Paired Texts : Rigor Doesn’t Mean Torture!

I had a teacher comment on a post I made recently (about paired texts) saying the word “rigor” makes her want to throw up. Although she was being completely serious, it kind of made me giggle… but then I realized that maybe she didn’t like the word because she only has negative experiences trying to help students tackle rigorous texts.

As you know, reading comprehension isn’t limited to one text anymore.

As the rigor has amped up, students now must be able to “analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.” (CCSS, R.9)

Winter and Snow Paired Texts for Lower Grades

In other words, students must be able to read and comprehend TWO texts on the same topic (a pair) and then compare them. They also must still be able to return to each text individually to answer questions.

And finally, those questions aren’t just multiple choice questions about the texts, anymore– students must also be able to write constructed responses to text-dependent questions.

Looking at it in such a sterile, technical way, it kind of makes me want to throw up, too!

But I am going to help you teach students to attack paired text skills in an engaging way, using high-interest topics your kids actually want to read! Just like with other reading strategies, students must be taught how to comprehend and analyze a pair of texts.

In this post, I’ll be using a pair that you can pick up for free right now:

When do I start teaching with paired texts?

You might use small group time, or you might do it through your mini-lessons, but no matter when you do it, the rigor of paired texts will require you to carve out time over the course of the YEAR (it can’t be saved for the month before the state test).

It’s important to do close reading of each text individually first before comparing them or integrating the information in both. This means it could actually take a week or more to walk students through close reading and annotating each text individually AND the pair of texts (read more about that here)…then answer the questions about the texts.

What kind of passages should I use?

Winter and Snow Paired Texts for Upper Grades

Knowing you are going to be with the texts for so long, don’t torture yourself with boring articles. Why not integrate your texts with other content your students need to learn? Reading and writing across the curriculum really help to ingrain the content! Plus, we know that students need to be exposed to more nonfiction.

I like checking out NEWSELA for interesting current events related to my content! They offer free and paid subscriptions.

Another great way to look at “pairs” is to tie your social studies content to historical fiction mentor texts to compare and contrast!

You can also find all of my sets of paired texts here, which are all content-integrated, high-interest, and engaging! And yes….. rigorous.

How do I help students understand the questions?

When it’s time to answer questions about the texts, I like for students to mark exactly where they found the evidence for that answer. Teaching students to highlight keywords in the question and evidence in the text can help differentiate evidence from annotations. I do NOT want them to use highlighters as a first-mark on the passages, but rather as a tool to “bring out” the evidence they are looking for when answering questions. Here is one example:
Paired Texts in the Classroom With Ideas by Jivey.
Students highlight particles knowing this is the word they will look for in paragraph 1.
Paired Texts in the Classroom With Ideas by Jivey.
Students have already annotated this text, so highlighting helps show what evidence they found for the question. Here, they used context clues to determine particles are pieces and specks. They know dust is small, so the answer must be “small pieces.”
Let’s look at another question:
Paired Texts in the Classroom With Ideas by Jivey.
The evidence for this question is actually found in BOTH texts, but here is evidence in “Bentley’s Snow Crystals” that shows choice b is actually false. You can also see the evidence that proves choice c is true, and can’t be the answer.
Paired Texts in the Classroom With Ideas by Jivey.

As you can see, teaching students how to highlight is a great tool to help students restate and USE the evidence that is already in the text!

Looking for more help with close reading and paired texts?

Annotation Help

Creating Thinking Readers

Close Reading Process

Close Read with Nonfiction Mentor Texts

Text-Dependent Questions

Close Reading Poetry

This post was originally part of a collaboration series with Jennifer Findley- grab a reading freebie from her here!


Use high-interest paired texts to help students understand how to close read, integrate, and comprehend information found in two passages.