Reading and Writing
Non-fiction reading has great appeal to young
children who are curious about the world and are eager to learn
about a variety of topics. However, non-fiction reading and
writing require a set of skills and a foundation of knowledge
that is different from reading fiction. The reader has different
goals and must use different strategies. Thematic units in science,
health, and social studies can incorporate a set of comprehension
and information processing skills that we can begin to teach
in early literacy.
A good way to start children on becoming non-fiction readers
is to provide books on topics that interest them. When beginning
a science or social studies unit, I suggest finding some big
books on the topic and using them for shared reading (See
Those First Few Weeks Using Shared
Reading). The lesson plans should look something
- Start a KWL chart with your students on the topic. What
do I know about the topic? What do I want to know? What did
I learn? This chart is developed with the children over the
course of the unit.
- Develop a reading and writing vocabulary chart that contains
words they will encounter in the texts. For example, if your
topic is butterflies, your vocabulary chart might include
words such as chrysalis, pupa, and metamorphosis. Write the
words on a separate chart and work them into your talk about
the topic. This will facilitate decoding and encoding later
- Teach visual literacy by spending a good deal of time discussing
the illustrations, charts, and graphs that appear on the cover
and in the book. These materials have been provided to teach
readers about the topic and provide essential information
as well as to stimulate interest.
- Model looking at the illustrations before reading the
- Ask students what the illustrations tell us about the
- Direct their attention to the use of diagrams, and have
them notice that arrows are used to label parts of a picture
- Direct their attention to the graphs. Ask what information
they can get from them.
- Keep your questions open-ended so that students are
processing the information and articulating it on their
own. Ask questions like "What can you tell about___
from the graph/diagram, etc.?"
- Keep the learning ongoing. At the end of each shared reading
lesson have the children work with you by recording what they
have learned about the topic on your KWL chart. Have them
use their own words.
- Demonstrate that non-fiction reading is different than reading
- Point out that the important thing is the gathering
of information and learning about new things.
- Point out that we spend a good deal of time studying
the illustrations, diagrams, charts, and graphs, and less
time reading the text.
- We have to stop and think about what we are reading.
- We have to be sure we understand what we are reading
before we proceed in the book.
- We have to ask more questions about the text and illustrations.
- We might have to look in other books for more information
or to understand what we are reading.
- We are learning to read many unfamiliar words.
- Provide enough experience in non-fiction reading strategies
by finding other big books on the topic before sending children
off to guided reading or independent reading.
- Work on a "What Makes a Good Non-Fiction Reader"
chart with students to reinforce the reading strategies you
Once you feel your students have had enough exposure to non-fiction,
you should have them practice the skills on their own. You will
need to assemble sufficient copies of leveled text for your
guided reading groups and for independent reading. You will
want to be sure that your students are studying the graphics
and practicing visual literacy, discussing the information with
their peers, and recording--in their
own words--the important information
they are gathering from their reading. They should also be encouraged
to make their own illustrations to support their understandings.
After a good deal of experience with a topic your students
will be ready to write about what they learned. You can provide
some shared writing lessons (See How
to Use Shared Writing to Teach Writing Skills) based
on the shared reading and KWL chart you generated. It would
be a good time to model how to write an "All About…."
or a "Question and Answer" book.
In your shared writing lessons you want to demonstrate:
- how you decide what is important;
- how you organize your information;
- that you address one topic at a time;
- that you include illustrations, models, graphs, and charts
to explain ideas;
- how you stretch out words or copy them accurately from the
text or vocabulary charts on display;
- how you decide upon a format and maintain the format throughout
Developing a rubric with your students will help them synthesize
their learning about non-fiction. It will serve as both a guide
to writing non-fiction and an assessment tool for the students
- Help them to decide what's very
important, somewhat important, and not so important to include
in their book.
- Have them evaluate the use of
illustrations: do they help the reader understand the information
- Have them choose information that may not be so important
to include, but that they think is interesting or fun for
the reader and themselves.
- Evaluate the organization of information.
- Evaluate the presentation of information.
- Evaluate their work: does it meet
writing standards for mechanics and spelling.
As a culminating activity, you might want to have the children
share their work with their parents or peers at an author's
party. Such hard work deserves a celebration!
I hope this article has made the
teaching of non-fiction reading and writing more approachable