People respect nonfiction but they read novels.
Student choice is a key component of my fourth-grade reading workshop. I believe that if students have more control in what they read, more reading will happen. However, more reading doesn’t always mean wider reading across many genres. One of the genres I still see students struggling to read is nonfiction. Over the past few years I have increased the amount of nonfiction that is available in my room. At one time my classroom library had about 20 nonfiction titles. Fiction books still dominate, but now there are over 200 nonfiction titles.
Yet I discovered having more nonfiction available didn’t translate to more nonfiction reading. If the students are not choosing these books, why have them in the room? I needed to find ways to get nonfiction texts into my students’ hands without just passing out a random article to support content studies.
One of the routines in my room is to pick up a picture book as a break from a longer novel. I encourage my students to not juggle too many novels at one time. So if a child forgets her book at home, she will usually choose a picture book during independent reading time. For many fourth- and fifth-grade readers, having a picture book in their hands is like having the Scarlet Letter embroidered on their hoodie. Showing students that a well-crafted picture book is a wonderful break from a longer book is a good gift to give. And since most of the picture books that are displayed in my classroom are now nonfiction, there is a much better chance that high-quality nonfiction will get in readers’ hands during these little breaks from novels.
I also often choose fabulously written nonfiction books to serve as mentor texts for writing workshop craft minilessons. Even if kids are working on fictional stories, a well-written narrative nonfiction piece can be a great model for writing techniques. The books I choose for minilessons get read and reread many times by students during independent workshop times.
Book talks are a valuable part of my reading workshop as well. The past few years I have been much more intentional about sharing nonfiction titles during the daily book talk that launches our reading workshop. My excitement about a book will sometimes spark student interest. This past year I shared over 50 nonfiction titles for book talks. Some made it into the hands of just one or two readers, and some were read by more than half of my class.
If you are thinking about trying to layer more nonfiction into your reading workshop, I’ve found using nonfiction as “break books” and mentor texts in writing workshop, as well as featuring nonfiction in book talks are all authentic ways to encourage students to choose nonfiction more often on their own.
This week we look at nonfiction in classrooms. Plus more as always — enjoy!
Contributor, Choice Literacy
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Franki Sibberson is Rethinking Nonfiction Author Baskets:
Kylene Beers has advice for students and teachers on noticing and noting nonfiction:
School Library Journal offers suggestions of great new picture book biographies featuring diverse figures from Johnny Cash to Peter Mark Roget (of thesaurus fame) in The Stuff of Stars:
The Library of Congress has a search feature that allows teachers to find primary sources for historical events from local communities. Michael Apfeldorf explains how it works in Close to Home:
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The line between fiction and nonfiction can be fuzzy, but Tony Keefer finds what matters most is finding texts that captivate readers in Blurring Genres and Real-Life Readers:
Holly Mueller is Exploring Literary Nonfiction with Middle School Students:
In this week’s video, Mandy Robek helps her kindergarten students complete science observations:
That’s all for this week!