Teaching with a Passion for Nonfiction Books: Part 2

This post is part of a 3 part series about using more nonfiction titles in our Elementary classrooms. A link to the first post is included here:

Part 1: Everywhere you look . . . let there be nonfiction!

The intention with each of these posts is to share a practical “how to” list of how to read more, celebrate more and use more nonfiction picture books in the late primary/early intermediate classroom. For reference, last year I taught a Grade 2/3/4 class.

Teaching with a passion for nonfiction picture books:

Part 2: The importance of the nonfiction read aloud

The message of this post is simple: read more nonfiction titles aloud more often!

Wanting to do that is the easy part. Finding the time in our busy schedules is another thing! Here is how I have managed to find more time to share more nonfiction in my classroom.

 Teaching with a Passion for Nonfiction Books: Part 2  The importance of the nonfiction read aloud There's a Book for That

Set aside designated time to read nonfiction titles 

Block nonfiction read aloud into your weekly schedule. Don’t trust that you will alternate fiction and nonfiction read alouds. Sharing picture books and poetry and novels needs designated time as well. If you are already doing those things well, you see many benefits to reading fiction aloud and you won’t want to give it up. When you actually schedule time to read aloud nonfiction, it won’t be instead of anything else. Nonfiction can play the starring role. I have two 40 minute blocks of time a week for nonfiction read aloud. This is at minimum – I often fit more time in during other parts of the week.

Of course, that still doesn’t answer this question: What are things you might give up in your schedule to fit in more nonfiction time? I always think we can be strategic to find time for things that we value. Thinking about some of these things might help.

  • Build oral language skills (listening, speaking, retelling, summarizing, asking questions, etc. ) during your read aloud session. The listening and speaking component of Language Arts needs dedicated time in our schedules. Why not build a lot of these skills while sharing nonfiction titles? We often use nonfiction read aloud time to really develop these skills. This is when we do much of our “turn and talk” time with a partner or a small group. Students have the chance to share out to the whole group, listen attentively, build on other comments or questions and practice predicting and inferring. We also work on summarizing, listening for specific information and asking questions. All of this talk time to review makes a huge difference in how much information students recall. I have the students do some of the following things with their “turn and talk” partner or small group as we work through a nonfiction title over multiple read aloud sessions:
  1. Share what you already know about this topic. Sometimes I have the students share facts (questions are okay too) back and forth one fact at a time to really practice turn taking. For example, if we are going to read a book about elephants, the exchange might sound something like “They are huge” “They live in Africa” “They have a trunk” “They use their trunk to drink” “Is their trunk like a nose? Do they even have a nose?” “Their skin is wrinkly and grey” “I think they eat leaves”
  2. Talk about some things you are wondering.
  3. Answer specific questions based on an image on the page i.e. Look at this picture of the hippo in the water, why do you think hippos spend so much time in the water?
  4. List at least 3 (or more) new facts we learned yesterday about __________ (refer to specific section of the book)
  5. What is the most interesting thing you have learned so far?
  6. Explain _________ to your partner. Partners, was any important part missed? For example: Explain the differences we have learned about crocodiles and alligators.
  7. What are you hoping we will still find out?
  8. Listen to the next heading (or chapter title) what do you think we might read about in this section?
  9. Which of our questions never got answered?
  • Use your nonfiction read alouds to support curricular themes in science and social studies. This is huge. I launch every unit/theme with a book, often multiple books! Enhance the rich learning that nonfiction titles help us support through discussion, reflection writing, vocabulary building and opportunities to retell and summarize our new learning in a variety of ways.

Here are some examples of the “work” we do with nonfiction titles in my classroom. We are reading great books and covering curriculum!

After reading When the Giant Stirred: Legend of a Volcanic Island by Celia Godkin and some sections from a variety of nonfiction books about volcanoes, students completed a labelled diagram of the parts of the volcano.

