Teaching with a Passion for Nonfiction Books: Part 3 B

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

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

Part 2: The importance of the nonfiction read aloud

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

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

Here is the the 3B of Part #3 (Yes, really Part 4, I know!)

3B Reading and working with the texts 

 Teaching with a Passion for Nonfiction Books: Reading and Working with the Texts There's a Book for That

This post will address these questions:

  • How to begin locating and recording facts from nonfiction text
  • What kinds of activities can students do in pairs or small groups with nonfiction text?
  • Which books are great for students beginning to read and interact with nonfiction text independently?

While I am going to share a number of activities you can use to have students interact with nonfiction texts, I do want to gently remind teachers that we need to ensure there is a balance between independent free choice reading of nonfiction texts and using nonfiction to begin learning research skills and other skills involved in finding and reacting to information in nonfiction books. Yes, it is important that our students know that nonfiction books are a place to go to find information. But, we also need to make sure students associate nonfiction reading with pleasure reading. Don’t overdo the “work” with nonfiction at the expense of the pure enjoyment and time to just explore!

While I do additional work in small groups to give students more practice, I teach a lot of information about the structure of nonfiction texts as a whole group while I book talk nonfiction books and share read alouds. It is something that we work on all year. So when I am launching the activities that I describe below, we have already been learning about:

  • how to navigate a nonfiction book
  • different ways to read nonfiction books i.e. not needing to start at the beginning
  • what are the text features
  • how to use the text features
  • various nonfiction genres

I find that if we launch right into activities where students are expected to find specific information, some students who need more time to explore, become discouraged. A more self-paced activity works better where students can look at a variety of texts or one text in more depth. One of the first things I do when we begin interacting with nonfiction text is what I call “fact search blitzes.”

I make a sheet for students to fill in that has a frame that looks like this (repeated down the page:

On page __________ of  ____________________ (title), I found out that __________________________________________________________.

We put out bins and displays of books and the children select a title and search through for an interesting fact. Some students are very independent and work without much support recording multiple facts. Other students need a lot of guidance finding titles and selecting information to share. I try to have lots of adults in the room when we first do this activity so everyone feels successful. There is usually quite a buzz of excitement and students who want to share their learning instantly. I love the chatter as they work. Sometimes we cut up our sheet and separate the facts into categories on large chart paper like Animal Facts, Facts about our World, etc.

What is great about this activity is that there is no right answer and everyone can work at his or her own pace. Students get to really explore the nonfiction titles in the classroom collection and dive in to some books in more detail. They also begin to learn to extract interesting information from the page. And, everyone gets talking about what is learned!

 Teaching with a Passion for Nonfiction Books: Reading and Working with the Texts There's a Book for That

Small Group Work:

Our Teacher Librarian, Ms. S works with my class everyday during Reading Workshop. I also try to organize some of my Resource Teacher support to happen at this time. This allows one of us to work with small groups to practice working more independently with nonfiction text on specific days of the week. We work in the hallway, the library or a different area of the classroom.

Here students are looking for nonfiction features from  a variety of texts and discussing purposes of the features in the book. This group was delighted that some nonfiction books have quizzes, jokes and puzzles!

 Teaching with a Passion for Nonfiction Books: Reading and Working with the Texts There's a Book for ThatStudents enjoy working with a partner to explore specific texts. After I worked through this process with the small group, students worked with a partner and a specific text to go through the same process. Working with a partner with lots of time to discuss the topic and share the reading made the experience much more interesting. With less time, I have the pairs do step one and two orally. Note – this process takes a few class periods.

  1. Before you start reading, list everything you know about this specific creature (could be any topic but we were reading books about animals and insects)
  2. Next, make a Wonder Web to record all the questions that you have.
  3. Now read the text and chart important facts (I tell them that this is part of being a “fact detective”)
  4. Go back to your questions and check off the ones that you answered.
  5. What is left on your list? How could you find out more information to your unanswered questions?

