10 Fun Nonfiction Reading Activities for Students
You may think that your students are only interested in fiction reading, but the truth is that children are fascinated by the world around them. They may find nonfiction overwhelming, or simply not know how to find a book on the topic they’re interested in. To make your job easier, we’ve gathered 10 fun nonfiction reading activities that help make nonfiction reading more accessible and enjoyable for students of all ages.
The Importance of Reading Nonfiction
Studies have long touted the benefits of teaching students how to read nonfiction. Nonfiction text helps students develop background knowledge, which in turn assists them as they encounter more difficult reading throughout their school years. Nonfiction can also help students learn to read text features not often found in works of fiction, including headings, graphs, and charts.
Nonfiction Books vs. The Internet
Students used to rely on nonfiction books for research projects, from science to art. With the rise of digital sources, many students choose to simply do their research online. However, there are a number of advantages to choosing a nonfiction book over a digital source.
The biggest advantage is that books are very thoroughly researched and come from trusted sources, which means that the information in them can be assumed to be true. This is definitely not the case with the Internet these days, where anyone can publish information without research or citations.
The layout of books can also help with further discovery of new topics. What started as a research project on parrots could turn into a report on the effects of deforestation on parrot habitats—all because of a book on the rainforest. Google may produce thousands of pages only on parrots, but it may not be so quick to offer up related information.
The Internet is great at finding you exactly what you search for. But you may miss out on related topics and new directions that you would find in broader, more complete books.
Why Do Students Struggle with Nonfiction?
We’ve all heard a young child ask the question “why” a dozen times in a row. Children clearly have plenty of curiosity about the world around them. So why don’t they gravitate naturally toward nonfiction? Here are a few reasons to consider:
- They don’t know how to navigate the Dewey Decimal System in the library to find the book they need.
- Nonfiction books are big and look scary or overwhelming.
- They think the Internet is a better source for researching informational topics.
- Nonfiction isn’t as immersive as fiction, so children don’t get hooked on the story as quickly.
- They simply haven’t been taught the skills they need to read nonfiction effectively.
Regardless of their reasoning, here are some quick tips for getting students of different ages interested in nonfiction reading:
Tips for Elementary Schoolers
Keep it simple. For K–2 students, nonfiction doesn’t have to be intimidating. Remember, this kind of text may be new to students, many of whom are just learning how to read.
Even with simple nonfiction books, the topics are informative and can teach reading skills that are applicable to all academic subjects. Look for books with engaging photos, as well as grade-appropriate vocabulary and concepts.
Tips For Middle Schoolers
Start a nonfiction book club. The social aspect and group setting cater perfectly to middle school students, who may prefer to tell friends what they’ve learned over writing a book report. Encourage show and tell of different nonfiction elements like photos, diagrams, and graphs.
Tips For High Schoolers
Play to their interests. As you get to know your students and learn their interests, match them with books that will encourage exploration of their favorite subjects.
By reading about something they love, students will begin to associate nonfiction reading with pleasure. And, be sure to introduce new topics as well. You may spark new interests or hobbies for your students to discover. Nonfiction topics can range from animals to weather, math, health, biographies, and more.
10 Fun Nonfiction Reading Activities
Now that you know why your students may be avoiding nonfiction, and how to get them interested, try some of these fun nonfiction reading activities to keep students engaged until the very last page.
1. Walk Through the Book
Nonfiction books often contain different formats and elements than fiction books. Introduce a nonfiction book by taking a “walk” through the book before you read. Discuss text features like the table of contents or glossary, as well as broader topics including fact versus opinion.
Breaking apart the elements of the book will help students better understand the text and will assist with reading comprehension.
2. Encourage Questions
As you read nonfiction books, ask questions before, during, and after the book. Why does an arctic fox have white fur? Where does rain come from? How do your eyes see in the dark?
Questions will help students apply the text to their own lives, while encouraging them to develop inquisitive skills. Questions also help keep your students engaged as active participants in the reading process, rather than passive listeners.
3. Make Real-life Connections
Many of the topics explored in nonfiction books lend themselves to real-life lessons. If your class is reading a book about bees, consider serving a honey snack in the classroom. If students enjoyed learning about the weather, invite a meteorologist to speak to the class.
Students will learn that nonfiction reading covers topics they’ll encounter in the world around them, and extending lessons beyond the page will enrich learning.
4. Do a Book Swap
Have students choose books for one another and then share what they’ve learned in small groups. This will get students out of their reading comfort zones and also help them learn to read critically about topics they may not have personal interest in.
5. Use Nonfiction as a Springboard
Provide students with sticky notes to mark passages as they read for further investigation. Encourage them to include questions or comments on the notes. After reading, return to the library and find books and other resources to help follow up on those questions. Use books, librarians, online databases, and even primary sources to search for answers to their questions.
This is a great way to demonstrate the wide variety of resources that are available to students, and the role that books play in the informational ecosystem.
6. Expand Vocabulary
After reading, have students make a glossary of terms they learned in the book. This nonfiction reading strategy reinforces the informational content, as well as helps students learn to synthesize nonfiction into succinct takeaways. If applicable, encourage students to illustrate their glossary with pictures, charts, and diagrams.
7. Talk Fact and Opinion
Nonfiction is the perfect setting to discuss the difference between facts and opinions. Have students identify two or three separate facts and opinions in their books and quiz the class on which category they fall into.
8. Try a Graphic Organizer
Thanks to teachers all over the world, there is a huge variety of worksheets and graphic organizers to try with your students. Here are some fun nonfiction reading activities to help students think critically about their nonfiction reading:
9. Mix Nonfiction with Fiction
For students with big imaginations, nonfiction may feel boring and restrictive. After reading, have students create a short story or comic strip about what they have learned. Perhaps the animal they were studying comes to life as a character, or the country they read about is the setting for their story.
Encouraging imaginative storytelling on nonfiction topics will reinforce knowledge and provide freeform fun for students.
10. Practice Makes Perfect
Reading nonfiction requires developing different skills than reading fiction, but practice makes perfect. It’s never too early to introduce students to the skills they’ll need to be successful with nonfiction text.
Setting aside daily reading time and consistently encouraging students to choose nonfiction will help them expand their interests and dive deeper into learning about the things they love.