Top Teaching > Beth Newingham > My March Top Ten List: Nonfiction Reading Resources

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My March Top Ten List: Nonfiction Reading Resources

IMG_0029Last 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.)  

CaptionDiagramGlossary Graph Heading Map Table Photograph Table of contenst
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.

Text Feature Scavenger Hunt Text Features and Purpose

Download the "Text Feature Scavenger Hunt" and "Using Text Features" recording sheets pictured above. I've posted them as MS Word files so that you can adapt them for your grade level. 

3. Teaching Students to Recognize Different Text Structures

P1100662Content 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."

 Description Sequential Compare and Contrast Cause and Effect Problem and Solution

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

IMG_1595 [Desktop Resolution]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."

 IMG_1597 [Desktop Resolution] IMG_1598 [Desktop Resolution] 

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.

IMG_1594 [Desktop Resolution] IMG_1600 [Desktop Resolution] 


5. Make Current Events an Interactive Experience!

Magazine [Desktop Resolution]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

Full Screen

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.

Definition final

Students can watch videos related to the text to find exciting additional information. 

Video Final
 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

Laura RobbAuthor 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.

You can use her lessons "Posing Questions," "Skimming Text," and "Connect & Apply" to model each strategy. They will help you improve student reading and support learning in different content areas.




7. Evaluating Internet Resources

5ws1While publishing companies work hard to create quality nonfiction texts for our students, the Internet is also a valuable tool — when used effectively, that is!

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!

P1020121International 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!"

Joey39African-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

Angela 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 jpeg1 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! 


  • #1 Alison

    Monday, May 30, 2011 at 09:37 PM

    I love your book genres bulletin board. Dd you make those posters or did you order them from scholastic?

  • #2 Laura

    Thursday, May 26, 2011 at 05:57 PM


    I love your non-fiction text structure posters. Do you have any for fiction text structure? Such as main idea, summary, inferencing, etc?

    Thanks! Laura

  • #3 cool Jean Paul Gaultier eyeglasses

    Sunday, May 22, 2011 at 11:29 PM

    nice post,i like it very much,but i think u can think it in another way then,cause it will be interesting

  • #4 Beth Newingham

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 10:04 PM

    Julia (comment #39),

    I teach at a public school, so standardized testing is most definitely a reality. You wondered how I was able to be so creative and still prepare my students for standardized testing.

    I am very serious about my curriculum and meeting the benchmarks that are set by the state (and soon the common core standards). I have implemented intensive reading and writing workshops in my classroom and believe that I am helping my students grow to be very strong readers and writers. Each unit of study addresses different benchmarks that my students are expected to meet in third grade. However, my goal is to make the learning as enjoyable and creative as possible. That doesn't mean that I am straying from the benchmarks. I am simply working as hard as I can to make my teaching as effective as it can be while also making it fun. Creativity and thinking "outside the box" are important as I shape my students as learners and prepare them not only for "the test" but also for the real world. Many teachers in my district take this same approach, and I am proud to say that we regularly have some of the highest standardized test scores in the state:)


  • #5 Beth Newingham

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 09:43 PM

    Samantha (comment #38),

    You asked if I would share my year-long plan of units. I cannot share the units themselves because I wrote them for our school district with a team of teachers. However, you can see the order in which I teach my units of study in comment #40 of this post.

    Here is a great website that provides reading workshop units of study avalable for download:

    Lucy Calkins has also written reading workshop units of study for grades 3-5:

    I hope this helps!


  • #6 Beth Newingham

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 09:36 PM

    Sara (comment #37),

    You asked about my book basket labels. I created them in Print Shop Deluxe Version 23 for PC. I believe you can purchase Print Shop for MAC, but I know that the files cannot be opened in Print Master. It is a similar but different program.


  • #7 Beth Newingham

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 09:34 PM

    Alison (comment #36),

    When I write my reading and writing workshop mini-lessons, I follow the "Architecture of an Effective Mini-Lesson" format. Effective mini-lessons tend to follow a similar structure. That is, while the content of the mini lesson changes from day to day, the architecture of mini lessons often remains constant.

