F.A.R.T.ing Around With Research

I came home from #ncte17 full of ideas, but one common theme from the weekend was…..farts. In my first session about engaging boy readers and writers, Jon Sciezka gleefully told us that he loved fart jokes and writing about silly things. Then, I stood in line to a get a book for my 8 year old–The Unflushables–and discovered it was exploding (sorry) with fart jokes.  Later I thumbed through Ralph Fletcher’s Joy Write  and there on page 61? Farts. When I got home Monday, I saw this tweet pop up on twitter:


Either I was slap-happy from the weekend or the universe was trying to tell me something. I was working on a research reading lesson with a ninth grade teacher and this FART annotation thing seemed like just what we needed.

One of the biggest impediments to students embracing research reading and writing is that we don’t give them a way in–an on-ramp.  It seems so daunting, so intimidating, that many turn away before they even start.

Perhaps a F.A.R.T. strategy would be silly enough to be an on-ramp.



I spend half of my day teaching and the other half doing literacy support work, and sometimes that means a teacher inviting me in to help with a lesson.  In this case, a ninth grade English class was reading Fahrenheit 451 and writing a research based essay about dystopian elements the students see in our world today. Rather than waiting until the end to research and then write, the teacher wanted to spread things out. She knew her students didn’t have much background knowledge about these dystopian elements (drug abuse, obsession with technology, censorship, violence) and she worried they’d be overwhelmed. I suggested we try this new fart-y reading strategy to help them take notes as they research.


When we don’t give kids clear strategies for gathering research, and when we don’t spread that work over time, we end up with kids frantically skimming and scanning articles for “good quotes” that back up their main ideas. They end up trying to cherry-pick things that seem relevant rather than truly understanding what is relevant.


F.A.R.T. (Facts and Relevant Things)


The faces of the kids when I introduced the reading strategy were exactly what I’d hoped: horror and disgust on some, glee and joy on others. Either way, no one was ambivalent.  I at least had them intrigued by research reading.

I had them make a T-chart and told them to write “Facts” on one side, “And” in the middle, and then “Relevant Things” on the other side. (I had to change it from the ‘Random’ in Erskine’s book because I didn’t think that would help guide their reading!)


One student popped his hand up right away: “What’s the difference between ‘facts’ and ‘relevant things’”  I turned the question to the class and together we decided that facts would be things that are provable with evidence; relevant things would be things related to the big question (in this case, “how is our world like a dystopia?”). I explained that no one was grading their notes; this was simply a way to keep their thinking organized as they read. Ultimately, if I deem something a “relevant thing” that you deem a “fact”, it’s not the end of the world.  Research requires us to read a LOT and we need some strategies to keep that reading manageable and organized.


Next, we got to work practicing together.  I chose an article that was short so we could read it together. As we read, we filled in our FART chart. (see? It’s so catchy!! You can’t help liking it!)


As we worked, I reminded the kids that this was just a way to help them keep notes. When they go back later to write, they need to be able to skim their FART charts and remind themselves what is in each article that they read. They can keep track of important facts and relevant things that they may want to quote in their essay later.


One interesting thing that many noted as we read this article was that it could support either side of the argument.  On one hand, it provides lots of scary information about how prescription drugs are appealing to younger and younger kids.  That definitely seems to support the idea that we are barreling toward a dystopia!! On the other hand, though, the article ends by giving lots of sound advice to parents and providing resources. Maybe we are dealing with the problem and we aren’t on our way to dystopia after all.


“Write that down!” I urged them.  “That’s research! You aren’t just reading and copying what other people are saying. You’re reading, THINKING, and applying that thinking to your own argument. Now, you can look for those same ideas in other articles as well.”


Once we practiced together, I set them loose to FART independently. I had gathered about 20 articles that all connected to the question through different topics. Today was not the day to overwhelm them with searching, too. Today was about reading and gathering evidence.


I think it worked for two reasons:


  1. It grabbed their attention with silliness. Goodness knows we need to ease up a little more in high schools these days. Our kids are bombarded by seriousness.
  2. It was easy. I wasn’t asking them to read with any complicated series of steps. They were looking for 2 things–facts and relevant things–and those 2 categories were so broad that everyone could feel successful.

Now that I have them FARTing, we can back up and figure out how to find their own articles in the first place. While they FART, I’ve got a few days to come up with another ridiculous acronym for searching. Feel free to comment below or connect with me on Twitter @TeacherHattie if you have any good suggestions!



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