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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

 

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 and essays. 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.

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.

Students need to:

  • hear information-based texts read aloud
  • have access to a variety of well written nonfiction and information-based texts
  • explore the structure and features of a variety of these texts and think about why they are used and how they help the reader
  • know strategies for reading information-based texts
  • have opportunities to write and produce a variety of information-based texts for authentic purposes

Nonfiction 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 

 

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?

Nonfiction 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
  Cycle one students record their discoveries of the features found in the nonfiction texts they are reading.

Create a climate of inquiry within your classroom. 

 

When students are engaged in inquiry, they have many opportunities to read and produce nonfiction texts. Immersion into the kinds of texts students will be reading and writing is an important part of any inquiry.

Barbara Palcich's 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 experiements, and wrote a class nonfiction picture book about their experience.

Andrew Adams explored ways to move beyond the essay with his multigenre and info-comic projects on topics and issues that were important to his secondary students.

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

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.

 

References

Bomer, Randy & Katherine Bomer. For a Better World: reading and writing for social action. Heinemann NH. 2001 (144-148).

 

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