How on earth did elementary school teachers ever survive in the BG (Before Google) era? I am constantly looking to the Internet for informational text for my lessons or just my own general knowledge. Back in the day you had to actually go to the library, consult the card catalog, find the book, use the index, read the appropriate pages, and then cry because it was not the information for which you were searching. Okay, maybe that was just me, but even so today Google finds you millions of sources in under one second. Amazing!
If I were to look up the ratio of nonfiction reading to fiction reading for adults, I would guess nonfiction would win hands down. After all, we are constantly reading for information about our world. We have to kick our nonfiction teaching up a notch to prepare our students for surviving in the real world. I personally try to keep 50% or more of my reading time in the nonfiction realm. Here are some nonfiction goodies for adding nonfiction texts to the upper elementary classroom.
Newspapers: Many local papers love to donate to schools. The Detroit News donates a classroom set of papers once a week to our building. Although newspapers may be obsolete in the future, hunting for facts, understanding bias, working with cause/effect, and expanding vocabulary are all valuable skills that can be gained from the newspaper. Ask around to see who in your area will donate a class set to your school.
Newsmagazines: My students love learning about current events and then enjoy going home to show off their knowledge to their parents. Scholastic News is just one of a handful of newsmagazines out there. These magazines are colorful, informative, and written at a level just for your students. Allowing students to highlight the magazines and take them home gives them one more opportunity to share their knowledge.
Biographies: I read a couple biographical novels with my class, including Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, George Washington: The Man Who Would Not Be King, Harriet Tubman, and A Picture Book of Sojourner Truth.
You can find many others using the Book Wizard on Scholastic.com.
Science/Social Studies Texts: If I run out of nonfiction selections from the above list, then I turn to our social studies and science textbooks. Inevitably there are chapters that do not need to be covered according to the benchmarks and standards. I let the students use those chapters to learn the information on their own and write their own questions as if they were the teacher.
In Three Words: After reading a newsmagazine, I ask the students to summarize it in three words. They really work hard at picking the perfect words. This fosters great discussions in the class and allows students to think about what the important parts of the article really are. I came up with this idea after watching Good Morning America's segment called "Your Week in Three Words." My class did a couple of videos summing up their life in three words before we used this strategy for reading. See our classroom videos "Your Three Words — What We Love About 4th Grade" and "Your Three Words — 4th Grade Style."
Mind Mapping: According to the brain research, your mind stores pictures better than text. Making the text into a colorful graphic can help improve comprehension. There are several books written on the topic. How to Mind Map by Tony Buzan is one that comes to mind. The basics boil down to this: Create a colorful, meaningful image to represent the concept. Words should be embedded in the image when possible. The center of the mind map should be the big idea with the details spinning off. Below you see an example of how we mind mapped two types of energy, nuclear and solar, we had discussed in science class.
RCRRC — Read, Cover, Remember, Retell, and Check: This is another great one for newspapers and magazines. Read a selection about the size of your hand. Cover it up and try to remember as much as you can (peeking is allowed). Retell what you know to a friend while they check to see if you have your facts straight. (This one comes from the Michigan Reading Association conference.)
What are some of your students' favorite nonfiction reading selections or strategies?
2i2 is a trademark of Mr. Vasicek's class that means integrity and pushing yourself to your potential.