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Text Sets and Rabbit Holes

Updated: Jun 29, 2022

We all want our children to be life-long learners. We have visions of going down rabbit holes of learning with our children as we learn and explore interesting topics together. Yet, I speak with so many parents who just can’t seem to get their children hooked on a topic, or don’t even know what that would look like.

One way to get your learner hooked on a topic and have something to explore together can be found in the creation of text sets, and if you want to do this now with texts featuring black people and characters, check out our post on how to keep Black History Month going!

What is a text set?

YouTube screenshot. Really.

My husband has a plethora of interests. And when he gets hooked on a topic, he consumes everything he can on that topic. I might consider watching YouTube videos on felling trees a snooze-fest, but he went through a period of time when he was eating that stuff up! When he reads and watches everything he can on a particular topic, he’s creating a text set for himself.

“Text” does not just refer to books. Parents can also introduce podcasts, videos, websites, photographs, science experiments or art collections. Just yesterday we watched a livestream of the Mars Rover Perseverance landing, and there were so many questions we had afterward. We did a quick google search and learned about the different parts of the Spacecraft that brought the Rover to Mars. We googled why Mars doesn’t have water anymore. And we watched several additional videos about other Mars Rovers and this particular mission. This was a spontaneous text set, and by quickly diving in to answer our questions we bonded and I modeled curiosity and discovery in the moment. I will be sure to continue the learning by checking out a bunch of books from the library, but even if I don’t, this learning had an impact!

When your learner expresses interest in a topic, you can:

  1. Start with a library search and check out as many books as you can on the topic (or encourage them to do this). Most libraries have made checking out books as easy as adding them to an Amazon cart! I go online late at night, add books to my cart, and request to be texted when they are ready. Many are even doing curbside pickup, bringing books right to your car!

  2. Create a list of websites to visit.

  3. Connect your child with people you know who have expertise in the subject! This could be local museum webinars, a family friend whose job or hobby is related to the topic, or even live social media videos with someone in the field.

  4. Discuss and compare information in the sources. What was the same or different? Was there any conflicting information? Are there still any areas of confusion? This summer we were diving into texts about bears. We read in one book that bears don’t technically hibernate and my son went bonkers! How could this be??? So many other texts said they hibernate. This led us down another rabbit hole learning the true definition of hibernation and why bears don’t technically hibernate. (Mind blown!!!)

Does text order matter? So, first things first. If you’ve grabbed a bunch of texts about the same topic, maybe talked to some people you know and found some cool videos and websites- you’re winning. And your child is such a magnificent learner, that they will grow immeasurably from the process of diving into the text set without any additional instruction. But, let’s say you have some more time and interest and you want to do some in-depth teaching or are just curious about what else you could do, there is a method to deciding which texts to dig into first and which to save for last.

A primary aspect of reading comprehension is the ability to read and understand texts of varying text complexity. Text complexity refers to how difficult a text may be to the reader based on quantitative factors like the structure of the text or how conventional the language is, qualitative factors like word length and the frequency of unfamiliar words, and the readiness of the reader to engage with the task based on their prior knowledge. (If you want to go down your own rabbit hole of text complexity, start by watching this cool video of a scientist explaining sleep to five different people. If you still want to learn more, you can read all about text complexity here.) So, one strategy is to order the texts by how easy they are for your learner to read by themselves. Or you could arrange them by how attention grabbing they are.

If your learner knows very little about the topic to begin with, start with the shortest texts with the least amount of new vocabulary. This could be picture books, or shorter video clips with brief introductions to the topic. Once the basic knowledge is built, move onto the next most accessible text. The ideas is that some of the words and ideas they picked up in the first group of texts, make the second group of texts easier, and the second group of texts, make the subsequent texts easier to digest, and so on. By the time you get to the final texts in the set they could be reading and comprehending texts far beyond their typical reading level because they have spent so much time learning new vocabulary and content specific ideas that those more complex texts are so much more accessible to them. If you want to learn more about how to talk with your learner while exploring these texts together, check out this post called “Conversations about...reading?!”

Now What? Once your learner has completed a text set (or their interest has waned - it’s totally OK to abandon a text set midway through because your learner has satisfied their curiosity) celebrate them in their new found expertise! You can also discuss ways they could share their new found learning- maybe writing a letter or a paper, making a poster, create a YouTube video or live video conference with friends or family members to present the topic!

Our kids are natural learners, and as parents and caregivers, even ten to fifteen minutes of exploration can provide our learners with individual learning experiences

they just can’t get anywhere else. Exploring text sets about topics our children are interested in can simultaneously improve student learning and deepen our relationships, as we hold hands, take a deep breath and jump down the rabbit hole of learning together.

Going down a rabbit hole with Uncle Sam

If you’d like help figuring out how to support your learner our Co-Teachers would love to help.

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