Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Help! I Need a Map! Using Transitions to Navigate Dense Text

HSE instructors, do you know where your students struggle on the GED® test? The GED® Testing Service published a list of GED High Impact Indicators this year that can help you fine-tune your curriculum to address a few of the gaps. The GED® website states the, "testing data suggests that educators may not be currently focusing on these skills in their GED® test preparation." That is a nice way to say, "Listen up teachers, you're not teaching this stuff." The wizard behind the curtain has spoken, so let's tackle one item on the list:

R.5.3: Analyze transitional language or signal words (words that indicate structural relationships, such as consequently, nevertheless, otherwise) and determine how they refine meaning, emphasize certain ideas, or reinforce an author's purpose.

Students’ work shows they have…

· identified transitional words or phrases within texts.
· explained the function of transitional language as it is used in a specific text.
· explained why specific transitional word(s) were used to convey meaning.
· explained the structural relationship between two clauses or phrases in terms of their transitions.
· explained how structural cues within a text serve an author’s purpose.

Reading comprehension, to some of our students, is the equivalent of slogging through thigh-deep muck wearing oversized waders. The high school equivalency exams are designed to test our students' capacity to quickly sort through dense text and extract the relevant information. And this skill doesn't end with the HSE, it is a fundamental skill that students will call upon in college and their career. Thus, the exams aren't testing our students' knowledge of the African Goliathus Meleagris beetle or the characteristics of Stratocumulus clouds, they are testing our students' ability to understand the text's main idea.

How do we help our students focus on the passage's structure and avoid the pitfalls of overly-detailed content? The author leaves a trail of breadcrumbs for the reader. These breadcrumbs are specific words that trace the author's line of thought and make deciphering the passage's structure a little easier. They are transition words and function as the joints that hold the passage's bones together.

Different transition words have different purposes. Transition words are used to join concepts and to express the relationship between concepts. Moreover, depending on the words selected, the connection between concepts becomes either more clear or more nebulous. The HSE exams use transition words to indicate a certain shift, contract or opposition, emphasis or agreement, purpose, result or conclusion in the line of an argument.

For a detailed list of transition words, visit smart-word. The pdf lists examples from each of the eight transition categories: agreement, examples/support, cause, effect, opposition, time, place, and conclusion. If you prefer an abbreviated list, focus on four categories that correspond to four main transition functions. With practice, our students can learn to recognize the passage's structure by identifying how the transition words are being used.

ADDITION -- transition words that add information, reinforce ideas, and express agreement with preceding material.

further                furthermore
in addition          not only....but also
additionally        in fact
also                     not to mention
and                      besides
as well as            what is more

COUNTERING -- transition words that indicate a change in direction from one idea to a contrasting idea. The words express that there is evidence to the contrary or point out alternatives.

but                                though
however                       while
yet                                conversely
still                               when in fact
on the other hand       in contrast

CAUSAL -- transition words that signal cause/effect and reason/result

because (of the fact)               thus
due to (the fact that)               so
as a result                                then
because (of this)                     providing that
therefore                                  in order to

CONCLUDING -- transition words that conclude, summarize and/or restate ideas, or indicate a final general statement.

as a result                  hence
so                                because (of this)
as a consequence     therefore
consequently             thus
accordingly                ergo

Your students can begin by identifying and discussing transitions in dense articles from sources like The Economist or play the drag and drop Transition Game from the Study Guides and Strategies website that resembles a golf course for putt-putting transitions into category holes. Your students can read short passages that exemplify a single text structure in Smekens Education Solution's Teach Readers to Discern Text Structure lesson. Point out the transitions and key components of each from passages describing Harry Houdini, Diary of a Monarch Butterfly, and Beastly Bee-havior. If you like to incorporate video into your lessons, consider Use Transition Words in Argumentative Writing and Connect Ideas in an Essay by LearnZillion or Smooth: Writing Paragraph Transitions by meistersato411. In addition, Transitions in Reading Comprehension focuses on, as the title indicates, transitions in reading comprehension rather than transitions in writing. Lastly, try the Transition Words and Phrases: Road Signs for the Reader lesson from Visual Thesaurus. Your students will use Visual Thesaurus word maps to discover relationships between transition words and categorize those words according to meaning.

Let us know how you teach transitions in your classroom.

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