Never Underestimate the Humble Tool Tip


Active (close, engaged) reading involves analyzing the meaning and context of new content. According to ASCD,  the goal of close reading is to uncover many layers of meaning. But first students must grasp the functional meaning of each word and reference in the text.

Writing centers at George Mason and many other universities offer Tips for Active Reading. These include advice on tackling difficult vocabulary. If college students admit that “sometimes a difficult word can be a major roadblock,” imagine what a vocabulary pothole can do to a K-12 student.

Stumbling over key terms or references (even simple pronoun antecedents) can add unnecessary obstacles to the comprehension and analysis central to active reading.

But here's some good news: Text stumbling is easy to avoid with our friend the tool tip. It’s optional. It’s concise. It clarifies. It allows students the confidence to keep reading and tackle the larger message in the text.

Take a look at the support that tool tips provide in this free online lesson on the French Revolution.


If a student does not need added clarification, she just ignores the perforated line and reads on. No time is wasted. Tool tips simply provide an added opportunity to clarify meaning, build vocabulary, and provide deeper understanding.

Here are a few more examples of the humble tool tip in action:

Social studies lessons, like this one on Jamestown, sometimes include potentially confusing numeric references to centuries. A tool tip can quickly clarify that the 17th century refers to the 1600s.  And what was mercantilism? I remember something about it...  Oh yes, colonies providing raw materials for European powers to make finished goods. Tool tips quickly confirm any fuzzy understanding so that students can keep reading with confidence.


Tool tips can support student learning by giving additional details and greater specificity to general references --such as reminding students that the East Indies Islands referred to in this Age of Exploration lesson are present-day Indonesia and that a turning point in history refers to events that dramatically change the future.

Tool tips also allow teachers to expand a student's vocabulary. This reading on the ancient Greek myth of the Minotaur and the labyrinth uses the word "retribution" with no risk of confusing or discouraging a reader that may not be familiar with that term. The tool tip for "vengeance," later in the text, provides greater context for the reader. The definition is not generic. It includes details about the source of revenge in this particular story.

So never underestimate the power of a tool tip. Providing just-in-time clarity for a reader fuels the confidence needed for tackling the deeper layers of meaning championed by active and close reading proponents.

Looking for more tool tip rich social studies content? All of these Curriculum Pathways resource series feature this handy little feature!

Turning Points in World History
Turning Points in U.S. History
Document Analysis Series: U.S. History
Document Analysis Series: World History
Document Analysis Series: Civics and Economics


About Author

Molly Farrow

Molly Farrow taught high school history for 11 years in Wake County and Durham County. She also taught at the Taipei American School in Taiwan. She received a M.A.T. degree from the University of North Carolina and a B.S. degree in Political Science from Wake Forest University. Outside work, she enjoys traveling and spending time with her family and their dog, Dante.

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