School Librarians: Selecting the Best Anchor Text for STEM Learning


An anchor text is the central text around which a lesson or unit is built. This may be, for example, a narrative piece, a data set, or an image. Students across disciplines engage with this anchor text throughout a lesson or unit, using it as base upon which to build skills and knowledge.

Four Criteria Offered by Subject Expert Joanna Schimizzi

How would you select an anchor text that turns on your students to a STEM topic such as space exploration while helping them gain new literacy skills and knowledge of the space sciences? Joanna Schimizzi, science teacher and Common Core expert working with ISKME, found the answer for her sixth grade students with John F. Kennedy’s 1962 Rice Stadium Moon Speech, which includes vocabulary like “conquest” and “satellite”, and concepts such as gravity, which many students at this age level might not yet comprehend.

Deconstructing her own process for selecting this anchor text provides insights into criteria school librarians and teachers can use to discover and select anchor texts tied to STEM topics and measure the outcomes in student learning as well. Schimizzi shares her criteria in the recorded webinar at this link:

Her guide to selecting anchor texts for STEM learning is part of the School Librarians Advancing STEM Learning, a project supported by the Institute for Museums and Library Services (IMLS) as part of the National Leadership Grants for Libraries. The project reaches pre-service and in-service school librarians and STEM teachers as collaborators and co-planners of curriculum and instruction, as well as faculty in teacher education programs and leverages OER Commons, the digital public library of learning resources and tools developed by the Institute for the Student of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME), a global leader in open educational resources.

Schimizzi says it’s important to choose a text that gets you and your students excited. Then you need to determine what knowledge you want your students to learn. A tip for acquiring literacy skills, Schimizzi suggests highlighting new academic verbs and nouns using different colors for each.

A second consideration is determining the complexity of the anchor text so that it fits the appropriate grade level set by Common Core State Standards. How difficult will it be for your students to read the text? Tools are available to measure complexity by grade level, including: the ATOS Text Analyzer, a free tool that analyzes whatever text you insert, and, an organization that provides a rubric for the quality of the text based on text structure, language features, purpose of the author, knowledge demands, and tone, such as irony or sarcasm.

Next, it’s important to see whether your anchor text includes features or resources to help students independently build their understanding from the text. These include diagrams; bolded text to support vocabulary; author-provided vocabulary support such as sidebars, appendices, or footnotes; and texts that are broken into sub-components. For the JFK Moon Speech, for example, the teacher might offer some background resources about gravity and satellites, to make this a stronger text and one that students can comprehend better through additional context as well as STEM concepts.

Finally, to determine outcomes of the anchor text selection, for both student literacy and understanding of core STEM content, Schimizzi cites several ways students might demonstrate what they learned from the JFK Moon Speech. They could write a journalistic account of the speech. Or email an astronaut who went on a mission. Or write to President Obama and give him their reasons for ramping up the U.S. mission to Mars. Students could also engage in science projects or labs. What’s important is that students are given opportunities to reflect on their own understanding and growth in ways that will help themselves and their peers.

A key to building understanding is to support students in close reading and vocabulary skills through the construction of text-based questions that help students draw evidence from the text. An available resource to support you and your peers to build this into your lessons is ISKME’s Building Textual Evidence Toolkit created through ISKME’s earlier Primary Source project. Librarian-teacher cohorts producing lessons for the IMLS project will be using ISKME’s OER Commons, and its Open Author tool to build and share lessons based on their STEM anchor text.

All these tools and resources are available for you to try out for yourself on OER Commons at:


About Institute of Library and Museum Services

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums. Its mission is to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. Their grant making, policy development, and research help libraries and museums deliver valuable services that make it possible for communities and individuals to thrive. To learn more, visit and follow IMLS on Facebook and Twitter.


Image credit: Ask A Librarian, Kevin Harber on Flickr, Licensed CC BY-NC-SA

August 24, 2015