Teaching with a Passion for nonfiction: Part 2 The importance of the nonfiction read aloud There's a Book for That

We then completed a paper bag volcano experiment where small groups had to follow a series of oral and posted instructions.

Teaching with a Passion for nonfiction: Part 2 The importance of the nonfiction read aloud There's a Book for That

As we read, we keep track of questions we are wondering so we can revisit as we read and when we are finished the story. Students love to notice, “Now we know the answer to that one!” Reading No Monkeys, No Chocolate written by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young (with illustrations by Nicole Wong) took us multiple read aloud sessions. There was so much to learn in this book!

Teaching with a Passion for nonfiction: Part 2 The importance of the nonfiction read aloud There's a Book for That

I love when another adult can work collaboratively in the room with me. As we read aloud, we ask the children to provide us with any key words from the text after every few pages and one of us notes them down on chart paper. Both of us can then circulate during “turn and talk time” instead of one person trying to balance all of the pieces of guiding the lesson. These key words help the students when they are doing reflective or summary writing.

Teaching with a Passion for nonfiction: Part 2 The importance of the nonfiction read aloud There's a Book for That

We also often list questions from the students during the read aloud and then code them when we are finished reading. Did our questions get answered? Do we need to do some research? Or can we infer to figure out the answer. R = Research I = Infer FO= Found Out If we want students to do writing, we might provide prompts like those listed below and have them look at our questions on chart paper to help guide their responses.

  • I discovered . . .
  • We found out that . . .
  • Now that I know _________, I think ___________
  • I am still wondering . . .
  • I still have some questions.

Teaching with a Passion for nonfiction: Part 2 The importance of the nonfiction read aloud There's a Book for That

Sometimes, my Resource Teacher (RT) comes into support writing when we have already read a story aloud and done a lot of the thinking work. I have different students take turns summarizing what happened in the book. This allows the RT to be caught up with the information and provides the opportunities for different students to practice summarizing and sharing key points.

Teaching with a Passion for nonfiction: Part 2 The importance of the nonfiction read aloud There's a Book for That

One of our favourite activities to do with nonfiction titles (especially if we are reading more than one text on the topic) is to fill out a Knew/New Chart. This idea is from Adrienne Gear and her Nonfiction Reading Power book (which is amazing if you don’t have it!) We filled out this chart after reading both Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau written by Jennifer Berne and illustrated by Éric Puybaret and The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jaques Cousteau by Dan Yaccarino.

Teaching with a Passion for nonfiction: Part 2 The importance of the nonfiction read aloud There's a Book for That

Read aloud some more!

Get creative about using nonfiction titles throughout your week. It’s easy to find ways to share more nonfiction titles to support things you are already doing.

  • Use specific nonfiction titles for those ten to fifteen minute times that happen upon you in the classroom. Kids actually cleaned up and are ready before the bell? The presentation is late in the gym? The play finished early? Use that “found time” to share nonfiction titles. I always have two or three titles in a bin beside our carpet area ready to do just that. Many of these books can be shared a page at a time with lots of success. Some of my favourites for this purpose? Titles by Steve Jenkins feature big here!

Found Time? Read some nonfiction! The importance of the nonfiction read aloud There's a Book for That

  • Model ways to buddy read with nonfiction titles. Are your kids big buddy readers to a younger class? I like to model how to share various books with my students so their buddy reading time is more successful and fun. I often choose nonfiction titles to do this. First, I get to share these as read alouds and then my students, in turn, share them. My favourites for this purpose?

Nonfiction Titles perfect for buddy reading The importance of the nonfiction read aloud There's a Book for That

  • Inspire an art project! Launch an art project with a nonfiction title. Some of my favourite books to do just that:

Use nonfiction to inspire an art project The importance of the nonfiction read aloud There's a Book for That

A few recent of art projects inspired by nonfiction books.

Teaching with a Passion for nonfiction: Part 2 The importance of the nonfiction read aloud There's a Book for That

Teaching with a Passion for nonfiction: Part 2 The importance of the nonfiction read aloud There's a Book for That

This image (above) was complimented by Nicola Davies author of One Tiny Turtle (that inspired this book) Below some students are painting their turtles.