 Teaching with a Passion for Nonfiction Books: Reading and Working with the Texts There's a Book for ThatI shared some of the “talk” I overheard while these students worked with these Backyard Book titles in this post. I am a firm believer in discussion and sharing both learning and thinking when working with nonfiction books!

 Teaching with a Passion for Nonfiction Books: Reading and Working with the Texts There's a Book for That

Another activity I have students do when working with magazine articles or specific nonfiction titles allows them to practice a number of skills: accessing prior knowledge, generating questions, reading for information and determining importance.

First students talk about and chart what they know about a particular topic.

 Teaching with a Passion for Nonfiction Books: Reading and Working with the Texts There's a Book for That

They share all of the things that they wonder in a large web.

 Teaching with a Passion for Nonfiction Books: Reading and Working with the Texts There's a Book for That

This is a chart we created together to help us think about what kinds of questions we might want to ask and also to help with determining important facts (see below).

 Teaching with a Passion for Nonfiction Books: Reading and Working with the Texts There's a Book for That

After the group (or pair) read through the article/book, their task is to decide on what they think are the five most important facts. I love the arguments  discussions that occur. The “talk” is where the most learning happens, I always think.

 Teaching with a Passion for Nonfiction Books: Reading and Working with the Texts There's a Book for That

I mentioned using the Knew/New chart format in the second post in this series. This idea is from Adrienne Gear and her Nonfiction Reading Power book and it is something I use frequently with my students.

Here, students spent time reading titles from our National Geographic Readers collection. With their partner they noted down information on their charts – under new for something new they learned and under knew for information that they already knew. We then did a Gallery Walk to explore the information shared on all of the charts.

 Teaching with a Passion for Nonfiction Books: Reading and Working with the Texts There's a Book for That

After working with nonfiction books and doing these kind of activities multiple times, students are more comfortable moving into small research projects, collecting information to do specific kinds of nonfiction writing and searching for information to support their learning on a particular topic. At this age (late primary) it is all about practice, practice, practice!

Selecting books for students to read for independent/partner work with text:

I look for the following things when I am searching for titles for independent practice:

  • full colour interesting photographs and/or realistic, engaging illustrations
  • labelled diagrams and close up photos with labels
  • easy to use features like maps, life cycle charts, comparison charts
  • navigation ease via table of contents, index and headings
  • new words defined on the page or easy to find in the glossary
  • fact boxes for skimming and scanning
  • text complexity – words on the page, organization, easy to follow headings
  • “interest meter” for students this age (changes with each group of children)
  • is it part of a series or a collection so familiarity of structure can be a bridge to other books in same series

Here are a number of titles that my students can manage on their own when working with the text to pull information. A note – I have been teaching mostly Grades 2 and 3 for the last 15 years and many of my students are English Language Learners. These books are great for partner work, buddy reading and individual practice. I also often use magazines from the Owl Kids family: Owl, Chickadee and Chirp. I’m sure there is a similar magazine series in the U.S. and other countries. My students love these magazines and I have bins of back issues discarded from the library or donated to the school.

Many of these titles are part of a series or nonfiction collection. I have only showcased one or two titles. If there are any questions about any of these titles, please ask in the comment section or contact me via twitter @CarrieGelson I know how challenging it can be to find books that our primary students can manage on their own – especially for readers who are just building their confidence. Many of these titles have great images and text features to help support successful reading.

Nonfiction Titles for Reading Independently  -  Reading and Working with the Texts

Nonfiction Titles for Reading Independently  -  Reading and Working with the Texts

Nonfiction Titles for Reading Independently  -  Reading and Working with the Texts

Are there any titles your primary students manage well independently? Please share in the comment section!

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

  1. Thanks again, for this post, full of “your” learning, Carrie. I appreciate the effort very much. Love “What is great about this activity is that there is no right answer.” So true! Also, in all the posts, love the documentation with your students’ pictures, nothing better than seeing what happened!

    • Thanks so much for this feedback Linda. It was such an enjoyable exercise to think about what I have been doing with my students and themes that are consistent. Maybe one of the biggest – how important it is to “eavesdrop” on what children are saying and planning next activities accordingly.

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

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