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Teaching for Knowledge Building and Comprehension with Authentic Texts

FP-Blog_Header_KnowledgeBuildingComprehensionEvery classroom can create opportunities for rich, interconnected literacy learning experiences, where each subject dovetails with the next. This vision of education, where knowledge building and comprehension extend across the curriculum, was the focus of the April Office Hours webinar led by Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell.

High-quality, authentic text sets are central to this kind of learning. These are collections of texts carefully chosen to connect themes, topics, and ideas—illuminating each other to enrich students’ understanding. That’s why the best text sets are created intentionally to encourage students to make connections between the texts they read, talk about, write about, and return to as mentor texts.


In this blog post, we dive into some of the webinar topics. We explore ways to enhance comprehension and vocabulary through a variety of texts. We also discuss how interactive read-alouds can bring a class together through engaging knowledge building experiences.

The Role of Interactive Read-Alouds

Interactive read-alouds are anything but passive—they are active, engaging sessions where students listen actively and talk purposefully with each other about a book they are reading as a class.

The careful selection of texts for interactive read-alouds should be intentional, allowing teachers to go beyond the entertainment value of a good book. Comprehension is not an isolated event tied to a single text, but a complex intersection of the different texts a student has encountered. When teachers choose a variety of texts that resonate with the big ideas, themes, or authors being studied, they lay down pathways for students to build connections, deepen their understanding, and find relevance in their previous learning.

Building Knowledge through Literacy

Using literacy to build content knowledge relies on the strategic use of high-quality, grade- and age-appropriate, authentic text sets. These should not be books randomly thrown together; they are purposefully chosen to provoke thought, to layer understanding, and to examine topics from multiple angles.

The best text sets make it impossible for students not to make connections between what they are reading, other texts, and the world around them. Whether exploring the environment, researching history, or analyzing character motivations, good text sets enable students to construct a robust knowledge base.

In these thoughtfully crafted literary experiences, complexity is embraced. It’s critical to leverage complex texts that students can think within even if they can’t grasp every word or concept. These kinds of texts encourage students to stretch beyond their current abilities, providing a scaffold to higher-level thinking and understanding. This approach not only enhances comprehension but also invites students to engage with the language and ideas that will become a foundation for future learning.

The integration of literacy into all subject areas supports student engagement and strengthens their grasp of complex concepts. When we choose texts that resonate with the curriculum’s big ideas and key standards, we pave the way for children to anchor new information in what they already know—deepening their comprehension and expanding their vocabulary.

Comprehension and Vocabulary Development

The connection between comprehension and vocabulary is at the heart of literacy.

Comprehension extends beyond reading a single text—it is the layered understanding that grows from all previously encountered texts. Text sets, with their interconnected themes and ideas, are an ideal network for students to effectively construct meaning.

Vocabulary development is a natural byproduct of working with diverse texts. As students encounter various genres and subjects, they acquire a wealth of new words and phrases. This lexical growth is organic, rooted in authentic contexts rather than rote memorization.

As Gay and Irene noted in the webinar, engaging with a broad range of reading materials encourages students to bring forward “every other text you know that has relevant content, information, ideas, big themes, big ideas.” Such an approach not only enriches vocabulary but also strengthens comprehension. The discussions around these texts, whether they are about the nuances of character motivations or the complexities of environmental issues, build up students’ understanding of the world.

Creating Inclusive Learning Environments

Creating inclusive learning environments where every child feels seen and valued is essential for supporting a comprehensive literacy framework.

The books chosen should not only reflect varied cultures but also span a spectrum of themes, genres, and perspectives. This approach not only promotes inclusivity but also encourages students to explore and respect different viewpoints. It lays a foundation for students to engage with literature that challenges them to think critically about the world and their place within it.

This is one way bilingual books and those embracing culturally specific themes are powerful tools. They offer students an opportunity to celebrate linguistic diversity and recognize the value of different languages in a global society.

Additionally, inclusive learning environments acknowledge and address the unique needs of all learners. Interactive read-alouds invite participation from every learner, no matter what their reading proficiencies or needs are. This ensures that each student has a part in the classroom learning journey.

Enhancing Classroom Discussion and Inquiry

The most powerful classroom discussions stem from a culture of inquiry where students’ natural curiosities are not only welcomed but integral to the learning process. Authentic texts serve as springboards for questions that may not have straightforward answers, encouraging students to dig deeply into a topic.

Interactive read-alouds are perfect for this type of inquiry-based learning. When students share their thinking with the group, they are practicing how to be active members of a thinking community. They learn to listen, to build on one another’s ideas, and to respect the diverse perspectives their classmates bring to the conversation.

This is the essence of inquiry: moving beyond the surface to explore the deeper ideas that a text may inspire. It’s about making connections, noticing contradictions, and encountering different perspectives—all crucial for developing comprehension skills that last a lifetime.


The linking of comprehension and vocabulary development that Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell laid out underscores a crucial tenet: knowledge building is at the core of literacy. By integrating text sets that span a range of topics and themes, educators provide students with a scaffold to deeper thinking—which is, in turn, a ladder to deeper understanding.

The role of interactive read-alouds and inclusive environments in this process is key. When every student, regardless of reading proficiency or background, actively participates in discussions, the classroom becomes a hub of deep thinking and conversation. These kinds of discussions enhance comprehension, as students learn expand their vocabulary while also discovering the context in which to use it.

As we build classroom literacy experiences that connect various subjects, we also create learners who are not just prepared for the next test—but to become lifelong learners. It is this cross-pollination of disciplines, supported by authentic reading materials, that equips students to think broadly, critically, and purposefully.


Looking for resources that support knowledge building, comprehension, and foundation skills? Explore our whole-group literacy resources.

Topics: Literacy, Featured Posts, Home, Interactive Read-Aloud, Knowledge Building

Wed, May 15, '24

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