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Using Multiple Texts to Teach Content

Learning Point Associates, North Central Regional Educational Laboratory
Each of us, every day, has to contend with multiple messages or texts—in the news, over the Internet, in our workplace, in books, and in conversation. Making sense of these sometimes conflicting messages is critical. But without being explicitly taught how to do so, students can have trouble synthesizing multiple texts—gathering facts without keeping an eye toward the different perspective of each. This Learning Point Associates article offers a case study and guidelines for using multiple texts in the classroom to increase the critical thinking and academic sophistication of older students.


Teaching students to pay attention to both the central features of a text (the facts) and the peripheral features (the author’s competency, bias, purposes for writing, etc.) will enrich students’ understanding of a subject and their critical thinking abilities. Dr. Shanahan, Professor of Reading, Writing and Literacy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, presents a case study describing her method to engage students in reflections about multiple texts. Teaching students to think about disparate texts resulted in:

  • Increased disciplinary knowledge and an understanding of how information is constructed and shared in a given academic field (history is used as an example);
  • Increased strategic knowledge about how to make ties and comparisons across texts;
  • Altered purposes for reading — not just gathering a discrete set of facts in order to pass a test but a chance to figure out what to believe (which is inherently engaging, since it requires students to form their own opinions); and
  • Increased critical thinking, since making cross-textural links necessarily involves analysis, synthesis and evaluation.

She also gives examples of how teachers could incorporate multiple texts into science, English and civics classes; and notes strategies (including a sample comparison-contrast chart) that high school teachers might employ to utilize multiple texts.

Shanahan, C. (2003). Using Multiple Texts to Teach Content. Retrieved Oct. 1, 2007, from .