more college and career ready, there has been a huge emphasis on a shift to
more nonfiction and informational texts in the curriculum. There
are so many excellent resources available for solid nonfiction and
informational texts out there, but what is a truly effective way to use them? Anytime
I put a text in front of my students, I want them to dissect it and digest it. Sometimes we do spend time answering questions
because I want them to practice citing textual evidence or I need them to have
a full comprehension of the content. Other times I am using nonfiction to teach
and practice some other specific skills instead of teaching the content of the
article. Here are five *fast* ways that
I have used nonfiction in my class beyond just reading and answering questions.
was reading a book with my 7 year old niece, and my niece came across an
unfamiliar word. She stopped to ask my
mom what it meant. (I absolutely love
that she does that!) My mom turned to her phone to have her “Google” it, but the
phone’s battery was dead. Luckily, she
had a set of dictionaries. When she
showed them to my niece, my niece said, “What’s this?” My mom, a veteran high school English teacher
turned principal, was shocked. She
explained it was a dictionary, which is a book with all the words and their definitions
in it. They looked up the word, and my niece thought getting to do that was so “cool.” There are so many takeaways from this
story. First, if my niece hadn’t been
reading in the first place, she wouldn’t have encountered a new word. Secondly, she stopped to ask what it
meant. Students need to be aware of new
words, and they need to stop and look at new words and their meanings that pop
up inside of texts they read. Nonfiction
articles are excellent for this because they are short and often the words that
show up in these types of texts are words students might see again and
again. Lastly is the scary thought of
how dependent we are on technology. My
niece is 7, and she hadn’t seen or heard of a dictionary. That may be because she is too young, but could
it be because technology is slowly phasing it out? It’s not a bad thing to search the Internet for a word or concept; we want students to use their resources. But I keep thinking Fahrenheit 451 or The Giver. I suppose that is a topic for another
day. Either way, words live inside of
texts. Tons of research shows that when students acquire words authentically rather than from lists, there is more
likelihood of them being able to remember the word and use it later since they
saw it and learned it in context. One hands-on activity I do is a “Word Window”
foldable for recording words during reading.
Just take a sheet of notebook paper and fold it so there are 4 squares –
no cutting or pasting needed. The
students read the article and find four words they don’t know. I don’t give them the words. They write one
word in each square and then look up the definitions in the dictionary. I
encourage them to translate the definition into their own words and then go back
to the article to see if what they wrote makes sense. Now they have a clearer understanding of the word, as if they have looked through a window, symbolically speaking.
asserts that students be able to make inferences including where the text leaves
matters uncertain. One of the most powerful ways to make inferences and think
critically is through asking questions. For this type of response to a text,
the students don’t answer a set of premade questions, but rather they explore
deeper layers by asking questions. These aren’t just any questions; they are
questions that go beyond the surface – beyond the black and white – questions that
raise more questions. A couple of
question stems to get students started might be:
take several times modeling how to ask questions in a think aloud fashion during reading before students begin
to take off on their own. Have them read
and write two questions the first time and then share with a partner or the class.
reading brings up an issue or is a hot topic, host a debate. Allow students to pick a side or have them
draw out of a hat which side they will be on.
Then as students read, they will be using the text to prepare claims,
counterclaims, and rebuttals. Debating
is an excellent way to practice speaking, listening, and citing evidence.
throughout is a critical step of fully understanding a text. In fact, in our state, one of the writing
prompts students are required to do is write an analytic summary. I teach students to use the Somebody – Wanted
– But – So – Then method of summarizing.
Once students have this strategy down, they can begin to see how it
functions on a fundamental level to arriving at a central idea.
Tasks: Going along with the idea above, many nonfiction texts or informational text
articles you might find lend themselves really well for further investigation
or debate. Students could use the
article as a springboard for a research project and presentation or maybe as an
inspiration to write a narrative of a related personal experience. If it’s a hot topic, encourage students to
write about whether they agree or disagree.
crazy day schedule or if I’m in between units.
If you don’t have time to read through stacks of articles or if you want
something classroom-tested, all of the Nonfiction Close Reading Hot Topics lessons
in my TpT store have a set of text-based questions, a prompt, and several suggestions
to extend the learning like some of the activities above. If you already have articles that you like to
use, these *fast five ideas* will certainly add some rigor, hands-on options, and critical thinking to your lesson. And, take a look at my print and go informational text analysis task cards. They are perfect for literacy centers, discussions, writing prompts, and more.