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Guest Blog: Text Sets - Literary Learning in Miniature


Text sets

We are delighted to welcome Trisha Templeton, Teacher Librarian at Daramalan College for this series discussing text sets. In part one she covers the following:

  • What are text sets?
  • The theory behind using text sets
  • The benefits of text sets
  • The impact of incorporating text sets
  • Contraindications
  • The Role of the Teacher Librarian in literary learning


Text sets have immense capacity to support literacy development and multiliteracies whilst meeting curriculum learning outcomes.  By giving students specifically curated text extracts from a variety of sources and modalities, students are able to construct knowledge, as well as develop literacy and language in a social context.  Text sets can be effectively used across the curriculum to support the needs of diverse learners. Unfortunately many teachers are reluctant to use text sets because it is time consuming to find relevant resources.  However, an effective teacher librarian is able to support text sets and literary learning through the provision of carefully curated resources that meet the behavioural, cognitive and developmental needs of their students. Text sets are an efficient and effective method of addressing curriculum outcomes whilst ensuring students are supported in their learning.  


The selection of texts is an intrinsic part of teaching, yet many educators struggle to find appropriate and authentic resources that meet the needs of a diverse classroom (Cervetti & Hiebert, 2019; Lupo et al., 2019).  This difficulty is often due to a combination of poor literacy skills, reading reluctance and academic disinterest, which has forced teachers to seek innovative methods to facilitate learning (Elish-Piper et al., 2014, p.565). Theoretically similar to literary learning, text sets are collated using learning outcomes, curriculum links or themes and seek to develop literacy, language and learning in a social context (Derewianka, 2015).  This strategy is an effective literacy tactic that satisfies the requirements of the teacher, as well as, develops critical thinking, promotes multimodal literacy, collaborative learning, meets the needs of a diverse classroom and can be successfully integrated across the curriculum.    


Text sets are a range of resources that are designed for collaborative learning and are specifically curated to address a learning outcome for a cohort of students (Beck, 2014, p. 13). At its most basic form, text sets are composed of a minimum of four different textual elements and can be physical, digital or multimodal in nature (Hoch, et al., 2018, p. 701). The efficacy of text sets is increased in social learning environments as it is designed for collaborative learning groups (Beck, 2014, p.13). Like literary learning, text sets use a variety of genres to give students a diverse perspective, but their difference is in that literary learning uses entire pieces of literature to facilitate learning, whereas text sets are collated extracts that will vary in length, literacy level and structure (Beck, 2014, p.13). The first element, or main text, is aimed at the median class cohort literacy and contains most of the relevant information, with the remaining sets used to support the targeted text’s comprehension (Lewis & Strong, 2020, p.47). These sets should include a motivation component in a digital, visual or interactive format; an informational portion that provides additional background knowledge; and an accessible element drawn from popular culture (Lewis & Strong, 2020, p.47). It is important to note that for teenagers, it is the accessible text that the students use to make connections between themselves, the text and their world, thus placing the learning in that essential third space (Elish-Piper, 2014, p.565; Lewis & Strong, 2020, p.47).  


Text sets and literary learning are an extension of Vygotsky’s and Halliday’s theory that language, literacy and learning develops in a social context (Derewianka, 2015). This theory, known as genre theory acknowledges that each genre has its own format and thus will showcase different aspects so that students are able to discourse in greater depth on the subject matter (Derewianka, 2015). Historically single class texts have been used as a foundation for student learning in the form of textbooks and class novels. But this dynamic is problematic in a modern classroom as the average Australian classroom contains a range and breadth of abilities and needs and textbooks are generally aimed at a specific year level (Beck, 2014, p.12).  The other pertinent issue is that students are unable to perceive multiple perspectives from a single text viewpoint and this is particularly salient for the teaching and learning of history and science, where bias and perspectives can have significant impact on the reader (Beck 2014, p.12).  

Teacher librarian selecting books


There are several literacy benefits to the incorporation of text sets in pedagogical practices. These include, increasing reading volume, improving text diversity, the provision of covert scaffolding, as well as expanding perspectives and connections (Lewis & Strong, 2020, p.41; Lupo et al., 2019; Elish-Piper et al., 2014). A notable positive of text set usage is that it increases the reading volume. Many teachers minimise reading by providing textless information in the form of powerpoints to reduce the cognitive load of their students. Unfortunately, the removal of texts is detrimental to literacy development, as reading volume is correlated to comprehension, vocabulary knowledge, disciplinary literacy as well as reading stamina (Lewis & Strong, 2020, p.41).    

