Even in our technological world, brochures are ubiquitous forms of information on everything from tourist sites to healthy living. Why do so many students – even in middle and high school – have trouble reading them? And why is it important to teach them?
Brochures pack a lot of information into a small space. That information is provided through a combination of text, images and frequently other visual tools such as tables and maps. Brochures use a range of colors, styles and sizes of fonts, as well as careful word choice to grab a readers’ attention and emphasize key information. And because we read brochures to locate specific information, we don’t read every word, or read in a linear fashion top-to-bottom, left-to-right. That’s why developing the strategies for reading brochures can transfer into many other forms of reading. Best of all, brochures are free and easy to obtain for instruction and reading practice.
Three main areas of focus when teaching functional text such as brochures:
- Purpose: Unlike recreational reading, functional text is always read for a specific purpose. Identifying the purpose and audience for the text helps readers read intentionally, adjust their reading style and rate, and judge whether the text elements accurately serve their intended purpose.
- Content: In addition to skimming for general ideas and scanning for specific details, brochure reading requires readers to use all the comprehension strategies they use for narrative and informational reading: connecting to prior knowledge, asking and answering questions, drawing inferences, synthesizing and self-monitoring. Critical reading enables readers to judge whether the content of the brochure served its intended purpose.
- Text Features: Examining visuals and stylistic devices helps readers access information and look at author’s intentions as well as readers’ purposes.
TEACHING IDEAS AND LESSON ROUTINES
Display a brochure so that it can be seen by all students and model the routines before expecting students to carry them out independently. Then provide each student or pair of students with their own brochures for guided practice. You might want to create independent reading folders containing a variety of brochures and guiding questions for independent practice.
- Purpose for reading: Discuss the general purpose of the brochure. Why might you read this brochure? What questions would you expect it to answer? Have students generate a list of 5-6 questions and write each one on a small sticky note.
- Getting information: Examine the content of the brochure. Place the sticky notes on spots in the brochure that answer the respective questions. Which of your questions were not answered? Why do you think that information wasn’t included? What information did you read that you didn’t expect or wonder? Do you think this information is useful to you in achieving your purpose for reading?
- Visuals and Text: Discuss the ways that the information was conveyed. What information was provided through words? Pictures? Other visual forms, such as a chart or table or map? Was the information repeated in words and pictures, or did they each provide different information?
- Brochure Layout: Unfold the brochure. Talk about what information is on the outside of the brochure and what information is inside. Invite students to speculate on why the writers chose this format.
- Loaded Words: What are some words or phrases the writer has used to appeal to the reader? Introduce the concept of “loaded words”: words that pack an emotional punch, like fun or exciting or healthy. (Loaded words can also have a negative connotation, like pollution or dangerous. And sometimes words affect different people differently, depending on their background experiences.) Have the students scan for examples of loaded words in their brochures.
- Text Features: Invite students to take note of which words are in bold, colored or stylistically unique fonts. Note the aesthetic placement of visuals and text. Talk about whether the appearance and text features effectively serve the purpose of the brochure.
- Compare and Contrast: Compare the purpose, content and text features of two or more brochures on the same theme.