If you are new to This Reading Mama, welcome! This is the first post of a series I’m going to be doing on nonfiction. I’d like to share ideas and activities I’ve done with my reading students as a private reading tutor. I feel called to do this for three reasons: 1-ideas on nonfiction are a little more difficult to find on the web, 2-this is an area where many young readers struggle, & 3-I have noticed that the most hits on my blog since its birth date have been on my nonfiction section. So…here goes!
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For many young readers, fiction is easier to read and comprehend than nonfiction. A big part of that is because fiction is typically read more to young readers; at home and in the classroom (although I hope that is changing). Young readers are simply more familiar with the story line or plot of fiction and can relate to the characters, etc.
Because I wanted to start with familiar territory, I first did a study with my students on fiction text structure. We studied plot, with the rise and fall of action. You can view my posts here.
Once we had a solid grasp of fiction text structure, I moved on to the more unfamiliar: nonfiction. Because young readers typically have less experience with nonfiction, it can be confusing in regards to vocabulary, features, and structure. Nonfiction, for most of my students, equaled a science textbook. Yuck! My first goal was to get them thinking outside their “nonfiction box”.
Before Reading: A Nonficiton Sorting Game
- I first asked the child to give me his definition of nonfiction. Usually, the response was a very narrow definition, as I suspected. But asking this was important because this helped me assess background knowledge.
- I brought in several items such as directions to a board game, a recipe book, a magazine, a manual, a self-help book, a cereal box, newspaper, biography/autobiography, text book, etc. I also mixed some fiction texts in there (a chapter book or picture book).
- I asked him to sort the items as either fiction or non-fiction. I also left some wiggle room by providing an oddball category if he was unsure where an item should go.
- Once the sorting was complete, I asked him to briefly give an explanation of why he sorted what where.
- Then, I gave him a definition of nonfiction: using information or facts to explain, describe, argue, teach, inform, or persuade the reader. We briefly discussed what each of these terms meant. I was careful not to say that nonfiction is true and fiction is not true. Historical fiction has lots of “true” and so does realistic fiction. A better way to describe fiction vs. nonfiction is that fiction is wholly or partially made up, nonfiction is not made up.
- After discussing the definition a little bit more, I had the student resort the pile. Many of those “oddball” items made their way into the nonfiction category!
- While each item was being resorted, we talked about what made that text nonfiction or fiction (or oddball). For instance, the cereal box had nutrition facts on the side and there was information on the back regarding how to eat a healthy breakfast.
Reading: To integrate reading and drive home the new definition further, I typed up directions to card games (on their reading levels), such as Go Fish or Old Maid. To my surprise, some of these games were not familiar to my tutees!! Once the directions were read, we used our Word Study words (from Words Their Way) to play the card game.
On child in particular loved building with Legos, so I typed out step-by-step directions on how to get onto this game (Speed Build) on the Lego site. Of course, I let him play on it for a few minutes once he arrived on the site!
After Reading, We discussed these questions: Were these directions non-fiction or fiction? Why? How would you redefine non-fiction?
As part of their homework, I gave my students this chart and asked them to fill it in regarding who they see reading nonfiction, what they are reading, and how they know it is an example of nonfiction.
So, nonfiction went from just that science textbook to a cereal box. Who knew that a cereal box could equate to thinking outside the box?