Text diversity is a natural consequence of text sets as the inclusion of literary fiction and fictional narratives introduce students to new and complex concepts and perspectives in a storytelling format; whereas informational texts scaffold students with additional background information for understanding challenging concepts (Derewianka, 2015; Elish-Piper et al., 2014, p. 567). Diversity in texts also exposes students to varying forms of literature that they may not normally experience, which in itself promotes literacy development (Lupo et al., 2019, p.514). Another merit is that text sets increase the number of connections a student will make with the text and thus increase their overall comprehension and understanding of the content within the text (Lewis & Strong, 2020, p.43).    


Text sets align with Australian educational values as they are child centred and constructivist in nature as students are required to utilise a span of literacy strategies to construct and compose their own meaning (Elish-Piper et al., 2014, p. 567). This construction of meaning occurs in two steps. Firstly, the variety and range of texts increase the number of connections between students and the texts, and thus allows them to go past the alphabet and construct their own knowledge (Lewis & Strong, 2020, p.44). Secondly, the explicit instruction of literacy strategies before, during and after reading the texts promotes analysis and coalescence of the information within the texts. Teachers can facilitate reconciliation of prior and new knowledge by requiring students to compose their own analysis, discussions, evaluation, or summarisation (Lewis & Strong, 2020, p.49). These compositions allow students to engage in low stake writing which increases their ability to make connections and construct their own meaning from the texts (Werder, 2016). They also offer valuable opportunities for formative assessment and student feedback. In fact the greatest educational benefit arises from the explicit instruction of literacy strategies whilst using the text sets in a student centred manner (Lewis & Strong, 2020, p.41; Lupo et al., 2019, p.520). This shows that text sets can be effectively administered and utilised across the curriculum to effectively teach content and bolster literacy and improve learning outcomes.    


Even though there is sufficient information about the efficacy of utilising text sets as part of pedagogical practice, there are those that are concerned about its applicability in a crowded curriculum and diverse classroom. Much of this apprehension is due to time constraints as many teachers feel that there is insufficient time to allow for deeper learning due to continuous assessments (Balkus, 2019, p.25). Additionally, many classrooms are very diverse and a literacy divide can substantially increase teacher workloads, which compounds any apprehension about literary learning placing a greater cognitive load on students of low ability. However, minimising access to texts in the short term directly impacts the long term literacy of low ability students because it reduces their opportunities to build their vocabulary and improve their reading comprehension (Merga, 2019, p.146). However, the presence of a qualified TL and resourced library can significantly improve the implementation of literary learning which directly impacts the student learning, as well as bolstering literacy and cognitive processes (Derewianka, 2015; Balkus, 2019, p.25).    

Teacher Librarian selecting books

Role of Teacher Librarian in Literary Learning

Teacher librarians (TLs) are qualified educators with specialist knowledge in literacy, resource based learning and are usually centrally located within a school. Their qualifications enable them to collect and curate resources that effectively meet the students cognitive, behavioural and developmental needs, whereas their central location means that they are able to view student learning across the curriculum. This overarching perspective provides opportunities for them to collaborate and coordinate with classroom teachers the embedding of general and specific literacy skills (Merga, 2020, p.890 & 902; Hughes et al., 2013). This success is due to TLs being able to correctly ascertain which multimodal resources meet learning outcomes and are most appropriate for classroom dynamics (Merga, 2020, p.902).  


The inclusion of text sets has many benefits within a diverse classroom as the compilation of resources heightens background knowledge, improves student engagement, ameliorates literacy and increases textual comprehension (Lewis & Strong, 2020, p.41). This benefits are significantly increased when conducted in a collaborative approach with a teacher librarian because of the ability to implement a specific literacy approach across the curriculum. Whilst the benefits are easily visible with text diversity, the greatest educational benefit arises from the explicit instruction of literacy strategies whilst using the text sets in a student centred manner (Lewis & Strong, 2020, p.41; Lupo et al., 2019, p.520). This shows that text sets can be effectively administered and utilised across the curriculum to effectively teach content, bolster literacy and improve learning outcomes.      

