READING INFORMATION-BASED TEXTS

Unfortunately, little nonfiction, beyond personal narrative, is practiced in classrooms. Children are content to tell their own stories, but the notion that someone can write about an idea and thereby affect the lives and thinking of others is rarely discussed.

Donald Graves. A Fresh Look at Writing. Heinemann (1994) p.306

Our job as readers of nonfiction is to enter into that potentially messy reading as a co-constructor of meaning.

Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst. Reading Nonfiction: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts and Strategies. Heinemann. 2015

Nonfiction and other information-based texts include any kind of text designed to give information. However, the range of nonfiction texts available to our students in their daily lives stretches far beyond the factual writing found in textbooks. Including nonfiction as an essential part of our ELA classroom provides an opportunity to explore texts that touch on our students’ experiences, interests and passions. As well, nonfiction helps students become more aware of other people’s lives and perspectives.

Download this infographic here.

We need to broaden our perception of nonfiction and make a conscious effort to introduce students of all ages to a wealth of age-appropriate expository, argumentative, persuasive and procedural texts.


Nonfiction texts and other information-based texts include:

  • newspaper or magazine articles

  • information leaflets

  • websites

  • biographies

  • advertisements

  • book and film reviews

  • literary nonfiction

  • documentaries

  • news clips

  • public service announcements

  • manuals

  • maps

  • letters

Sharing a wide variety of information-based texts in the ELA classroom creates opportunities for students to explore ideas and issues both within and outside their own experiences.

In order to make meaning of the wide range of information-based texts students need to:

  • hear information-based texts read aloud

  • have strategies for working with information-based texts modeled for them

  • have many opportunities to try out different strategies for making meaning of texts

  • have access to a variety of well written nonfiction and information-based texts

  • consider the text’s purpose and goal (to inform, persuade, argue, advise) and the reader’s purpose for reading (to acquire information, to understand a stance on an issue, to be entertained, etc.)

  • explore the different text structures present in information-based texts

  • explore the impact of the text features such as headings, subheadings, bold fonts, leads, captions, sidebars, photographs, and consider the impact they have on the reading experience

  • create a bank of strategies available such as chunking the information, re-reading, asking questions of the text and/or making connections

  • have opportunities to write and produce a variety of information-based texts for authentic purposes

READING STRATEGIES

We do not read information-based texts in the same way that we read fiction. In order for students to be successful they need to know effective strategies for dealing with a wide range of information-based text. When talking about the structures and features of information-based texts it is important to always connect them to their purpose.

When reading information-based texts ask students to think about the following points.

  • Consider why the text was written and what it is trying to do, e.g. inform, persuade, argue, or advise.

  • Decide on your purpose for reading the text. This will help you decide how you will read and remember what you have read.

  • Think about what you already know about the topic.

  • Preview the text. Look at the features, e.g. bold print, headings, captions, photos, etc. Ask yourself why they are there and how they can help you.

  • If your are reading a nonfiction book, skim the table of contents or index to help you understand how the book is organized.

  • Break the text into chunks.

  • Reread as often as necessary.

  • Slow down.

  • Information-based texts do not have to be read cover-to-cover and the table of contents or index can be used to help you find specific information.

  • Take note of the details. Details are very important when reading nonfiction.

  • Be a critical reader. Ask questions about the text. For example: What techniques did the author use to influence my thinking? Is the point of view presented in the text balanced? Are there other points of view? Is this information accurate? How can I find out?

Click here to watch as a Cycle Three class experiences immersion into text and learns about the genre of biography.

Barbara Palcich’s Elementary Cycle Two students became passionate readers and writers of nonfiction texts when she introduced them to the world of Red Wiggler worms. The students researched how to maintain the worms in the classroom, kept daily logs of their observations, graphed the worms’ food intake, conducted and wrote up the results of experiments, and wrote a class nonfiction picture book about their experience.

ELEMENTARY NONFICTION/INFORMATION-BASED TEXTS GENRE STUDY

One of the easiest ways to get students interested in nonfiction, is to include it in your read aloud selections and have students explore how these texts differ from fiction.

Help students begin to recognize and use some of the most common organizational patterns for presenting information.

These text structures include:

  • description

  • sequence

  • compare/contrast

  • cause/effect

  • problem/solution

SELA INFOMATION-BASED TEXTS GENRE STUDY

An interesting way to immerse students in information-based texts is to have them explore the ways these texts differ from other text genres. Provide a selection of different information-based texts (articles, biographies, literary nonfiction, graphic memoirs, etc.) and invite student to read and discuss the conventions found in these texts.

Often, when students are engaged in inquiry or social action projects, they come to a point where they need to write to people in power. Randy and Katherine Bomer talk about some of the ways teachers can help students write more effective letters:

  • talk about the way writing can take different forms depending on whether it is meant to persuade, sell, inform, or redress grievances;

  • consider the audience for their letters and discuss how this impacts the form and content for the writing;

  • provide samples of letters as models for students to analyze and discuss;

  • look at form and language used in most effective letters, record observations brought up during discussions;

  • use these observations to guide student writing.

Listen to a Cycle One student talk about nonfiction features in this short video clip.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Nonfiction Inquiry: Using Real Reading and Writing to Explore the World by Stephanie Harvey. This article has information and practical classroom ideas for elementary teachers.


The Key Critical Literacy Questions can be used to explore nonfiction texts. Download them here.


Kelly Gallagher’s article of the week


References

Bomer, Randy & Katherine Bomer. For a Better World: Reading and Writing for Social Action. Heinemann NH. 2001 (144-148).

LITERACY TODAY IS UNDERSTANDING THE WORD AND THE WORLD.