10 Ways To Help Students Make Text Connections
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10 Ways To Help Students Make Text Connections

Tara Shanley
Jun 7, 2024

Making text connections is a comprehension strategy that helps students make meaning of what they’re reading. It requires students to use their background knowledge—or information they already know—to understand a new text. In this article, we’ll look at the types of connections students can make while reading a text. We'll also provide tips for teaching this skill and answer some frequently asked questions about the topic.


3 types of text connections

Students can make three types of connections to activate prior knowledge and link experiences to new texts. They include:

  • Text-to-self: The ways a text relates to a student or their personal experiences.

  • Text-to-text: The ways a text relates to another text or piece of media students have encountered.

  • Text-to-world: The way a text relates to the world around your students.

Text-to-self connections

Text-to-self connections let students relate their life experiences to something they’re reading. Many of these types of connections focus on identifying and naming memories and feelings.

When readers connect the events, characters, or themes in a text to their own lives, it provides a familiar framework to build comprehension. It also increases engagement and interest in the text. Readers are more invested when they can find personal relevance and meaning in what they’re reading. It helps them visualize and make inferences about the text.

Making text-to-self connections promotes retention and recall of that text. Information is more likely to stick when readers can anchor it to their personal experiences and memories. Some ways students can make text-to-self connections include:

  • Relating to characters

  • Recognizing emotions

  • Recognizing or sharing personal experiences

  • Giving their thoughts and opinions

To make it easier for students to voice these connections, they need to be able to articulate their emotions and reflect on their experiences. They can benefit from learning about social-emotional topics to strengthen their text-to-self connections.

Text-to-text connections

Text-to-text connections happen when students relate something in a new text to something they’ve read or seen before in other media. Some people add another category to the types of text connections you can make, called text-to-media. In this fourth category, students can connect a text to movies, television shows, songs, videos, interviews, or any other media.

To simplify the categories, we’ve chosen to incorporate text-to-media into the text-to-text bucket. We recognize that “text” can include more than just the written word. Some ways students can make text-to-text connections include:

Text-to-world connections

Text-to-world connections happen when students relate something in the text to something in the world around them. This is often the hardest connection for students to make. It relies less on personal experiences or feelings and more on background knowledge and observations. 

When readers can relate the text to their knowledge of the world around them, it enhances their grasp of the material. Making text-to-world connections helps the reader see how the text relates to and informs their understanding of the real world.

These types of connections help readers think critically about the broader significance and implications of a text beyond the text itself. Text-to-world connections encourage readers to analyze the text’s message or meaning on a larger scale. 

It also increases engagement and interest by making the text more relevant and applicable to the readers’ lives and experiences. When they see connections to the world they live in, they’re more likely to become invested in understanding the text. Some ways students can make text-to-world connections include:

  • Analyzing current events

  • Recognizing a historical context

  • Identifying cultural or social issues in a theme

What makes a “good” text connection?

The best text connections enhance students’ understanding of the text and help them draw meaning from it. When students start connecting with texts, they may often make surface-level connections.

For example, when reading an article called “Is gaming good for kids?” (found in our “Are Esports really sports?” text set), students might make the surface-level connection, “I play Fortnite, just like the person in the article.” These connections are fine when students start learning the skill. But once they understand the concept you should encourage them to dig deeper. Using the same article, you might prompt students to tell you how they feel about playing a video game.

Additional questions could lead students to make deeper connections. They might say, “It’s really exciting to try to beat a hard level in a video game. When I do it, I feel proud of myself and like I want to do it again. I understand why other people also like to play video games if they feel that way.” 

When students think about experiences, feelings, and different perspectives, then they’re creating meaningful connections to the text.

10 tips to help students connect ideas while reading

Use these tips to help your students learn how to make connections in texts they read:

1. Assess students’ level of background knowledge

If students don’t know anything about a subject or topic, it’s going to be harder for them to make connections to it. You can do pre-reading activities before students start a text to understand what they know about the topic.

