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Adaptation Strategies
Ideas for Making Difficult Reading Material Available to Your Students

By Sylvia Bienvenu

Several lessons in Louisiana Voices contain links to essays and interviews that offer rich first-person narratives on the content taught in the lesson. Since many are from adults and professionals, they may be at a more difficult reading level than your students are able to read. With that in mind, here are strategies to make information more accessible.

See two examples by Jane Vidrine, a Lafayette teacher and Louisiana Voices workshop presenter, who adapted excerpts for her classroom: Hungarians of Louisiana: An Overview and Gospel Music in Louisiana. Eileen Engel also adapted Louisiana's Many Food Traditions for the Foodways Pilot Project.

Developing Student Versions of Essays
There are five steps to the process and several Supplementary Instructional Activities to help with each step.

  1. Activating Background Information
  2. Making Predictions
  3. Listen for Key Ideas
  4. Retell the Story
  5. Write an Outline or Summary

Listening-Thinking Activity
This instructional activity teaches children how to listen to stories and other materials read aloud to them.

Directed Reading-Thinking Activity

Think Alouds
Teachers model how to use comprehension strategies.

Fix-Up Strategies
Use these when text information doesn't agree with what the reader already knows or information is missing or not clearly explained.


Developing Student Versions of Essays

The key to reading is to nurture curiosity, prediction, and questions to activate what students know and to capture their interest in the reading. The more they predict as they read, the more they will read with confidence; the greater their curiosity, the greater their motivation to read; the more they generate questions from reading, the more active their search for meaning will be.

Use one or more of the strategies below, depending on which type of difficulties your students are experiencing. Supplemental instructional activities for each step are also included.


  1. Help students activate background information, the concepts and understandings they already have that they bring to the task.

    1. Examine the text for key words that represent a major concept to be developed. Say, "Tell me anything that comes to mind when you hear the word __________." Jot each response on the board.
    2. Ask students, "What made you think of ________?" This helps students develop awareness of their network of associations. After listening to other students' responses, they can weigh, reject, accept, revise, and integrate some of the ideas that came to mind.
    3. Help students reformulate their ideas. "Based on our discussion, have you any new ideas about _______ ?" Because students have had a chance to elaborate on their original thoughts, these ideas are often more refined than the original ones.

  2. Predict what the essay will be about. This helps them buy in to the task. Predictions activate thought about the content and develop a desire to read the text to find out if they are correct.

  3. Listen for key ideas that the author has deemed important and for facts that confirm or negate their predictions. Prepare a checklist of vocabulary and or concepts that can be checked off as they are heard.

  4. Retell the story. Students work in small literary groups to retell the story or essay as they remember it. Consensus must be reached if different versions are presented. Alternately, have students retell what they remember individually in writing.

  5. Write an outline or summary of the essay, preferably both, individually, in groups, or as a class.

  6. At this point, the students will have a version of the essay that is in their own vocabulary and contains concepts they understand.

  7. To extend the learning further, they could then do activities such as draw pictures to illustrate the summary, make a slide show, go online to find photos that illustrate the concepts, etc.


Supplemental Instructional Activities

  1. Activate Background Information

  2. Graphic Organizers
    These are designed to provide a visual representation of the main concepts in an essay or other text. Analyze the vocabulary of the learning task and list the words that you feel are important for the students to understand. Arrange the list of word in a diagram that shows the interrelationships among them. Have students add words to the graphic, then explain how they think the information is related. Then students read the material, referring to the organizer as needed. The Venn Diagram and Concept Map are helpful worksheets.

    From Bain, Bev. Using Whole Language Strategies, Cooperative Learning, and Flexible Grouping to Strengthen Reading and Writing Instruction. Bureau of Education & Research, Bellevue, WA, p. 61.

    This activity helps students use the act of writing itself to discover what they already know about a topic. They must write without planning and without looking back. Writing clarifies their thinking.


    1. Tell students the title or summary of the essay.
    2. Tell them to write breathlessly/recklessly/passionately until fingers are tired or for a given amount of time (i.e., 2 or 3 minutes).
    3. Write anything that they can think of about the topic. If they reach a point where they can't think of anything to write, repeat the last word until something new comes to mind.
    4. Don't worry about punctuation, spelling, or grammar, just write!
    5. Discuss with a partner or class what they now realize they know about this subject.

