Diving Into Nonfiction

It is inevitable.  Every time a reader turns a new corner previously learned skills and strategies that were turning into habits fall apart.

This week we dove head first into nonfiction reading with a Reader’s Workshop field trip to the library. There was a buzz of excitement as students explored books, attempting to evaluate if they were a just right fit.  Engagement was high with kids suggesting we use the nonfiction section to research our social studies unit and realizing we could read nonfiction books to write more in Writer’s Workshop.  They were instantly sold on reading this often daunting and challenging genre.

Now, they are also swarming in books that are too tricky.  Beginning and transitional readers often display an optimistic outlook on their abilities, ready to conquer the world through reading.  As we solidified the ability to select just right books in more predictable genres, I opened a new can of, well, books. And now I need a plan to help my readers reevaluate just right books.  Luckily, they have strategies to lean on from previous instruction, but I hope to expand their ability to navigate this new genre.

Do I have the schema? Most non-fiction is heavily dominant on content vocabulary.  The more a student knows about a topic the more likely she will be able to read unknown words in context by asking “What makes sense?” Strategies to activate this background knowledge such as taking a sneak peek before reading and studying the pictures on each page during reading will alert the reader to content she already knows.

Anchor Book In the first week of our unit, my conferences focus on helping each reader identify a just right nonfiction text.  This book will become a reader’s best friend – staying near by for the next few weeks.  When selecting new nonfiction books, he can refer to the anchor book.  Do the text size and pictures look similar?  Is there significantly more or less text on the pages?  Is the topic related?  While this strategy is not exact, visual similarities in nonfiction texts can often lead to similar readability levels, providing a tool to quickly gauge if a book is too tricky.

Recommendations and Ratings Since our reading partnerships are ability based getting recommendations from a reading partner can spread just right books. It might even spark conversations about how schema effects readability and allow students to deepen their understanding of finding just right books.  This strategy also encourages thinking and writing about nonfiction after reading – an added bonus.

I am teaching in unfamiliar territory with a new unit in nonfiction without leveled texts.  Please, share in the comments ways you support readers in nonfiction texts. I want to try your new ideas.  For now, I’ll be riding on the waves of engagement, reading and learning with my students.


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