Every year I plan to read aloud more nonfiction to students. And every year I do—but just a little more. I have worked hard over the last five years to build a nonfiction library that invites young readers to fall in love with nonfiction. I have discovered new authors and series that students eagerly read.
One challenge I have is that I tend to mostly read nonfiction when we are learning content, so the focus is not on the enjoyment of the book. When I interviewed my students about their reading lives, I learned that they see nonfiction as a tool for learning about content. As much as that is true, I know that as a reader, I often find great nonfiction books that spark my interest in a topic that I didn’t even realize I was interested in. I also listen to nonfiction audiobooks merely for enjoyment. I want my students to read nonfiction to learn, but I want more for them as readers of nonfiction.
I know that reading aloud more nonfiction “just because” would make a difference in student attitudes about nonfiction reading. But if I really want to read more nonfiction, I need to be strategic and intentional and think about how I might do it across the year. I need to plan ahead so that I don’t fall into my usual habits. I need to think about routines and titles that may help me increase the amount of nonfiction I read aloud this year. So I have thought long and hard about where I tend to read fiction and how I might remedy that. Here are the routines I'm trying and titles that I will keep handy to increase the amount of nonfiction my students experience as read alouds. I am excited and a little nervous about this challenge I’ve given myself, but thinking it through has helped me feel more ready to tackle it.
When I looked back at the list of 180 books I shared for #classroombookaday last year, I was not surprised to see that I read only a few nonfiction books. I am thinking about how I can change that this year. The thing about #classroombookaday is that it is quick. The time I allow for this end-of-the-day routine is only five to seven minutes, so my choices are limited. This year, I am on the lookout for short nonfiction books that can plant seeds of interest and start some conversations. I have found several that will be perfect choices for ending our day.
Mission to Space by John Herrington is a short book about the author, an astronaut. There are few words, but the photographs invite conversation, and this book introduces readers to space travel as well as Herrington’s Chickasaw heritage.
Their Great Gift: Courage, Sacrifice and Hope in a New Land by John Coy is a short read that invites several conversations around immigration. This is an engaging book that plants many seeds for further thinking.
Where Will I Live? by Rosemary McCarney is a photo essay that captures refugee experiences. Photo essay picture books seem like a perfect choice for #classrooombookaday. This is a short book that can be revisited later for further discussion.
Bruce Goldstone has many books that focus on science and math concepts. Readers can spend time on each page or read the books from cover to cover. Either way, they will want to go back to the most interesting pages later. Awesome Autumn would make a good choice for #classroombookaday and would introduce readers to Goldstone’s writing and photography.
Painting for Peace in Ferguson by Carol Swartout Klein captures the work of the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri, who came together to rebuild their community after the events and protests of 2014. Often we read about current topics in news articles, but this gives us a way to read about a more recent topic in picture book form.
Baseball Is… by Louise Borden is nonfiction, it’s poetry, and it’s a celebration of baseball. This is a book that can easily be read in the time we have for #classroombookaday, and it might invite kids to learn more about some of the baseball facts mentioned.
The Eye on the Wild series by Suzi Eszterhas would fit well into the #classroombookaday routine. These are short books with incredible photos. Each one focuses on one animal from birth to adulthood. There are several in this series to choose from.
Read-aloud time is one of our most important times of the day. It is the time when we share a novel together as a community of readers. I almost never choose a nonfiction book for this time of day, but this year I am planning to include at least one or two longer nonfiction books. I want to make sure that the books I choose to read during read-aloud time invite the same compelling conversations that the fiction books we read invite. There are several novel-length biographies and memoirs that would make great read alouds and invite lively conversations. I have also found several nonfiction narratives that focus on science that would make great read alouds. Here are some that I am considering:
42 Is Not Just a Number by Doreen Rappaport is a short chapter book biography about Jackie Robinson. Because Rappaport is such a popular biographer, this seems like a good choice, because it will not only give my students a great story but could also introduce them to a great author whose other books students may want to explore further. I also assume many of my kids know a bit about Jackie Robinson, so this will give them a way to expand their understanding of his influence.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson is a memoir written In verse. This book would not only invite great conversations but also introduce students to a nonfiction book written in verse. Because it is written by an author they know and love, it would generate huge interest while giving them a natural way to revisit her picture books through a new lens.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (Young Readers Edition) by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. We have read the picture book of this story in years past, and students are fascinated by it and by the people involved. The picture book always invites good conversation, so I am thinking that this short chapter book might allow students to think about the story in more depth.
The Scientist in the Field Series is one that I will keep in mind for read aloud. Each book in the series is a fascinating look at the process scientists use. Each focuses on one problem that a group of scientists is trying to solve. Reading and projecting the Kindle version may be worthwhile because there are so many visuals such as photos and artifacts that readers need.
What Makes a Monster? and Pink Is for Blobfish by Jess Keating would make for great read-aloud choices. Both these books would help kids see that reading nonfiction is not always about research but that it can be enjoyable and interesting or just for fun. Because Keating writes both fiction and nonfiction, it would be fun for readers to see how her understanding of the animal world enters into her fiction writing.
It is easy to use great read alouds for reading minilessons, but I tend to rely on fiction books when teaching writing. Unless we are in an informational writing unit of study, the books I choose for minilessons tend to be fiction. But I am realizing that there are many nonfiction books that I can use to teach universal things in writing workshop. Many of my favorite nonfiction picture books have some of the best writing I’ve seen. I have no idea why I forget to use them in minilessons outside of an informational writing unit of study.
Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh has a strong introduction that sets the stage for the story. Although this is a nonfiction book, Tonatiuh’s introduction can teach us a lot about effective moves for setting up any piece of writing.
She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World by Chelsea Clinton is filled with short pieces for writers to study. Clinton’s writing shows us how to pack a great deal of information and detail into a few short sentences—a skill helpful for all writing.
Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman by Louise Borden is a great book to study when I talk to writers about the rhythm of their sentences. Borden makes it easy to look at the way sentences sound and the way phrases are put together to make that happen.
Short Pieces Squeezed In When We Have a Few Extra Minutes
Lately I’ve discovered several books made up of short stand-alone pieces that can be shared as read alouds. I often find that we have 5-10 minutes here and there, especially on days with assemblies, testing, and other reasons for alternative schedules. Having these books handy to pull out when these tiny unexpected slots of time occur will allow me to read aloud more nonfiction.
Bravo! Poems about Amazing Hispanics by Margarita Engle is an incredible book of poetry. Each spread in this book gives us an informational poem and a gorgeous illustration about someone who has made an incredible difference in our world. Each of these can be read and enjoyed on its own.
Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees by Mary Beth Leatherdale is a powerful book capturing refugee experiences across time. There are pieces that can be shared independently in the book that would make for good read alouds.
Two Truths and a Lie by Ammi-Joan Paquette challenges readers to choose the “fake news” in each trio of pieces on a subject. Determining whether a story is true of fact proves to be quite fun, and these can be read aloud and discussed together.
Creating this menu of titles and opportunities for myself and having this menu handy will help me hold myself accountable through the school year. I am hopeful that adding more nonfiction read alouds in a thoughtful way will have a snowball effect. More nonfiction read alouds might provoke more student responses, and I’ll see even more possibilities for including nonfiction reading throughout the year.