Coming soon

Keep an eye out for further blogs in this series where Trisha provides examples of text set usage in Science, English, and the Humanities/Social Studies



Balkus, Brenna C. (2019). Utilizing Text Sets To Teach Critical Literacy: Bringing Literacy Into The Social Studies Middle School Classroom.  School of Education Student Capstone Projects. Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.hamline.edu/hse_cp/309

Batchelor, K. E. (2017). Around the world in 80 picture books: Teaching ancient civilizations through text sets. Middle School Journal, 48(1), 13–26. https://doi-org.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/10.1080/00940771.2017.1243922

Beck, P. (2014). Multigenre Text Set Integration: Motivating Reluctant Readers Through Successful Experiences with Text. Journal of Reading Education, 40(1), 12–19. CSU Library.  

Cervetti, G.N., & Hiebert, E.H. (2019). Knowledge at the center of English language arts instruction. The Reading Teacher, 72(4), 499–507. https://doi.org/10.1002/trtr.1758

Creighton, J. (6th February, 2014). Isaac Asimov: Science fact and science fiction. Futurism. https://futurism.com/isaac-asimov-science-fact-and-science-fiction

Derewianka, B. (2015). The contribution of genre theory to literacy education in Australia. In J. Turbill, G. Barton & C. Brock (Eds.), Teaching Writing in Today's Classrooms: Looking back to looking forward (pp. 69-86). Norwood, Australia: Australian Literary Educators' Association. Retrieved from https://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2620&context=sspapers

Elish-Piper, L., Wold, L., & Schwingendorf, K. (2014). Scaffolding High School Students’ Reading of Complex Texts Using Linked Text Sets. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 57 (7). DOI: 10.1002/jaal.292 © 2014 International Reading Association (pp. 565–574). CSU Library  

Hoch, M., McCarty, R., Gurvitz, D. & Sitkoski, I. (2019).  Five key principles: guided inquiry with multimodal text sets. The Reading Teacher 72 (6) pp701-710. International Reading Association CSU Library.  

Howell, H. (2016). Embedded nonfiction ideas for Macbeth. Teach like a champion [Blog]. Retrieved from https://teachlikeachampion.com/blog/helen-howell-shares-embedded-nonfiction-ideas-macbeth/

Hughes, H,. Bozorgian, H., Allan, C., & Dicinoski, M. (2013) School libraries, teacher-librarians and their contribution to student literacy development in Gold Coast schools: Research report. School Library Association of Queensland , QUT. https://eprints.qut.edu.au/60260/  

Kay, J. (23rd February, 2012). Prophets of science fiction: Jules Verne Recap. ScienceFiction.com.  https://sciencefiction.com/2012/02/23/prophets-of-science-fiction-jules-verne-recap/

Lannin, A., Juergensen, R., Smith, C., Van Garderen, D., Folk, W., Palmer, T., & Pinkston, L. (2020). Multimodal text sets to use literature and engage all learners in the science classroom. Science Scope, 44(2), 20–28.

Lewis, W., & Strong, J. (2020). Chapter 3 - Designing content area text sets. In Literacy Instruction with Disciplinary Texts: Strategies for Grades 6-12.  Guildford Publications. CSU Library.  

Lupo, S., Berry, A., Thacker, E., Sawyer, A., & Merritt, J. (2019). Rethinking text sets to support knowledge building and interdisciplinary learning. International Literacy Association 73 (4). Pp. 513-524. CSU Library. DOI:10.1002/trtr.1869

Lupo, S., Strong, J., Lewis, W., Walpole, S., & McKenna, M. (2017). Building background through reading; Rethinking text sets. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 61(4), p.433-444. https://doi-org.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/10.1002/jaal.701

Pennington, L. K., & Tackett, M. E. (2021). Using Text Sets to Teach Elementary Learners about Japanese-American Incarceration. Ohio Social Studies Review, 57(1), 1–14.

Mania, K., Mabin, L.K., & Liebenberg, J. (2018). ‘To go boldly’: teaching science fiction to first-year engineering students in a South African context.  Cambridge Journal of Education 48 (3), pp389–410, https://doi.org/10.1080/0305764X.2017.1337721

Merga, M. (2020). School librarians as literacy educators within a complex role. Journal of Library Administration, 1-20. https://ro.ecu.edu.au/ecuworkspost2013/8875  

NSW Department of Education. (2020). Planning EAL/D support. Multicultural Education. https://education.nsw.gov.au/teaching-and-learning/curriculum/multicultural-education/english-as-an-additional-language-or-dialect/planning-eald-support

Parker, G. (2018). The top 20 scientific breakthroughs in history. MoneyInc.com. https://moneyinc.com/top-20-scientific-breakthroughs-history/