Assessing Student Understanding of Informational Text

Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

Are you beginning a unit on nonfiction reading materials in your English class? If so, read this lesson to learn how to assess your students' understanding of informational texts.

Informational Text

A major part of being an English teacher is exposing your students to as many forms of writing as possible. The more variety of material they work with, the more reading and analysis skills they can learn.

One type of writing is informational text, which is nonfiction writing with a purpose of informing the reader about a specific topic. Newspapers, encyclopedia articles, letters, and essays are just a few examples of informational texts.

Exposing your students to these types of texts is one thing, but how do you know if they are actually learning and growing as readers? A major aspect of a teacher's job is to assess, or evaluate the skills of your students. This lesson discusses how to assess your students when reading informational texts.

Assessment for Comprehension

The first aspect of reading you want to assess for is comprehension, which is the basic understanding of the text. Knowing the author's purpose and being able to provide the basic details from an article are ways of showing comprehension.

This brings us to the first way to assess comprehension of informational texts: basic knowledge and recall. In general these are lower level thinking skills, but recalling the important facts and details in a reading passage is imperative for students to be able to move to the higher level skills. Assess your students' responses to basic knowledge questions. Depending on the length of the passage, you can create a teacher-made test or quiz asking about the basic ideas in the text. Imagine the text was a newspaper article on global warming. Here are some sample basic recall questions.

  • What is the author's opinion of global warming?
  • What are 3 supporting details to that opinion?
  • What are the dangers of global warming?
  • What is something you can do on a daily basis to help reduce global warming?

A second assessment for comprehension is a reading journal. A reading journal is a short writing assignment where students record their thoughts or opinions on a text. You can leave this open for students to write any thoughts at all about the passage, or you can direct them with a question. For example, imagine the text was a persuasive essay. In their reading journals, have students write about if they agree or disagree with the position of the author. These can be shared in class or collected for the teacher to assess understanding of the reading.

Lastly, use graphic organizers, or visual representations of information, to assess comprehension for informational texts. Examples include a cause and effect table, a problem and solution flow chart, a timeline of events, or any other diagram that shows understanding of the concept. Say your class just read an article on the development of the first atomic bomb. Your students can use the details in the article to create a timeline of the important events that led to the creation of the bomb. Then use the timelines to assess your students' understanding.

Assessments for Higher Level Thinking

Once you have assessed for comprehension, move onto the higher level thinking skills like analysis, synthesis, and application. Analysis focuses on breaking down an author's argument to examine it, synthesis centers on putting things together to create something, and application involves using the concepts in other situations.

One method for assessing these skills is to ask your students to apply the knowledge gained from one informational text to a different area. For instance, imagine the text was an encyclopedia article on Abraham Lincoln's presidential campaign. You can have your students write an essay comparing his campaign to the presidential campaigns occurring in today's society.

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