    Connection: My mini-lessons begin with a connection, in which you talk about how this lesson will fit into the work students have been doing and how it will fit into their lives as readers.

    Teaching Point: Next, tell students exactly what you'll be teaching them. This is the teaching point.

    Teaching: Now you teach students something you hope they'll use often as they read. You usually do this by demonstrating a strategy you use to read with greater accuracy, fluency, and comprehension. Sometimes you might share a strategy used by a student in our class, retell a vignette, or re-enact something you've seen other readers do. Usually, this component is structured sequentially, like a how-to text.

    Active Engagement: Now you give all students a quick opportunity to try what you've taught with your support, or to imagine themselves trying it before you send them off to continue reading. This active engagement phase often involves students practicing the strategy we've just demonstrated on a familiar text, and it often involves them talking with their reading partner.

    Link: To bring closure to the mini lesson, try to link the mini lesson to what the class has learned on previous days, to that day's work-time and to students' lives as readers. You may recall the major topic the class has been studying. "You already learned ... and today you have one more strategy to add ... " Sometimes the subject of the mini-lesson will only be pertinent for some readers. "How many of you will do this today?" you might ask. Other times, you will want to be sure every reader incorporates the new strategy into his or her work that day. "I'd like everyone to try out this strategy today to see how it helps you as you read." In these ways, you make it likely that at least some students transfer the mini lesson to that day's independent work, and that it becomes part of all students' ongoing repertoire.

    I learned this approach when I first started exploring reading workshop and still use each component when planning and writing my reading workshop and writing workshop mini-lessons.


  • #8 Beth Newingham

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 09:24 PM

    Kristie (comment #35),

    You asked about my calendar for reading workshop. This is what my year looks like (listed in the order in which the units are taught):

    Launching Reading Workshop: 6 weeks
    Reading Fiction: 5-6 Weeks
    Mystery/Detective Book Clubs: 3 Weeks
    Nonfiction: 5 weeks
    Research/Report: 5 Weeks
    Poetry: 4 Weeks
    Reading Partnerships: 3-4 Weeks
    Author Study/Book Clubs: 4 Weeks
    Reflection/Summer Reading Plans: 2 Weeks

    I hope this helps!


  • #9 julia simmons

    Wednesday, May 04, 2011 at 03:24 PM

    I have found your resources to be invaluable. There are teachers at my school who might think you don't have the constraints of statewide, standardized tests and that might be why you have the freedom to be so creative. I didn't think there were any public schools unaffected by NCLB & AYP. Is yours a public school? Make my day and tell me that you can do all of this despite the standards, because I want to brag on you!!!

  • #10 Samantha

    Friday, April 29, 2011 at 12:35 PM

    Hi, Beth. I have been using your website since I started teaching 5 years ago, and I have gotten so much valuable information from you! I follow a lot of the same ideas that you do for reading workshop, and I was wondering if you have a year long plan of units that you cover that you'd be willing to share, particularly in reading. I feel like a lot of my units are disconnected, or week by week. I want to do more that "flows." Can you share something like this here or on your website?

  • #11 Sara

    Tuesday, April 12, 2011 at 08:28 AM

    Hi Beth,
    Thank you so much for sharing all of your materials! I am sharing with my school and they are really excited about Reader's Workshop!

    I have a question about your book labels. I have a mac, and I just bought a new version of Printmaster. i can't open any of the documents you made or the ones I made, unless I saved them to a PDF. Do you happen to know the formatting you used for your labels? I would like to recreate labels with the same format. I also use them for math centers too.

    Thank you!

  • #12 Alison

    Wednesday, April 06, 2011 at 03:03 PM

    Thank you so much, Beth! Those links are very helpful and I've already saved several things from them. I was wondering if you have a blank template that you use for your lesson plans for reading and writing workshop and/or word study. If so, I'd love to see it (if you are able to share it). I understand completely why you can't share your entire units of study because you created them with other professionals. Thanks for sharing so much!!

  • #13 Kristie

    Tuesday, April 05, 2011 at 08:10 PM

    Thank you so much for sharing all your awesome ideas. I am new to third grade this year and have implement a lot of your ideas into my classroom. I look forward to each new top 10 post each month.

    I was wondering, do you have some sort of calendar you follow for reading? As to when you teach the certain big units? If so, would it be possible for you to share it? I struggle a lot with where to go from one thing to the next.


  • #14 Beth Newingham

    Friday, April 01, 2011 at 02:31 PM

    Alison (comment #33),

    Have you have read my previous posts I have written about Reading Workshop on my Scholastic blog? Here are links to those posts. Hopefully you will find answers to any questions you may have about my reading workshop.

    Reading Workshop: What it Looks Like in My Classroom:

    The Reader's Notebook:

    Assessment in My Reading Workshop:

    A Virtual Peek Into My Classroom Library:

    I would use the summer to first get your classroom library organized so that your students are able to use it effctively during independent reading time each day.

    I am not able to share my units of study since I created them with other members of a reading committee for my school district. However, here is a link to a site where you can find great reading workshop units of study for all grade levels:

    I hope this helps!


  • #15 Alison

    Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 08:11 PM

    Hi Beth,
    I've been using your class website as a reference for a few years now and I've always been interested in the "Reading Workshop" model of teaching. I've always had to use a specific reading curriculum that doesn't allow for a lot of flexibility. My school is allowing me to pilot a reading workshop model next year with my 2nd graders. I'm very excited, but a little overwhelmed. What do you recommend I focus on first? When you write your plans, what do they look like? I actually loop at my school, so I will teach the same students in 3rd grade, as well. Any suggestions or starting points you could give me would be so appreciated. The resources on your websites are so wonderful and I really appreciate your willingness to share!

  • #16 Beth Newingham

    Monday, March 28, 2011 at 10:06 PM

    Erica (comment #30),

    You asked some questions about how I use Everyday Math in my classroom. I think most of your questions will be answered when you read a Math Workshop post I wrote last year. Here is a link to that post:

    To address some of your questions, I correct Home Links and use them to guide my future instruction. If a large number of students do poorly on a home link concept, I know I need to reteach those skills. If just a small group of students do poorly, I will put them in the same rotation group during math workshop and reteach the concept to just those students.

    On our report card, students receive S (secure) P (progressing) or N (needs improvement) for each unit. Then skills like basic facts and problem solving are given individual marks. I feel like I know my students in a much more thorough way than our report card allows me to show, so I always add lots of additional comments about math to each child's report card.

    I think my Math Workshop post will give you a better idea of how I differentiate my instruction and manage math in my classroom to best meet the needs of all students.


  • #17 Beth Newingham

    Monday, March 28, 2011 at 09:57 PM

    Kathleen and Jamie (comments #28 & 29),

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments! It's always so nice to hear from teachers who are enjoying my blog!


  • #18 Erica

    Friday, March 25, 2011 at 08:41 PM

    I recently found your website and I am amazed and excited at the same time! You have really motivated me to make some changes in my classroom. Most of your posts refer to reading and writing. I am also very curious to learn more about your EDM program. How do you deal with all of the HomeLinks and going over them? Also, what do you do for grades? Do you have a standards based report card? I teach 2nd grade and I find that the children have difficult time doing a lot of the pages independently and there isn't a lot of practice due to the spiraling of the program. Do you create additional worksheets? I would love to read a few more posts about how you handle math. Thank you for getting me excited to try some new things!

  • #19 Jamie

    Thursday, March 24, 2011 at 09:21 PM

    Hi Beth,
    I just wanted to say how AWESOME you are! Thank you so much for sharing all of your TOO CUTE posters, etc. and your great lessons! I look forward to your monthly posts! Please don't stop!

  • #20 Kathleen Fox

    Thursday, March 24, 2011 at 04:54 PM

    Beth,this is a great website! Thanks for sharing your ideas.
    Kathleen Fox

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