You may ask questions like, “What do we know about [TOPIC]?” Or you could ask students if they know what key vocabulary words from a text mean. If you find gaps in their background knowledge, you can fill them in before you ask students to make connections to a text.

With Newsela ELA, there are plenty of resources to help build your students’ background knowledge on any topic. Our Novel and Book Studies collection, in particular, helps students build background knowledge on almost 500 of the most commonly taught novels. These curated text sets help students make connections and get meaning out of the books and novels they read.

2. Model your own connections

Modeling is helpful for teaching almost every literacy skill. Teaching students how to make text connections is no exception. Start by displaying the text you’re reading if possible, or make sure students have their own copy to follow along.

Think aloud to show them what you do before, during, and after reading to make connections. This helps students understand how to activate their prior knowledge. 

You can show them how to do this by sharing your connections with a text. For example, if you’re reading “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum in class, you might model your connections like this:

  • Text-to-self: "When Dorothy says she wants to go home, I know what she means. Sometimes even on a fun vacation, I feel homesick."

  • Text-to-text: "Reading this book reminds me of the time I went to see 'Wicked' onstage. It's the prequel to this story."

  • Text-to-world: "When Dorothy gets swept away in the tornado, I think about our weather. Kansas gets many tornados, but we don't."

3. Ask guiding questions

You can help students think more deeply about the content of a text by asking guiding questions. You can ask them out loud or share them on the board during whole-class discussions. Other options include adding them to worksheets, small-group discussion instructions, or other independent work materials. Some questions you may ask to guide students when making connections include:

Text-to-self questions:

  • Does this story remind you of any experiences you’ve had?

  • Can you relate to any of the characters in the story? Why?

  • Have you ever had to solve a problem like the one in the story? How did you do it?

Text-to-text

  • Does this text remind you of another book you’ve read? Why?

  • How is this text different than other books or articles you’ve read?

  • Does this text remind you of any other media, like a song, movie, or television show? Why?

Text-to-world

  • Do events that happened in the text also happen in the real world? How do you know?

  • Can you think of a historical event related to what happened in the text? How do they connect?

  • How are the events in the text similar to or different from events that happen in the real world?

4. Schedule pause points for whole-class reading

When you preview your mentor texts, mark significant points where you can pause and emphasize connections. While students can make connections at any point in a text, identifying natural breaks helps streamline the lesson. It also gives you the best opportunities to model connecting ideas in the text.

5. Make a mind-body connection

Many tips and tricks exist to help students memorize information and facts, like pneumonic devices. While those same techniques don’t work for finding connections, you can incorporate gestures or physical body movements. The mind-body connection helps students recognize and remember when they find certain connections in a text. This technique works best for young readers. You can use the following signals to have students identify connections while they read:

  • Text-to-self: Point to your chest

  • Text-to-text: Mime opening and closing a book

  • Text-to-world: Point away from your body

6. Start a connections journal

You can have students start a journal to keep track of the connections they make while they read. This is an especially fun and helpful activity for students who do more independent or silent reading. Encourage students to include the following items in each journal entry:

  • Name of the text

  • Fiction or nonfiction

  • Type of connection(s)

  • Textual evidence from the story or article

  • Description of why they made the connection

These journals can include illustrations, stickers, pasted-in notes, or other artistic additions to strengthen the connections they make. You can also use connection journals for small-group and whole-class reading. Encourage students to record the connections they make as a class in addition to ones they find on their own.

7. Try connection sentence frames

Students may understand the concept of making connections but find it difficult to put them into words. You can use connection sentence frames with blanks they can fill in to express their ideas. This exercise can help scaffold students to start expressing connections on their own. Try sentence frames like:

  • Text-to-self: This text reminds me of a time when I [DID or SAW or FELT SOMETHING] because [ANSWER].

  • Text-to-text: This text reminds me of the [BOOK or MOVIE or SHOW or SONG], [NAME], because [ANSWER].

