Content Area Integration

What Is Content Area Integration?

Content area integration involves importing content area (e.g., social science) information from textbooks, source materials, and lectures/discussions into writing instruction and exporting writing activities to content area instruction.

How Can My Students Benefit From Content Area Integration?

Content area integration with writing helps students develop communicative competence for interacting with others who have shared knowledge about a discipline or area of study. Individuals within a discipline—such as literary critics, historians, economists, biologists, physicists, mathematicians—possess a unique way of talking and writing about the theories, principles, concepts, facts, methods of inquiry, and so forth connected with that discipline. If teachers have students write regularly in content area classes and use content area materials as stimuli for writing workshop, it is more likely that students will develop the capacity to communicate effectively in varied disciplinary discourse communities and will write for more educationally and personally germane purposes.

Content area integration with writing is helpful for students who struggle with writing because the methods employed activate prior knowledge about the topic of study, require text summarization, and/or encourage discussion through which students are exposed to multiple perspectives. Of course, students who have writing problems sometimes have reading problems, so adaptations may be needed to help these students read the texts assigned. Some appropriate adaptations might include having the text on tape, CD, or in electronic file format for computer readout, having the struggling reader/writer work with a partner who is a better reader, or providing the student with a modified version of the text in which the same essential content is presented but it is written at a lower grade level.

How Do I Achieve Content Area Integration?

A number of methods for integrating content area reading with writing have been developed by researchers.

Story Impressions/Exchange-Compare Writing

The story impressions method (McGinley & Denner, 1987), similar to exchange-compare writing (Wood, 1986), the steps for which are presented in Story Impressions/Exchange-Compare Writing, utilizes a cooperative learning framework. Students are assigned to a group and are given roles (researcher, scribe, content editor, proofreader, and reporter) for writing a brief summary that predicts the content of a lesson or unit text based on key vocabulary provided by the teacher. The teacher should assign roles that are well suited for students’ particular strengths (e.g., assign a student who is an accomplished speaker but a struggling writer the role or reporter). Once the group has read the text, they rewrite their summary to reflect the actual content of the text and their improved understanding of the material and discuss this revised version with the rest of the class.

K-W-L-H +

K-W-L-H + (Carr & Ogle, 1987; Ogle, 1986) is a time-honored method for activating background knowledge about a topic (Know), setting learning goals (Want to Learn), summarizing learning from text (Learned), and promoting continued investigation (How to Find Out More). The plus (+) portion of the method is a written summary of what was learned and what additional things students would like to learn. This method can be used as a teacher-led pre- and post-reading class exercise or as a small-group activity.

In biology, a class might be about to embark on a unit of study related to reptiles. The teacher asks students to brainstorm all that they know about snakes and lists these under the Know column. This student-generated information should be organized into categories either by the teacher or by the students with teacher guidance (e.g., defenses, habitat, and feeding habits) that will facilitate text comprehension. Then, the teacher lists under the Want to Learn column those things students would like to discover about snakes (which helps motivate them to read the text). After reading, the teacher records under the Learned column what the students learned from the text, with particular attention paid to information that confirmed their prior knowledge as well as information that was inconsistent with what was anticipated or that was new. If appropriate, new categories are added. Next, students identify how they would locate missing information in the How to Find Out More column (e.g., use a web browser to search for documents related to snakes), which can help motivate additional learning. Finally, students write their summary paragraph based on the information listed in the Learned and How to Find Out More columns.