  3. Making Predictions

  4. Graphic Organizers
    Use the Venn Diagram and Concept Map to help students predict important ideas in the essay and how they will fit together.

  1. Listen for Key Ideas

  2. Taking Notes

    1. Duplicate the Labels and Notes worksheet.
    2. Tell students to listen carefully as you read the essay and write down important ideas, special language, terms, or questions on the left side.
    3. Have a class discussion or let them work in groups to discuss their notes.
    4. Write down new information or corrections about each item on the right side.
    5. Read the essay or text to verify the notes on the left side and/or corrections on the right side.

  1. Retell the Story.

    Cloze Activity (also see Unit VII Lesson 3)
    A cloze passage reveals the interplay between the prior knowledge that students bring to the reading task and their language competence. It can be helpful in judging whether a passage is too difficult for them to read, but can also be used to check their understanding of an essay that was read to them.


    1. Select a passage in the text of about 275 words, and type or copy it. Leave the first sentence intact. Starting with the second sentence, select one of the first five words, then delete every fifth word thereafter. Retain the remaining sentence of the last deleted word, and include the next sentence. Leave an underlined blank of fifteen spaces for each deleted word as you type the passage. See Preparing a Louisiana Meal - A Cloze Activity for an example.
    2. Tell them to read the worksheet all the way to the end to get a "sense" of what the completed essay will tell. Then they should listen carefully as you read the essay for words that would fit in the blanks to make true statements.
    3. Have students fill in the missing words. If students have worked in pairs or groups, have them complete the Cloze Activity together.
    4. Have students read the essay and correct their own worksheets.
    5. Have a class discussion to clarify any erroneous answers or concepts.

    Cloze Activity (also see Unit VII Lesson 3)

    1. After students have completed their Cloze Activity worksheets they should think deeply about them and try to use deductive thinking to underlying themes and generalizations.
    2. Ask them to retell the text or story without looking at their worksheets.

  2. Write an Outline
    Adapted from Vacca, Richard, and JoAnne L. Vacca. Content Area Reading. HarperCollins College Publishers, 1993, p.287.

    Big Ideas

    1. Duplicate the Labels and Notes worksheets for students, or use loose-leaf paper that has a legal-width margin or a margin line drawn three inches from left side of the paper.
    2. Have students use the worksheets to take notes on the right side of the margin as you read the essay or other text to them.
    3. Instruct students to listen for keywords in the passage, such as special language, terms, ideas, and questions, and jot them down.
    4. If necessary, have them listen to the passage again, encouraging them to "hear" even more this time.
    5. Have them deduce the "Big Ideas" from their notes, then put labels in the left-hand margin that correspond with units of information recorded on the right. This helps them to reduce the copious information into a few summary statements.
    6. Ask them to read their "labels" and decide whether all of the important points are there. If not, add them.
    7. Have them copy the labels on a separate sheet to make an outline of the essay.


Listening-Thinking Activity

From Walker, Barbara J. Diagnostic Teaching of Reading: Techniques for Instruction and Assessment. Merrill, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, 1992, p. 184.

This instructional activity teaches children how to listen to stories and other materials read to them. It involves predicting what will happen, talking about what happened, and talking about how they know what is happening. As the teacher reads aloud, s/he communicates the message by adding intonation and gestures to facilitate understanding.


  1. Using the title, have the students brainstorm what the story or essay might be about.
  2. Read to a turning point, then model your questions about what is happening thus far: "I wonder why the author said . . . ?"
  3. Summarize what was read so far, relating it to the I wonder statements.
  4. From the summary, develop a prediction or bet. "Oh, I know, I bet . . ."
  5. Then the students make predictions or bets.
  6. Continue reading to the next turning point in the text.
  7. Ask students to talk about what they are thinking using I Wonder statements. The teacher models her thinking also.
  8. Ask students to tell what has happened so far to make them curious. Add your own interpretations.
  9. Have students review previous predictions, then decide if they still want to keep all the predictions.
  10. Students revise or make a new prediction.
  11. Alternate reading and discussing until the end of the text.
  12. Use nonverbal cues from the students to check for understanding. When students seem confused, stop to discuss the story line and how they arrived at their interpretations.
  13. Teacher and students discuss the text as a whole, relating various interpretations.

