place Another Thinkmark:  Hopefully, a child will raise a hand and quickly identify some important information in the book about the topic.  Have that child come forward and put a Detail Thinkmark on the page with that detail.


6. Continue Finding Details and Placing Thinkmarks Until Done:  Continue reading like this, having children come up and put a Detail Thinkmark on any page that has more important information about the topic.  (Try to let the children determine whether or not the information on the page is important enough for the Thinkmark!)

chart and book
As you can see in this photo, we were using a more complex version of the Thinkmark Chart than I would recommend starting with. It was too hard! Start with the one pictured above. I have included several versions for you to try out if you like!

7. Optional:  Add an Opinion Thinkmark:  If a child says something like, “Ew!” or “Yuck!” or “Awesome” then tell the class that the child just formed an opinion!  Have that child put an Opinion Thinkmark on that page.  (Caution:  you may want to limit the number of opinion Thinkmarks available per book, or once they get the hang of it, your class may NEVER stop offering opinions and it will take a really long time to finish reading any book!)

Opinion Thinkmark
This photo shows an Opinion Thinkmark. I got in the habit of asking my students what they thought of the book at the end of it, and then reminding them that this was their opinion. Then we placed an Opinion Thinkmark on the back cover or the last page. I actually like the idea of having each child draw a face that represents THEIR own opinion of the book, rather than both the happy and sad face to represent the word, “opinion.” I think I will try that next year!

8. Optional:  Add a Connect Text to My World Thinkmark:  If a child happens to say something like, “I’ve seen one of those before…” then you can tell the class that he or she just connected the text to his own world or life, and that means the Connect Thinkmark goes goes there!  See step seven for advice on limiting the number of times this can happen, LOL!  Otherwise, their attention span may run dry before the book ends.

"Connect the Text to My World" Thinkmark
This photo shows a picture of a “Connect the Text to My World” Thinkmark. If a child says something like, “Oh, I’ve seen one of those before,” then a text to self connection has been made, and the Thinkmark can be placed. (The X on the circle is supposed to represent the Earth.) LOL!

9. Model the Whole Process Several Times, Then Try It In Small Groups:  After modeling this process several times with different books, your little ones may be ready to try this themselves in their own little informational print reading books during your guided reading time.  For some classes, they may be ready after watching this modeled four or five times.  Others may need more.  Just be ready to help them through it, one step at a time- especially those that struggle a bit.

Using Thinkmarks in a Small Guided Reading Group
This photo shows what it looked like when we tried using the Thinkmarks in a small group. I made black and white charts because I didn’t want to waste all of my colored ink. I thought you might want to do the same, so I included those black and white charts in the file.

10. Optional:  Add an Infer or Predict Thinkmark:  I’m including a version of the Informational Print Thinkmarks that also includes a space for “Infer” and “Predict.”  However, I found that these are REALLY hard to use with informational print, at least in Kindergarten.  This may be more do-able in first grade and up, though, so I am giving you the master to download just in case you or a friend can use it- especially since the work on it is already done.

ThinkMark Chart-Informational Text

thinkmark tiles logo
If you want children to have a way to remember what those symbols mean, you might try these Talk Blocks! I tried them with first graders, and they really enjoyed them- but they WERE a distraction! To use the Talk Blocks, the teacher pre-records a message 30 seconds or less onto the blocks. If a child needs to hear the message, he taps the block to hear it play.  I would use them, but only if your children really NEEDED them as a prompt.  After that point, take them away for sure.

11. For Older Children:  Add a Thinkmark for New Words, Table of Contents, Index, Glossary, etc.  I have included a chart with these elements on it for older children as well, in both black and white and in color.

Here is a Thinkmark chart for much older children.
Here is a Thinkmark chart for much older children.  The children would make up their own symbol, drawing, or pictogram, or simply write the word on the sticky notes.

Customize Your Own Chart:  I also included a chart that is blank, except for the sticky notes.  Make up your own Thinkmark, and then be sure to let me know what you did with it!  I can’t wait to hear all of your great ideas!

Here is a Thinkmark Chart that you can do whatever you like with!
Here is a Thinkmark Chart that you can customize by writing in anything you like!

Tips to Make the Lesson Go More Smoothly

Before you read your first book whole group, draw the icons on the sticky notes yourself so that they are ready ahead of time.  It’s easiest to try this for the first time if you don’t have to fumble to remind yourself what to draw, especially as you sit in front of your whole class of students, and even worse- in front of your administrator!

Having those sticky notes DRAWN and ready to be placed BEFORE you read the book is essential to the reading lesson!  If you have your kids stop to draw up each of these things, that’s all you will do for that lesson.  So if each child is to have his or her own chart, then let them draw the sticky notes on another day and place them on their charts.  Then you can save the charts and pass them out for the children later.

When I tried this in a first grade class, I did not have the stickies drawn, and the kids all had to stop and draw them.  It REALLY slowed them down and distracted them from what we were supposed to be focusing on.  Later I tried it again in Kindergarten, and I had everything ready to go this time, because I had learned my lesson.  Things went much more smoothly, but then the chart was too hard!  Hence, the simplified chart you see at the top of the page.

I think that the easiest way to give the lesson is to have a set of charts ready with sticky note icons that are TEACHER DRAWN.  If you have groups of six kids maximum, make six charts, plus one for yourself, and maybe an extra for a possible new student if kids come and go a lot at your school.

So… the bottom line is that your life will be easier if you just draw all of those sticky notes yourself.  If you make a set of six charts, that’s eight per chart, so it’s 48 icons.  I made a set and it took me about 15-20 minutes.  Yes, I know that it is supposed to be possible to print on sticky notes, but I imagine that by the time I figured that out and cleared all of the paper jams in my printer, I would be done filling out all of those little stickies!

Moving On From There

The next step in this process is to teach the children to go back through the text and use the Thinkmarks to help them remember what they read, brainstorm, and make a chart of what they learned about the topic.  We then use the chart to help us generate sentences to help us figure out what to write.  But that’s another blog post, I think!

Forest Animals Chart

Click here to download the Thinkmarks Charts!


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