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Unpacking Complexity in Informational Texts


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Table of Contents

Introduction. The Issue of Informational Text Complexity
1. What Do We Mean by Text Complexity?
2. What Makes an Informational Text Complex?
3. What Do We Mean by an Author's Purpose?
4. What Do We Mean by a Text's Structure?
5. What Types of Details Are in Non-Narrative Texts?
6. What Types of Details Are in Narrative Texts?
7. Why Pay Attention to Connective Language?
8. How Are Main Ideas Constructed?
Closing Thoughts
Appendix. Study Guide

About the Author

Sunday Cummins, PhD, is an independent literacy consultant who lives in Chico, California, and consults nationally. Formerly she was Assistant Professor of Education in the Reading and Language Department at National Louis University and a facilitator for the New Schools Project at the Erikson Institute in Chicago. Before becoming a professor, Dr. Cummins worked in the public schools for 10 years as a middle school and third-grade teacher and as a literacy coach. She is the author of Close Reading of Informational Texts as well as articles in The Reading Teacher and Talking Points, and shares her work on teaching with informational texts by presenting at state, national, and international conferences. Her website is


"This rich resource provides robust illustrations of how to teach students to read complex informational texts. This is accomplished through the use of mentor sentences and excerpts from a wide variety of children's and young adult nonfiction. The book goes beyond simplistic notions of text structure while guiding teachers to assist students to read nonfiction more powerfully."--Jeffrey D. Wilhelm, PhD, Distinguished Professor, Boise State University

"Cummins's previous book, Close Reading of Informational Texts, expanded my understanding of the art of reading nonfiction and was a perfect fit for our school's professional learning community. Unpacking Complexity in Informational Texts book extends our thinking by examining the various structures that are used in informational writing and why these are important to readers. Using her own classroom experience, Cummins shows the value of exploring text structure with students to help them comprehend the author's purpose. The book is rich with examples of informational texts, making it easy to use Cummins's instructional ideas directly in the classroom. It provides wonderful suggestions for both new and seasoned educators. A 'must read'!"--Joanne Toft, MA, literacy and educational consultant and former classroom teacher, Minneapolis, Minnesota

"This is a valuable guide for teachers in grades 2-8, academic coaches, site administrators, and curriculum directors implementing the CCSS to increase the rigor and level of reading in all content areas. Instructional strategies, sample lessons, anchor charts, examples of student work, and interactive templates are offered in each chapter. Teachers and those engaging in professional development can use this book to support their efforts to plan lessons that require students to engage with texts, think critically, discuss their understanding, and write about information embedded in complex informational texts."--Lori Greenwood, MA, Educational Leadership Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education, Plumas Lake (California) Elementary School District

"This is a terrific book for classroom teachers, literacy leaders, and teacher educators. Taking a comprehensive look at different aspects of text complexity, Cummins deepens our understanding of how informational texts work. Her conversational tone and abundant examples make for an accessible read, and the Study Guide makes this an ideal resource for a teacher study group or for professional development. The book would also be useful in advanced undergraduate or master's-level literacy courses. Readers will gain in-depth knowledge about text complexity, as well as concrete ideas for helping young readers gain full access to complex informational texts."--Juliet L. Halladay, PhD, Department of Education, University of Vermont

"Cummins gives teachers a practical look at the parts of a complex text. Her instructional recommendations support students in developing language to navigate, discuss, and write about these rigorous texts, as well as determine how the text's components work together to construct the main idea. This book will be a tremendous resource in professional learning communities. It will encourage teachers to reflect on their teaching practices and consider what students need in order to achieve a better understanding of complex informational texts."--Christina Ensign, MA, NBCT, Reading Specialist, Peter M. Gombert Elementary School, Aurora, Illinois

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