Need to Know:
- CCSS recommends a split between fiction and nonfiction texts in the classroom, but this isn’t the reality. (We still lean very heavily on stories.)
- Learning to consume nonfiction text is necessary- but it can also be fun (and might even draw in reluctant readers).
- We can take steps at home and at school to support kids in developing an early love for nonfiction reading.
A Closer Look:
Classroom literature in the U.S. should be evenly split between fiction and nonfiction text, according to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). However, most bookshelves (we’re talking at school and at home) are heavily tilted in favor of fiction.
After reading this tidbit, I ran a quick inventory of my own kids’ bookshelves. As a teacher and lover of nonfiction, I was surprised to find myself in the majority. We have a lot of storybooks. High-interest nonfiction books? Sure- but the comparison is pretty sorry.
So why is this? As educators, we know the value of nonfiction text. Not to mention, some studies show that kids actually prefer this type of reading over stories. Reading nonfiction text can be enjoyable- and it may even draw reluctant readers into the fold. Here’s how to support a love for nonfiction reading that begins in the early years.
Read Aloud to Kids (at home or at school)
“By far the most effective way to encourage your children to love books and reading is to read aloud to them, and the earlier you start, the better,” says Kathryn Perkinson, writing for Reading Rockets. Reading aloud to students comes with a host of benefits: It enhances classroom culture, provides a model for reading fluency, allows for listening practice, and improves information processing, vocabulary, and comprehension. Research also indicates that reading aloud to students boosts their motivation, an important driver for an intrinsic love of reading.
Ensure Access to a Variety of Texts
One perk to nonfiction text is that it can appeal to a wide range of interests- or even help kids discover and explore new pursuits! Kids who have access to and interact with high-interest texts are more likely to become strong readers (and more likely to enjoy the process of reading, too). Furthermore, nonfiction texts that feature diversity and nontraditional role models can boost empathy and spur social-emotional development.
Consider broadening the scope of your classroom library to include a rich variety of nonfiction topics. Also, work to ensure that site-based reading platforms offer students a meaningful selection. Reading Plus, for example, is a service that customizes instruction for every student by placing students at their just-right levels and continually adapting to ongoing progress. The platform invites students to self-select informational and literary texts from eight high-interest categories. This important combination of access and agency supports Reading Plus users as they make strides in literacy achievement.
Look Beyond Books
Remember, reading isn’t just limited to books. Nonfiction print is all around us. By engaging with text as it appears organically in their lives, kids learn to make predictions, inferences, and critical connections. Not to mention, reading in context can strengthen problem-solving capacity, build content knowledge, and develop confidence. Whether at home, at school, on the playground, or on a field trip, look for ways to support students in exploring words that exist in the world around them.
Inspire Text Feature “Detectives”
Text features are a great way to bring children into nonfiction texts. For example, a reader may be drawn to an image, map, graph, or caption- and that interest may lead them deeper into the actual text. Once students have been explicitly taught what text features are and how to use them, they can assume the role of “detective” as they seek out various features as they appear in their reading. Mastering this skill set also helps grow stamina, develop reading confidence, and bolster comprehension. Over time, the ability to identify and use text features helps students to become better overall readers.
Focus on Reading Strategies
Strong readers have a toolbox of reading strategies. As it turns out, those who enjoy reading tend to have robust toolboxes, too. Kids who can correctly and confidently rely on at least a handful of strategies are less likely to feel tied down by the weight of reading. This frees up space to experience the satisfaction of consuming and comprehending all kinds of texts.
Make Reading Come to Life
Make nonfiction text matter by connecting it to students’ lived experiences or by creating meaningful new experiences. Invite a guest speaker or visit a landmark related to a topic of study, engage students in project-based learning, or invite comprehension checks that push readers beyond automatic recall (like creating a mural, writing a song, or interviewing a relative). Lifting text off the page makes learning more concrete, not to mention, more fun.
Proficient readers have a strong command of both fiction and nonfiction text. That’s hard to accomplish when kids have infrequent experiences reading nonfiction. By ensuring early access to interesting reads and promoting a love for nonfiction reading early on, we’ve got a healthy chance of growing children as literacy champions and more informed global citizens.