When elementary students first begin to explore non-fiction, it can be both fascinating and terrifying! Non-fiction texts can be very visually appealing to students, but they can also be filled with lots of words and ideas that can be challenging for them. Having the ability to read and comprehend non-fiction texts is so important for students, as they make their way through school, and ultimately the real world. That’s why I try to make the process as meaningful and engaging as possible.
Choosing Non-Fiction Texts to Engage Readers
When I first introduce non-fiction in my classroom, I always like to start off with texts that are highly engaging for students. I look for texts that would appeal to my students’ interests. I also look for texts that are visually appealing, with lots of pictures and enticing text features. And to be honest, I also look for books that are not overwhelmed with too much text. After all, I am trying to reel them in, not scare them off! Of course, as students become more comfortable with non-fiction, then I will gradually increase the rigor of our reading selections. In the beginning, though, I truly want them to feel comfortable diving right into non-fiction texts. Click HERE to learn more about some of my favorite non-fiction series for engaging readers, and to download free printables to go with each.
Diving Into Non-Fiction
Before I provide any instruction on non-fiction, I like to give students the opportunity to dive right into some of our most engaging non-fiction books. I display different books around the room and give students the chance to walk around and flip through the pages of different books. Eventually, I ask them to select one book to further explore. Once they are back at their seats, I ask them to flip through the pages, read a bit, and ultimately discover the different features their books have to offer. I have students use the following handout to record their observations. Later, students will get into groups, share the books they selected, and share their observations. I love this activity because it allows students to get comfortable with non-fiction before we get to the point where they need to analyze and respond to texts.
Exploring Non-Fiction Text Features
Once students are comfortable with non-fiction texts, I first like to begin instruction with Text Features. One way that I like to introduce text features is with my Student’s Guide to Non-Fiction. This flip book provides definitions and visuals for the different text features. From there, we usually will return to some of our favorite non-fiction books to find and see these text features in action. We will mostly discuss what they look like and how they help us to better understand a text. Finally, I have my students keep a “collection” of text features. They each get a packet from my Exploring Non-Fiction unit, with a page dedicated to each text feature. Then throughout the year, they add examples to their pages. We use copies of Scholastic News and Time for Kids, when we are done using them for the week. However, you can also ask students to bring in old magazines from home, or have them draw examples that they find in other sources. This hands-on activity is a great way to reinforce students’ understanding of text features throughout the year.
Exploring Non-Fiction Text Structure
Teaching students about different text structures can be a bit more challenging than learning about text features. At this point, students are required to go into the actual text to determine how the text is organized. Different text structures that we discuss include Description, Problem & Solution, Sequence, Cause & Effect, and Compare & Contrast. I usually start out with an anchor chart, and by referring to my Student’s Guide to Non-Fiction. The pages in the flip book describe the different text structures, and provide different signal words to help students determine the structure. We then use classroom magazines or printed texts to search for and highlight different signal words. We will then discuss the purpose of the text and the signal words used, to decide on the text structure as a class. The more students practice this, the more comfortable they become at determining the text structure.
Responding to Non-Fiction
Once students know the ins and outs of non-fiction texts, they are ready to start writing responses about the selections they read. A lot of times this will take the form of comprehension questions or prompts. Regardless of the format, I like to teach my students to write responses that are thorough and meaningful. In my class, we use the RACE model:
R — Restate the question.
A — Answer all parts of the question.
C — Cite evidence from the text.
E — Explain your thinking.
When citing evidence, I have students refer to their Non-Fiction Guides for helpful sentence starters and sentence frames. At the beginning of the year, we spend a lot of time modeling and practicing this process, so that students eventually feel comfortable writing responses on their own. You can click HERE to learn more about how I teach the RACE model in my classroom, and to download a free printable and bookmarks!
So now, as you introduce and teach students about non-fiction throughout the year, I hope that some of these ideas and resources will be helpful to you!
Rebecca Rojas from CreateTeachShare is currently a 5th grade teacher in Southern California. Since she started teaching 12 years ago, she has always created her own curriculum for her own classroom. Now in her free time, she enjoys creating fun and engaging lessons and resources that she shares on her blog and in her TpT shop. She also loves to share fun ideas and resources on Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram.