Teaching with a Passion for Nonfiction Books: Part 3 A

This is the third post in a three four post series highlighting how to use more nonfiction in the primary/early intermediate classroom. The first two posts can be found here:

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

Part 2: The importance of the nonfiction read aloud

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 our classrooms. For reference, last year I taught a Grade 2/3/4 class.

Teaching with a passion for nonfiction picture books:

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

3 A: Generating excitement, making choices and having time to read This post will touch on these questions:

  • How to generate excitement about nonfiction texts?
  • What are some ways to get students reading more nonfiction books?

 Teaching with a Passion for Nonfiction books: Interacting with nonfiction: getting students reading, thinking and talking together There's a Book for That

One of the best ways to create a buzz about nonfiction texts is to make authentic connections with the authors, illustrators and photographers that are making the books we love to read! We read a lot of nonfiction titles in my classroom and its is always exciting for the children to be able to communicate with the people behind the books that we have loved and shared together.

I would like to share three of our important connections here.

FirstNic Bishop.

When I had the opportunity (thanks Adam Shaffer) to introduce author and photographer Nic Bishop at this year’s Western Washington’s Children Literature ConferenceI knew that my students had to be part of the presentation. We spent time with Nic Bishop books (titles like Butterflies and Moths, Lizards, Spiders, Frogs, and Snakes). I asked the children to explore the books with these questions in mind:

  • How were these photographs taken?
  • What skills (besides photography) would the photographer need?
  • What would be the rewards in this kind of work?
  • What would be the challenges?

I then made a slide show that showcased some of their answers. The children were thrilled that they had “come with me” to help with the introduction! Here are a few photos that were part of the slide show.

 Teaching with a Passion for Nonfiction books: Interacting with nonfiction: getting students reading, thinking and talking together There's a Book for That

Second, with author Melissa Stewart.

We took forever to read No Monkeys, No Chocolate written by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young (with illustrations by Nicole Wong) We had to stop to talk, to write, to talk some more. So much learning in this book! It was one of our favourite read alouds of the year! A very special thing happened when I tweeted a picture of one child’s picture and writing to Melissa. She shared this on her blog, Celebrate Science. One little boy now has dreams of being an illustrator for nonfiction picture books!

 Teaching with a Passion for Nonfiction books: Interacting with nonfiction: getting students reading, thinking and talking together There's a Book for That Students were so excited to see a classmate’s work on a real author’s blog! It was such a surprise to see his work up on the big screen!

 Teaching with a Passion for Nonfiction books: Interacting with nonfiction: getting students reading, thinking and talking together There's a Book for That

And third, with author Deborah Heiligman.

Another one of our very favourite read alouds this year was The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos written by Deborah Heiligman and illustrated by LeUyen Pham. I shared all of our learning and connections with Deborah in this post on my classroom blog Curiosity Racers: For the Love of Math It is worth reading to see how very engaged my students were with this book and to figure out just what those cards they are holding are all about!

 Teaching with a Passion for Nonfiction books: Interacting with nonfiction: getting students reading, thinking and talking together There's a Book for That

Provide time to read nonfiction books

Of course, with many nonfiction books in the room and lots of book talking highlighting nonfiction texts, many students are already reading nonfiction books.  To ensure that all students were having the opportunity to be making nonfiction a choice and having guidance in choosing nonfiction texts, we decided to set aside a specific amount of time once a week (we grew it to 20 minutes and some kids read longer) and called it Nonfiction Reading Day. Of course, many children read nonfiction daily. But after a few weeks of honouring nonfiction reading with a special time, more children began choosing nonfiction more often throughout the week.

On Tuesday (the day we chose) I made sure to book talk nonfiction titles and my Teacher Librarian (who is in the room with me for every Reading Workshop)and I help students select nonfiction books that are a good match for them in terms of reading and interest level.

A great way to introduce more titles is also through book sharing circles. I group children into small groups of 6-8 students and have enough for 2-3 books per child. Every few minutes, we pass the books to our left and have a small amount of time to explore the titles just passed to us. At the end, we place all of the books in the center of the circle and students have a chance to share which books would be their first choices to read “next.” These conversations help to further promote the excitement about the books and invariably, many of these books are nabbed as students head off to read.

