How Were Anchor Texts Selected?

Teacher-writers with decades of classroom experience reviewed countless nonfiction texts and selected the most engaging, content-rich, informational books that would convey an essential aspect of the history addressed in the learning expectations for each era.  The list of texts is neither comprehensive, nor exhaustive.  In other words, a text has not been selected for every aspect of the history contained in the era summaries, nor do we imagine that we have identified all of the great texts available that are relevant to an era.  The list represents a great start—and one that we look forward to building with Plan users over time.   

We were looking for rigorous, accurate, well-written, and wonderfully illustrated texts that would enliven historical events in ways that nurture children's innate curiosity; make teaching more fun, by engaging the teacher in compelling history; and serve, in their quality and complexity, as exemplars for teaching the literacy skills defined in the CCSS.

Criterion One: The text should enliven historical events in ways that nurture children's innate curiosity.

We sought texts that bring to life the historical setting, events, and story being told.  While our focus was the selection of rich, complex, content-rich texts, we also recognized that the texts needed to be age-appropriate.   Much consideration was given to readability, and whenever possible, we have placed texts in appropriate bands, based on their Lexile level. Where Lexile levels may pose ostensible challenges for teachers, we have explained how teachers might approach instruction; for example: through read-alouds and the scaffolding of reading.

We have geared our questions and answers to the upper level of each grade band. Teachers will have to use the questions that are appropriate for their students and anticipate the answers that are appropriate for their students, building their capacity over time.  Teachers who have piloted these materials have reported sometimes being surprised at how successfully students mine and appreciate these texts, even when they were at first considered “too hard.”  They have told us—and we believe—that it is important not to underestimate what students can do when they are presented with compelling, high-quality texts.

Criterion Two: The text should make teaching more fun, by engaging the teacher in compelling history.

One of the key instructional shifts called for in teaching to the CCSS in English language arts is the significant increase in the amount of time and attention students are asked to spend in evidence-based analysis of what they are reading.  Rather than focusing on meta-cognitive reading strategies at the expense of content, teachers can now focus on the content of the text, confident that it lends itself well to the kind of analysis demanded in the CCSS, but also giving them a chance to immerse themselves in the content, making the teaching more interesting for them.

Criterion Three: The text should serve, in its quality and complexity, an exemplar for teaching the literacy skills defined in the CCSS.

The third important criterion for text inclusion was that it was significantly complex enough to support the rich text study, including the focus on important English language arts standards.  If the texts weren’t well-written and compelling, they simply would not lend themselves to the kind of analyses that the CCSS demands – and that teachers and students enjoy.  These texts, by celebrated authors including Peter Sis and Diane Stanley, exhibit the power of narrative history, the efficacy of great illustrations, the effect of figurative language in informational text, and the strength of arguments that are supported with clear evidence.