Last month I shared my favorite resources for teaching fiction reading, and this month I'm focusing on nonfiction. Students (and teachers) often choose to read fiction texts in the classroom, but it is crucial that we expose our students to nonfiction texts as often as possible.
Nonfiction texts allow children to experience the wonder of the world. Facts come alive when books about animals, people, or objects are read to children. Nonfiction texts build on children's interests and increase vocabulary and background knowledge. When we help our students become proficient readers of nonfiction texts, we help them become successful at school and in the “real world.” Research shows that about 85% of what adults read on a daily basis is nonfiction. Teachers have a great responsibility in teaching students to tackle this genre.
READ ON to check out resources for teaching nonfiction reading concepts, including posters, links to great Web sites and articles, printables, an exciting new way to make current events interactive, and much more!
1. Using Text Features to Successfully Navigate Nonfiction Texts
Before I can teach students to gather information, determine importance, or find supporting details, I must first show them the tools that they will be using. Those tools are the predictable, common features of nonfiction texts. I created text feature posters to help my students recognize, name, and understand the purpose of the most common features. Below are nine of the 23 posters I created. (Special thanks to Charla Lau, the reading specialist at my school, for the idea.)
Download a PDF slide show of all 23 of my Nonfiction Text Features posters. Since it is a large file, right click on the link and choose "save target as."
2. Text Feature Scavenger Hunt
After students learn the different text features, I want them to start paying close attention to the text features they find in their own books. In the primary grades, students may simply do a scavenger hunt where they check off the features they find, but in the upper grades, they also need to be able to determine the purpose of each text feature and explain why it helps them read the text. Below are activities your students can use to accomplish these goals.
3. Teaching Students to Recognize Different Text Structures
Content textbooks are often above the reading level of the grade for which they're intended. If some students struggle with grade level texts, how can they comprehend history and science textbooks? One strategy that can aid students in breaking down informational text is understanding text structure. Research shows that an awareness of text structure facilitates a greater ability to recall important information in expository texts.
Text Structure Posters: Knowing the elements of text structure is an effective tool in understanding nonfiction. Each structure can be identified using “signal” words. Words such as “then,” “next,” and “afterward” are indicators of a sequencing pattern. When students learn the key words and can recognize the predictable patterns, they will be better equipped to scan the text and pinpoint the information they seek. Below are posters that I created to teach my students about the most common structures found in nonfiction texts. Download a PDF slide show of the text structure posters. Since it is a large file, right click on the link and choose "save target as."
Professional Books & Lessons: Of course just introducing the text structures is not enough. Below are three great Scholastic professional books I have used. Click on the books for more information.
You can also check out this great text structures SMART Board lesson created by Marcia Jones. It has tons of activities to help you teach your students about the different text structures.
4. Have Students Create Their Own Text Features and Text Structures Books
Some teachers at our school have students cut out examples of different text features from magazines and paste them into blank versions of the text feature posters in #1 of this post to make a book. Scholastic News is a great source of text features for a project like this. The "My Text Features Book" can be an ongoing project throughout the school year. Students may cut out one or two text features from each new edition of Scholastic News as they read it in class (or any other magazines or newspapers they have access to). Download a PDF slide show of the "My Text Features Book" (shown below) in which I have included templates for 23 different nonfiction text feature pages that you can print and use with your own students. Since it is a large file, right click on the link and choose "save target as."
Students in older grades should start recognizing that the articles in magazines and newspapers typically follow one of the five text structures I described in #3 of this post. Students can cut out and paste entire articles onto each page of a "My Text Structures Book" to show examples of text structures. Download a PDF slide show of the "My Text Structures Book" (shown below) in which I have included templates for these text structures.
5. Make Current Events an Interactive Experience!
With all that is currently happening in our country and around the world, I find it more important than ever to keep my students informed of current events. I use Scholastic News not only because the weekly editions are written at an appropriate level for my 3rd graders, but because they also include a new “whiteboard-ready” interactive option with the subscription. Check out the photos below to see how this new feature can spice up your teaching of current events.
The digital edition can be displayed on your interactive whiteboard — a great option for sharing reading in primary classrooms!
Highlight important text, use shape tools to circle text features, and add “digital sticky notes” with student ideas. Tap the purple W next to important new words to reveal the definition.
Students can watch videos related to the text to find exciting additional information.
Teachers can access both current and previous editions at any time. Teacher editions, skills sheets, and even alternate versions of the cover story written at a lower reading level are also available.
Watch a demo of Scholastic News Interactive!
6. Comprehension Strategies for Reading Nonfiction Texts
Author Laura Robb presents several classroom-proven strategies that enable students to construct meaning from nonfiction in her book Teaching Reading in Social Studies, Science, and Math: Practical Ways to Weave Comprehension Strategies Into Your Content Area Teaching. These include asking open-ended questions, skimming text, and making connections.
7. Evaluating Internet Resources
My students are currently doing research on a country from which their ancestors came to America. While we have checked out lots of great books from the library, we have found that many of them are outdated. For the most current information about population, government, etc., students must use the Internet. However, it is more important than ever that students (and teachers) learn to evaluate Web sites. I love Kathy Schrock's "5 Ws of Web Site Evaluation" handout.
Brent Vasicek, the Scholastic classroom advisor for grades 3–5, also wrote a great post a couple of weeks ago titled "Danger on the Internet: A Lesson in Critical Thinking." In it he includes some great lessons to help students distinguish the “real” from the “fake.”
8. Make Research Exciting and Memorable!
International Festival: As I mentioned, my students do country research each year. In addition to a traditional report, we host an international festival as a culminating activity. The festival allows students to share what they have learned about their country through a performance, fashion show, and taste-fest. To learn more about this memorable event, read my post from last year "Host an International Festival at Your School!"
African-American Wax Museum: Our 4th grade students do research on a notable African American during Black History Month. To make their research more purposeful, they do a presentation at the annual Hill School 4th Grade African-American Wax Museum. All classes take turns visiting the museum to listen as the wax figures come alive and talk about their lives and achievements. To learn more about this special event, read this post I wrote a few years ago.
How do you make your research come alive? Perhaps you bring visitors to your classroom, take virtual field trips, or plan special events at your school. I’d love to hear how you make your nonfiction reading or research units come alive for your students!
9. More Nonfiction Materials and Lesson Ideas
My Top Teaching colleague Angela Bunyi wrote a great post titled "Taking a Look at Nonfiction Conventions." In it she provides tons of resources and ideas for teaching the conventions of nonfiction, including great mini-lessons and anchor chart/bulletin board ideas. She includes lots of photos of projects in her classroom and printables to download.
10. Nonfiction Reading Sources and Strategies
Brent Vasicek recently posted another great piece describing purposeful ways to weave nonfiction into your curriculum. He provides teachers with a list of sources to use for nonfiction texts and describes three creative nonfiction comprehension strategies: “Mind Mapping,” “In Three Words,” and “RCRRC: Read, Cover, Remember, Retell, Check.” Read his post "Nonfiction Reading Sources and Strategies" to learn more!