 Teaching with a Passion for Nonfiction books: Interacting with nonfiction: getting students reading, thinking and talking together There's a Book for That

On Nonfiction Reading Day, we acknowledge that the volume in the room will be noisier than our usual independent reading. It is hard to stay quiet when we read nonfiction because there is just too much that is too tempting to share. Many students also love buddy reading with a nonfiction text. I do specific mini-lessons with some ideas about how to make this go well.

Many days, we gather back to the carpet and sit knee to knee with a partner or a trio and share highlights from our nonfiction reading that day. Students are encouraged to ask questions and share their learning. We have a chart that we have created together in the room with some prompts to help out. A few examples:

  • Share a favourite illustration or photograph and explain what is significant about it
  • Read aloud a particularly interesting part and ask your partner if they have any questions about what you read.
  • Share something new that you learned.
  • Share a fact that was confirmed for you.
  • Talk about something you still don’t understand or have further questions about.
  • Give some reasons why someone might be interested in this title.

Time to read is a huge piece of generating excitement about nonfiction texts. Without this time to self-select titles, explore a variety of texts, talk about what we are reading and actually sustained time to read, our love for nonfiction won’t grow at the rate it does with all of these things in place.

 Teaching with a Passion for Nonfiction books: Interacting with nonfiction: getting students reading, thinking and talking together There's a Book for That

Share the #NFbooklove!

I love to welcome volunteers into my classroom during Reading Workshop. Often, when students get to choose which book to read to a volunteer, they choose a nonfiction text we have shared together!  This picture below is very special. My student, who dreams of becoming a doctor is reading Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell written by Tanya Lee Stone and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman to our volunteer who is currently applying to medical schools. I shared highlights of the conversations about this book in my classroom here.

 Teaching with a Passion for Nonfiction books: Interacting with nonfiction: getting students reading, thinking and talking together There's a Book for That

This picture was taken during the last week of school. My student is reading A Little Book of Sloth by Lucy Cooke to a guest visiting our room. She chose this from our Favourite Read Alouds bin. Why so significant? This was the first nonfiction read aloud I shared with my class back in September! Truly a testament to the joy these books bring to us.

 Teaching with a Passion for Nonfiction books: Interacting with nonfiction: getting students reading, thinking and talking together There's a Book for That

Up next? Part 3: Interacting with nonfiction: getting students reading, thinking and talking together – – > 3 B: Reading and working with the texts 

Please continue the nonfiction conversation with me. I welcome any questions or feedback in the comments section 🙂

5 thoughts on “Teaching with a Passion for Nonfiction Books: Part 3 A

  1. Hi Carrie, I love the ideas you’re sharing about developing a passion for non-fiction books in the classroom. When I taught 2nd grade one year, I marveled about how the students loved every single book I introduced to them, but especially non-fiction books. They were voracious readers of non-fiction. I teach 6th grade now and it’s sad that for the majority of students that love for non-fiction is gone. I too share picture books, especially non-fiction ones, in my classroom constantly and I work hard to rekindle that love for non-fiction in my sixth graders. Thanks for the inspirational ideas for increasing the use of non-fiction! Looking forward to part 4 of the series.

    • Thanks so much for reading and commenting Deb. My own children just finished Grade 6 and it is a different age and stage. We do need to work a little harder at this age. Also so many of the titles are longer that they are going to be interested in. I guess it is the balance of allowing them to have time to just read and enjoy NF, not always have to do research/work. They still need to associate NF reading with pleasure reading. I love the Scientist in the Field titles for older readers – I read them with my own kids all the time. Also there are so many fantastic nonfiction biographies out there! I wish you luck in rekindling that #NFbooklove! They are lucky to have you.

  2. Your myriad ways of highlighting NF books is huge, Carrie–time to read, explore, to share & talk–all very important. I’ve loved reading the posts all year of how the students deepened their experiences in the activities you had them do, too. I also read the comment above. Since our students study their own topics they are highly interested in, they read lots of NF books at every level. Maybe finding good nf books for a class theme is one answer? Thanks for this-definitely will share with the primary teachers!

    • I really appreciate your ongoing support and enthusiasm for the learning my students do, Linda. You are our biggest champion! I appreciate you passing this on to other teachers. Hopefully we can all continue the conversation in the coming year.

  3. Pingback: Sunday Salon: A Round-up of Online Reading 8/3/14 | the dirigible plum

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