Directed Reading-Thinking Activity

Adapted from Vacca, Richard, and JoAnne L. Vacca. Content Area Reading. HarperCollins College Publishers, 1993, p.182.

This strategy is an ongoing process of interaction between the words of the author and the background knowledge of the reader. It allows students to actively seek an understanding of the selection using prior knowledge and textual and/or visual clues to anticipate content and then reading to confirm or reject predictions.


  1. Students use discussion, drawing, or writing to predict what the text will be about based on a portion of the text or on its title alone.
  2. They read to verify their hypothesis
  3. They check their comprehension of the selection with peers or the teacher.
  4. They predict what may occur next in the story.
  5. Continue the cycle to complete the selection.

Think Alouds

Adapted from Vacca, Richard, and JoAnne L. Vacca. Content Area Reading. HarperCollins College Publishers, 1993, p. 54.

With this strategy, teachers model how to use comprehension strategies Teachers make their thinking explicit by verbalizing their thoughts while reading orally. This helps students understand how to use the strategies because they can see how the mind actively constructs meaning from text. The five steps are:

  1. Select passages that contain ambiguities, unknown words, or points of difficulty.
  2. Students follow silently and listen as the teacher reads and explains how she works through trouble spots while reading orally and modeling thinking aloud.
  3. Students work with partners to practice think-alouds by taking turns reading short carefully prepared passages and sharing thoughts.
  4. Students practice independently using the Think Aloud Checklist.
  5. Integrate practice with other lessons and provide occasional demonstrations of how, why, and when to use the strategies.

Five strategies that can be demonstrated during Think Alouds are:

  1. Develop Hypotheses by Making Predictions
    1. Predict from the title: "From the title I predict that this essay will tell me about _______________________________________"
  2. Develop Images
    Describe an image that comes to mind as you read, giving vivid details. This demonstrates how to connect background knowledge with the new knowledge in the text being read.

    "When the essay says that folklife is learned in an almost unconscious way, I realize that I learned how to make cream cheese this way. I have a picture in my mind of watching my grandmother make cream cheese from their cow's milk. In the evening she would fill a large crockery bowl with milk they had gotten from the cow that day, and leave it out on the counter all night. The next morning it would be clabbered, meaning the solids had risen to the top and the almost clear liquids were at the bottom. She would then scoop up the curds and put them on a large square of cheese cloth, pull up the corners and tie a string around the package. Then she would hang the bundle from the cabinet knob and put a large bowl under it. During the day the rest of the liquids slowly dripped into the bowl, and by the end of the day - Voila! - there was the cream cheese. She removed the soft cheese from the cloth and put it into a bowl and poured fresh sweet cream, from that day's fresh milk, over it. How delicious! And I didn't realize until now that she had taught me how to do that!"
  3. Share Analogies
    Model how to link new information with prior knowledge by sharing personal analogies.

    When I read about Pig Latin, it reminds me of a silly song we used to sing called "The Name Game." We would replace the first letter of a friend's name with a "B" and add "bonana fana fo" to add a rhyming verse to the song. Nobody knew where the song came from, but we all learned how to sing it.

  4. Monitor Comprehension
    Model how to monitor comprehension by verbalizing a confusing point.

    This is telling me that some things may belong to more than one genre. I'm confused because I thought that each genre was distinctly different. This is different from what I expected. I'll have to read further to find out how that can be.

  5. Regulate Comprehension
    Demonstrate how to correct lagging comprehension with a Fix-Up Strategy.

Fix-Up Strategies

Adapted from Vacca, Richard, and JoAnne L. Vacca. Content Area Reading. HarperCollins College Publishers, 1993, p. 51.

Use one or more of these strategies when the text information doesn't agree with what the reader already knows or information is missing or not clearly explained.

  1. Ignore the word or phrase and read on. They may find more information, such as a definition of the term.
  2. Think of an example that fits the context as known at the present.
  3. Think of a visual image of the word or phrase.
  4. Read ahead and connect information.
  5. Reread and connect information.
  6. Use text patterns, signal words, and pronouns to make connections. They might recognize such things as "compare-contrast" patterns, or signal words such as "for example."


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