Spark Students’ Curiosity with Our Nonfiction Reading Strategies and Activities
Can you remember the last piece of nonfiction that you read? No need to rack your brain for the title of a biography or textbook—nonfiction is everywhere! Whether it’s following a recipe, reading street signs, using a manual, or scrolling through the latest news article, we’re reading nonfiction every single day.
In education, state standards have evolved to include more text complexity and reading comprehension, resulting in a greater emphasis on reading nonfiction. As students progress through school, they use nonfiction texts increasingly for both reading and writing tasks.
As teachers, it’s crucial to teach our students nonfiction reading strategies so that they can become successful lifelong learners.
Benefits of Reading Nonfiction Books
Research says nonfiction reading promotes student success. Reading nonfiction helps students develop important skills both in and out of the classroom.
Nonfiction helps students make real-life connections.
Nonfiction books share facts that can build on students’ prior knowledge or experiences. This provides teachers with natural opportunities to extend learning beyond the pages of the book. For example, teachers may put out books related to caring for a pet before getting a class pet so that students can apply what they’ve learned.
Nonfiction fosters critical thinking skills.
When reading nonfiction, students must use an analytical approach to gather information, identify key concepts, and comprehend what they read. Students also learn valuable research and investigative skills as they interact with nonfiction.
Nonfiction builds vocabulary and language skills.
High-quality nonfiction will introduce new vocabulary words with visuals to support comprehension. Often, nonfiction books contain features, like a glossary, for students to reference vocabulary words and their definitions. This is especially helpful for English language learners (ELLs) as they build their academic vocabulary.
Nonfiction can spark a reader’s curiosity.
Teachers can use nonfiction to build on their students’ interests or introduce them to something new. In Interest Matters: The Importance of Promoting Interest in Education, Judith M. Harackiewicz writes, “Interest is a powerful motivational process that energizes learning, guides academic and career trajectories, and is essential to academic success.”
Teaching Nonfiction Reading Strategies
Nonfiction is an important part of education and an integral part of our daily lives. We’ve compiled a list of the best tips for teaching nonfiction reading strategies.
1. Explain the differences between reading nonfiction vs. fiction.
When introducing nonfiction text to your students, you may hear the question, “Is nonfiction real?” While the answer is yes, understanding the difference between nonfiction and fiction goes beyond simply looking at facts. Scholastic explains, “While fiction asks us to question the literary components of a story (like the characters, setting, and plot), nonfiction requires us to synthesize information using an existing framework of knowledge.”
The purpose of reading nonfiction texts is to learn something new by building on what you already know. Nonfiction contains unique features to help readers develop their understanding— it’s a completely different experience from fiction.
2. Include a variety of nonfiction literature in your classroom library.
There are a variety of nonfiction texts for many different purposes. Include an assortment of nonfiction texts in your classroom to show students that this genre is all around them and help them to recognize its real-world significance. Some examples are:
- Travel brochures
- News articles
- Informational articles
3. Explicitly teach students nonfiction text features.
Nonfiction literature uses text features to help students readily find information. Not only do students need to learn how to identify nonfiction text features, but they must also learn how to use them to further their comprehension skills. Common nonfiction text features include:
- Boldface words
- Bulleted lists
- Italicized words
- Table of Contents
After introducing these features, consider posting a nonfiction text features checklist in your classroom for students to reference as they read.
4. Build connections between nonfiction and fiction.
You don’t need to fight your students’ gravitation toward fiction—boost their background knowledge and vocabulary by using nonfiction text alongside their favorite fiction books. Jill Richardson writes, “Pairing fiction and nonfiction texts is an authentic way to integrate Language Arts, Science, and Social Studies. It can provide the bridge our ELLs need, as well as provide benefits to all students. It is a great way to build vocabulary and show children the same words in different genres.”
Using nonfiction books in tandem with fiction books can help your students develop important comprehension skills, such as:
- Making connections with prior knowledge
- Compare and contrast
- Differentiating between fact and opinion
Some of your student’s favorite fiction books may already come with companion texts, like the Fact Tracker Series for Magic Treehouse books. Consider researching nonfiction book companions to deepen your student’s understanding of content and strategies.
By developing text sets that span multiple genres, you can build on their interests, improve their application of reading strategies, and help them make text-to-text connections.
Fun Nonfiction Activities to Engage All Learners
Data from the 2018 annual report from Renaissance showed that students chose to read less nonfiction with each passing grade. While fiction is undeniably appealing, that doesn’t mean that nonfiction has to be boring. We’ve developed a list of some of our favorite activities to get your students excited about nonfiction.
Text Feature Scavenger Hunt
As you teach your students different text features, make sure you give them authentic opportunities to practice finding them. A text feature scavenger hunt is the perfect, low-prep activity to help your students become familiar with text features in an engaging way.
Students can work individually, in pairs, or in small groups to locate text features in the literature provided by the teacher. You can use newspapers and have students cut out examples of text features to add to a collaborative chart. You could have students use tablets to take pictures of text features as they find them— which can also serve as a formative assessment.
After students have read a nonfiction piece, have them generate a crossword puzzle based on the text. This activity can be scaffolded based on your students’ needs.
For example, you may give some students a list of words to use and have them create the definitions for the crossword puzzle. For others, you may have them identify what they believe are key terms and complete the puzzle using those words.
Have students pair up to complete each other’s crossword puzzles for a fun summative activity.
Two Truths and a Fib
Once students have read a nonfiction text, have them come up with three statements: two statements of facts from the text and the other a lie (or fib).
This is a good activity for when students are pursuing individual research, since the rest of the class may not easily recognize the fib. The students creating the statements serve as “resident experts” and can explain the information to their classmates. Keep the students’ statements on hand for a no-prep brain break or a fun game for the end of the day!
Write an Acrostic Poem
The limited amount of text in this activity makes it ideal for younger learners or ELLs, but it can be adapted to any learning level. Students use the information that they’ve gathered from their nonfiction reading to create an acrostic poem about the topic.
This activity can easily be scaffolded to your students’ learning levels. Use in a large group, small group, partner, or individual setting. Graphic organizers can help students generate ideas about their topic before writing.
In this activity, students will locate five (or more) important facts from their reading. They will then rank the facts in order from least to most important. This is a great way to incorporate higher-order thinking skills into your lesson, as students need to evaluate their selected facts. To scaffold, you may provide students with facts from the text rather than have them choose their own.
Create “Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)”
After reading an article or selection of nonfiction text, have students create a “frequently asked questions” page about important points.
This activity could be adapted in many ways. You could provide students with the answer and have them create the FAQs, give them keywords or vocabulary terms to include in their FAQs, or have them create the FAQs independently.
Not only will students practice identifying key concepts, but they’ll also develop the skill of asking meaningful questions.
Nonfiction Choice Boards
One way to encourage autonomy and self-motivation is to incorporate choice boards into your instruction. After reading a nonfiction text, students can select an activity (such as those listed above) to complete from a choice board provided by the teacher.
When students are given a voice in making decisions, their motivation and engagement increase which has a positive impact on learning.
By incorporating more nonfiction in your classroom in new and engaging ways, you can spark your students’ interest in learning and set them up for future success.
Students will be drawn into these nonfiction leveled readers while they build their content-reading skills for topics including social studies, science, and mathematics.View Product →