Recently I came across a creative technique called “Text Reduction Strategy” (see the article here by Andrea Heick at TeachThought). I really liked the idea, but also felt it could be made even better with a Google Docs technology twist.
The original idea goes like this…
- Students are given a magazine article and a black marker.
- They are instructed to read the article and decide what text is critical to the main point of the article and what text is not.
- Next they use the marker to black out any text that is not critical, leaving behind just the main ideas.
The benefit of this activity is that students do not have to come up with their own words to summarize the article. Instead all the words are already there, and they are just using their critical thinking skills to determine what is most important. This can be a helpful stepping stone to improving their reading comprehension while working toward better summarization skills.
As much as I love the idea, I thought it would be great to take it a step further and use technology rather that physical paper magazines and black markers. This activity works great in Google Docs, and even picks up a few added benefits by going digital. See below for full directions on how to do this.
Step 1 - Find an article
First of all you will need an article for your students to read. There are so many excellent websites that provide current event and high interest articles for students. Some are specific to certain grade levels, while others provide multiple versions of their articles at different lexile levels so students of all ages can engage with the writing. A few great sites to consider for articles include:
- Newsela - https://newsela.com
- TweenTribune - http://tweentribune.com
- Wonderopolis - http://wonderopolis.org
- DOGOnews - https://www.dogonews.com
- Here There Everywhere - http://htekidsnews.com
- Youngzine - http://youngzine.org
- Scholastic News Online - http://magazines.scholastic.com
- National Geographic Kids - http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/explore
- Science News for Students - https://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org
Step #2 - Put the article in Google Docs
For this step you will need to copy and paste the text of the article into a Google Document. However, there are a few tips that can make this easier and can produce a cleaner final product.
First, if the article is on a webpage that also has lots of other text, comments, or sidebar information, it might be difficult to select just the text from the article itself. One option would be to use a “webpage clean up tool” such as the Just Read extension for Google Chrome (or any of the many other "clean up" extensions). This can remove all the extra text, so just the article is left to be copied.
- Install the Just Read extension from the Chrome Web Store - Chrome extension link
- Open the website with the article you want to copy.
- Click the Just Read extension icon in your top menu bar.
- The webpage will now be cleaned up, so that all the ads and extra content is removed, leaving just the text of the main article.
- You can now select the article text and copy it. For example, to copy you can press “Ctrl” and “C”, or right-click and choose “Copy”.
A second tip to consider is a better way to paste the article text into your Google Doc. Normally when you copy and paste text from a website into a Doc, it brings with it whatever formatting the text had, such as font, color, size, and such. For this “black out” activity, it is best for the text to be as plain and simple as possible with no extra formatting at all. Thankfully there is an easy way to paste just the copied text, and no formatting.
- First copy the text as explained earlier.
- Next click inside of the Google Doc.
- Press “Ctrl” and “Shift” and “V”
- Or click “Edit” and “Paste without formatting”
- Or right click and choose “Paste without formatting”
- The copied text will now be pasted into the Google Doc as plain text with no special formatting.
Step #3 - Share the Google Doc with your students
If you want each of your students to do the “black out” activity, they will each need their own copy of the Google Doc with the article text. You can do this a couple different ways:
First, you could push out a copy to each student through Google Classroom.
- Go to Google Classroom as normal.
- Click the button to “Create assignment”.
- Fill in the details for the assignment.
- Click the Google Drive icon and choose the Google Doc with the article text.
- From the drop-down menu to the right, choose “Make a copy for each student”.
- Finally click “Assign” and each student will get their own copy of the Google Doc to work on.
If you are not using Google Classroom, a second option would be to share the Google Doc with your students with view only rights.
- Click the big blue Share button in the top right corner of the Google Doc.
- When the “Share with others” window opens, click “Get sharable link” in the top right corner.
- This will generate a link that will allow others to view the document. Provide this link to your students through email, or on your class website, or with a shortened URL, or such.
- When the students open the shared Doc they can make their own copy by clicking “File” and “Make a copy”.
Step #4 - Students “Black Out” the article
At this point the students can do the “Black Out” activity. They need to read the article and decide what text is critical to the main point of the article and what text is not. Their goal is to black out any text that is not critical, leaving behind just the main ideas. In Google Docs this can be done by using the built-in highlighter tool, but choosing black for the color. Here’s how:
- Select the text you want to black out.
- Click the “Text color” button in the top toolbar.
- Click the “Highlight” option in the drop-down menu.
- Click the black color option.
- The selected text will now be blacked out.
- Repeat this process for other text throughout the document as needed.
To save some time, you can also use the "Paint format" tool to quickly apply the black highlighting to other sections of text (special thanks to Amy Farris for this great tip!)
- First select some text that is already highlighted black.
- Next double-click on the "Paint format" button to the top menu bar. Double-clicking will "lock in" the copied formatting.
- Now simply select any other text in the document and the black highlighting will automatically be applied to it.
- When done, just click the "Paint format" button again to turn it off.
If you think you made a mistake and want to remove the black out from some text, you can do that.
- First, click and drag your mouse to select the blacked out text.
- When you do this, the black highlighting will turn slightly lighter, which will allow you to read the blacked out text.
- If you find some text you want to remove the black out from, select just that text.
- Then click the “Text color” button in the top toolbar.
- Click the “Highlight” option in the drop-down menu.
- Click the “None” option.
- The black highlighting will be removed from that text and it will appear normal and visible again.
When the student is finished the Google Doc will have blacked out text for a large amount of the content, leaving just the most important information visible. This might be just topic sentences, or key phrases, or such.
The students could then share their final products with their teacher, or with other students. Black out articles from different students could be compared to see what different classmates thought was most important.
- As an example, here is a Google Doc with an original article about spiders - Google Doc link
- Now here is a version with blacked out text, leaving just the most important information behind (at least in my opinion for this example) - Google Doc link
As I mentioned at the start, I really like the “Text Reduction Strategy” as a way to help students develop reading comprehension and summarization skills. However, I think there are some great benefits to doing the activity digitally with Google Docs. Some of the benefits include:
- No need for multiple copies of magazines.
- No waste, since there are no magazines to be thrown away when done.
- Ability to remove the black out from text if a mistake is made or the student changes their mind about what to black out.
- Easy for students to share their work with others.
- Easy to display final products online or projected for the class to see and discuss.
This process can also be extended to other texts and purposes, such as “Black Out Poetry” where the students try to create poems by blacking out all the words from a text sample except for what they leave behind to make the poem.
If you try this with your students, or come up with other ways to use or improve this process, please share your ideas and experiences in the comments below.
Post by Eric Curts. Connect with Eric on Twitter at twitter.com/ericcurts and on Google+ at plus.google.com/+EricCurts1