  • Text-to-world: This text reminds me of [EVENT] that happened in the real world because [ANSWER].

8. Add music

When making text-to-text/text-to-media connections, you can encourage students to connect a text to songs. This activity works well for fictional stories. It helps students connect the storyline in a song and the plot or characters. 

For example, students might connect a fairy tale to Taylor Swift’s song “Love Story.” They may connect the line “You’ll be the prince and I’ll be the princess” to the characters.

9. Teach one type of connection at a time

When teaching literacy skills, the advice is usually to show students how they all work together. When teaching text connections, though, you can focus on teaching just one type at a time. It doesn't matter which of the three you're teaching, it's still the same skill, just different parts of it.

Start with text-to-self, which is usually easiest for students to grasp. Then work up to text-to-world connections, which are the hardest to master. Eventually, as students understand the concept, you can ask them to provide examples for all three types at the same time.

10. Stress how different people make different connections

Different people can draw unique connections to the same text. There aren’t “right” and “wrong” answers when making connections. Be sure to stress to your students that all their connections can be valid, even if they’re different from one another. 

Consider an after-reading partner discussion that encourages students to share their connections. This allows them to provide diverse perspectives on the same texts.

Frequently asked questions about teaching students to connect ideas in a text

Get answers to some common questions about teaching students how to connect ideas when reading a text:

When can students start making text connections?

Students can start making text-to-self connections as early as preschool. If they have some verbal communication skills or experience with a topic, they have the tools to make those types of connections. Their earliest connections are often surface-level. As students build more background knowledge and learn other literacy skills, they can work their way up to making deeper connections with texts.

How does making connections help students understand a text?

When students make text connections they can better understand the point of the plot of the author’s reasons for writing. With fiction, making connections helps students understand a character’s personality, motivations, or the events in the plot. With nonfiction, connections help students learn the author’s purpose and how the text is relevant or timely.

Why do students need to learn how to connect ideas in a text?

Working memory, a part of the brain that processes new information, has a limited capacity. It functions better when it can rely on “familiar, organized information from long-term memory.” Students can’t process information easily when the cognitive load is too high. This leads to poor information retention, decreased understanding, and lack of focus.

When students connect a text to prior knowledge, they use those long-term memory schemas to lower the cognitive load. Doing so makes it easier to understand and retain new information and skills in the classroom.

Is reading a text the only way students can connect ideas?

Reading isn’t the only way for students to connect ideas. Teaching them how to make connections with visuals is helpful too. Teaching how to connect visuals to background knowledge helps you introduce this concept earlier in their education.

Even students who can’t read can discuss what they think, feel, or remember while looking at images or watching videos. If the texts your students read include images or illustrations, incorporate them into your connecting ideas lessons.

Making text connections with Newsela

With Newsela ELA, it’s easy to help students make connections with a variety of relevant, real-world content. With over 15,000 literary and informational texts, there's something for every lesson. 

We have collections that are perfect for teaching students how to make text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world connections:

In addition to these great collections and more, you also get access to helpful resources and scaffolds, like:

  • Our updated ELA Standard and Skills collection. It provides more resources to help you teach about connecting people, events, and ideas in your lessons.

  • Assignment controls allow you to select which skills to teach and assess with each article. 

  • Explainer videos on topics like analyzing people, events, and ideas. Use them to bring a multimedia approach to teaching literacy skills in your classroom.

  • Custom collections that align with your academic priorities and instructional frameworks. Ask us how we can create a literacy skills collection that aligns with your curriculum and standards.

  • And coming for back-to-school ‘24:

    • Checks for understanding embedded within texts. They allow students to slow down and make sure they understand what they’ve read before moving forward in a text.

    • Expanded search filters that let you search content by reading skill, maturity, topic, standard, and more.

    • Updated reporting features that help you identify classroom trends and patterns and look in on students’ skills progress with ease.

Not a Newsela customer yet? You can sign up for Newsela Lite for free and get access to helpful scaffolds to teach students how to make text connections.

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