We’ve seen an increasing emphasis on non-fiction texts in classrooms of all ages. When the common core standards were adopted, they placed more attention on students being able to comprehend complex, non-fiction texts in upper grades. This meant that even our primary students began to see a 50/50 split between fiction stories and non-fiction articles!
With non-fiction texts being such an important part of classrooms today, it’s critical that we teach our students the strategies that they need to fully comprehend them! Here are a few of my favorite non-fiction reading strategies to use in the classroom.
Build on Background Knowledge
When our students are younger, reading is more of a passive activity. Their metacognition isn’t very strong, so they don’t notices the things their brains are asking or wondering about a text. When you activate their schema (or prior knowledge), you help them recognize what they already do and do not know about the topic of the book. This boosts comprehension.
Simple ways to build on background knowledge:
- Do a picture walk, and ask students if this book reminds them of anything they’ve read or seen before.
- Ask students what stories they have to share about ____.
- Use a KWL chart to get students thinking about what they know and want to know before you read.
- Make an anchor chart of commonly known facts about the topic you are about to read about.
Notice the Non-fiction Text Features
I always say that the text features are clues that the author gave us to help us better understand. Non-fiction texts are full of text features that we should pay attention to. These include:
- The Title. Read the title and make a prediction.
- The photographs. Preview all photographs before reading, and see if your prediction changes.
- Captions. As you read, point out what the captions say on each page. How do they further explain what the text was about?
- Charts/Diagrams. Outside of photographs, other pictures are used in nonfiction texts to give more information like maps, graphs, and more.
- Headings. Students already know about titles, but make sure they notices the way that headings are used as mini-titles throughout the book. Headings signal what the next section is going to be about.
Use Context Clues
Non-fiction texts are likely going to come with a few new vocabulary words. Fiction books have unfamiliar words too, but non-fiction books give you a lot of tools right on the page to figure out what the word might mean. Train students to notice the different types of context clues the text might hold!
- Sentence and Paragraph clues. Sometimes the author sneaks the definition right into the text!
- Synonyms and antonyms. Did the author describe something by saying it’s just like something else?
- Prefixes and Suffixes. For older students who have begun to learn about greek and latin roots, noticing word parts such as ‘pre’ or ‘un’ can help them breakdown what a word means.
Summarize Non-fiction in Chunks
Finally, a non-fiction text is sometimes most easily understood if it is broken into chunks. Use headings or other features as a guide, and have students read the text in small doses before coming back together and summarizing what they read. Use sticky notes or chart paper to keep track of these brief summaries. At the end of the book, students can use all of their mini-summaries to describe what the entire book was about.
For example, if different sections of the book were about a grizzly bear’s diet, hibernation, life cycle, and adaptations, than it’s easy to deduce that the book is about the life of a grizzly bear!
Just as important as having a toolbox full of teaching strategies for your students, is having quality materials to go with them! You can emphasize the importance of nonfiction reading while also practicing reading fluency with these Non-fiction Fluency Passages. Or, work non-fiction seamlessly into your guided reading groups with these lesson plans and passages. Or, save money buy grabbing the fiction and non-fiction texts you need at one time with these bundles!