Teaching with a Passion for nonfiction: Part 2 The importance of the nonfiction read aloud There's a Book for That Teaching with a Passion for nonfiction: Part 2 The importance of the nonfiction read aloud There's a Book for That

Teaching with a Passion for nonfiction: Part 2 The importance of the nonfiction read aloud There's a Book for That

And how can I end this post without sharing some of my very favourite nonfiction to read aloud? Here are some titles that I have used with a lot of success in my primary/early intermediate classroom. Rich, rich learning opportunities!

 Fantastic Nonfiction to read aloud Part 2 The importance of the nonfiction read aloud There's a Book for That

I know there are many teachers out there doing amazing things with nonfiction texts in their classroom. This post is hardly a comprehensive list of everything that can be done with the read aloud and is not intended to touch on how to teach specific nonfiction genres. Please share your own ideas and links in the comment section! Let’s continue the nonfiction conversation.

Next post? Part 3: Interacting with nonfiction: getting students reading, thinking and talking together 

3A: Generating excitement, making choices and having time to read

3 B: Reading and working with the texts 

 

12 thoughts on “Teaching with a Passion for Nonfiction Books: Part 2

  1. I love each and every bit, will share with the teachers this fall, Carrie. Thank you for spending the time to put this together! I love so many of these books, and just now have Ape from the library, will try to review it Wednesday. Happy NF reading!

    • I am so happy that you find this “share” worthy Linda! It all came about from chatting with Melissa Stewart and Alyson Beecher on twitter – these conversations inspired me to share. In the first part I talk about how I realized that this was going to have to be a series of posts not just one!

  2. You worked hard on this post, and it is very thoughtful. Thank you for sharing these wonderful tidbits with us. 🙂 I am a huge lover of nonfiction, so this post is close to my heart.

  3. WOW! This post is AMAZING! How do you find the time to write such a detailed and lengthy post! (I have hardly sat down to open emails for weeks it seems!) I LOVE everything you included here – so many helpful suggestions for teachers to get more nonfiction in their rooms, the lessons and of course all the book titles you have included. I love the connections you always make to art and was flattered to see my Knew-New included! I will definitely be sharing this at workshops and with my staff. THANK YOU!

    • Lots of coffee and early mornings when everyone else is sleeping! That’s my trick! And of course, neglecting the dusting! I frequently use your Knew/New chart – such a great way for kids to think about their learning! It’s one of my favourites. So pleased that you liked the post! Means a lot.

  4. Carrie,
    You are in a roll, girl!! I too love to milk every minute of the day with reading aloud! Thanks for reminding me that I am doing some good things with non-fiction now but more importantly for helping me to set a couple if goals for myself. I am going to use you and other resources to collect non-fiction titles to support my Science and Social Studies. I started doing that when I was doing my “There’s a Book for That” binge reading earlier this summer. I too am going to dedicate time to non-fiction read aloud. Love the idea of partnering with another educator to guide speaking, listening, and summarizing skills to support development. And finally, how hard can it be to keep a few must reads in a basket by my chair? I am all over that one!
    This post is a must read. Definately an inspiration for the day! Thanks as always for sharing!!

    • Stephanie – thank you so much for this feedback! I love hearing that this post reinforced some of the things you are already doing. I was hoping that lots of teachers would be nodding their heads thinking, “Yes, I do that!” I also appreciate hearing what your take away ideas are. I LOVE working with another teacher in the room. I try to find opportunities for that to happen as often as possible. A much richer learning environment for all! And yes, it works really well for me to read some books just a page or so at a time. We took 8 months to read Just a Second – sharing just a page a week here and there. So easy to do with nonfiction titles.

    • Thanks for the comment Clare and Tammy. I hope this series will be a useful resource for teachers! It has been interesting for me to reflect on what I am doing to promote nonfiction books and think about future directions.

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