Knowing what to teach is a great start. But I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t impart some broad-based ways to get that knowledge across. What basic instructional strategies give you mileage during nonfiction reading workshop time? How do you start? How do you construct a meaningful reading time? What is the best way to navigate through the reading adventures in this book?

Instructional Strategies for Nonfiction Reading Time

• Allow choice according to students’ interest.
• Emphasize information in illustrations.
• Allow multiple days for browsing.
• Compare books on the same topic.
• Expand the definition of reading sources: collect magazines, photographs (add writing on them!), food wrappers, advertisements, brochures, toddler books, Web site printouts, and any other related and informative sources.

• Words and pictures are both sources of information:
– Talk about pictures.
– Point and name details.
– Discuss meaning.
• Talk with a partner:
– Teach children how to take turns.
• Talk in general ways about what is interesting:
– I notice . . .
– This is really cool because . . .
• Use prompts to encourage discussion. Students rely on pictures to start conversation:

I see _____ (a bird on a tree). So I can learn that _____ (birds climb or fly).
So I think _____ (birds like to be in trees).
And I wonder _____ (where else do birds go)?

• Use simple notations on sticky notes to create a place to stop and talk:
– ? Something I wonder about
– ! A surprising fact or idea
– F A new fact
– √ Something I like

• Compare sources; use differences to dig deeper and think:
This book says _____.
But this book says _____.
That makes me think _____ because _____ .

• Explicitly name what you model.
• Use big books and read-alouds to teach nonfiction strategies.

• Fiction: When talking about a story, book, or passage, I ask, “What is this about?” “What just happened?” or “Tell me about the story.”
• Nonfiction: When talking about a nonfiction essay, text, or passage, I ask, “What can you learn?” “What did this teach you?” or “Tell me about the information in this text.”

Some teachers desire complete silence during reading time, yet very young children need to read in low voices (subvocalization). Student discussions about nonfiction include description and questions. Divide your workshop time: let partners talk first, then read independently in whisper voices. Flip back and forth to extend reading time, and listen to the buzz about books!

Tips for Navigating Through These Reading Adventures


• Know which materials you need and when you need them: Check the “Counting the Days” section in the beginning of the chapter. Modify each adventure according to time and interest. Locate the ready-made reproducibles at the end of the chapter.

• Books are wonderful resources; organize them: Gather the books you will need before each adventure. Set them out in the following ways:
– Table baskets: Create baskets of books for each table for independent browsing. Place five to ten books in each basket. Rotate the baskets daily.
– Read-aloud basket: After reading aloud topic-related books, put them in a large basket in the classroom library or another prominent place. Provide a time for students to reread these familiar books (e.g., snack time, choice time, after unpacking, or between activities).
– Student input: Invite children to add books to the table baskets, either from home or the library. Encourage the addition of related materials such as magazines and brochures.
– Find the right books: Though this may initially seem challenging, much of this work is done for you; this book provides suggestions of wonderful titles for each adventure. Supplement these suggestions with appropriate choices already in your rooms, using the following criteria:

* Match the reading level of your class or go slightly below it.
* Match the nonfiction skills, strategies, and features in each adventure.
* Find books containing both familiar and new content.
* Find big books and regular-size books with large, realistic pictures and photographs.
* Find books your students can easily read in one or two sittings.
* Find engaging and entertaining texts.
* Choose texts you enjoy reading and rereading.

• Prepare stopping points when you read aloud: Before each reading, I choose pages to stop at to stimulate partner conversation. I put a sticky note with a leading question, using the teaching focus to help. Each chapter has one read-aloud selection already laid out for you.

• Keep a balanced read-aloud diet: Read both fiction and nonfiction all year long to your students. Many teachers, myself included, tend to favor fiction for reading aloud. (True confession: When I first compiled read-aloud texts for this book, they were mostly fiction, too!). In this book I describe either the fiction selection or the nonfiction selection. While I read both selections to my class, here I’ve chosen the book that creates more anticipation and connects to the purpose of the adventure. Sometimes a fiction selection is more motivating as a launch for a study. Through fiction, readers can also learn about the real world. Researchers have noted an overwhelming predilection for fiction in early childhood classrooms. And while that may be true, let’s not ignore nonfiction! From the first week of school to the hazy days of June, readers need to hear the sound of, and see the structure of, informational texts as an ordinary, not an extraordinary, event!

Teachers know that not every student is ready for every task, so we adjust the learning to match the learner. There are times when students need modifications for success. Each chapter provides suggestions for differentiation. Differentiation may be based on academic need or interest. Consider grouping differently (partners, collaborative groups) and adjusting the process or product.

Observe student behavior, vocabulary, and engagement. Each “Back to Earth!” section contains a special part called “Check in to Evaluate,” which provides key questions to assess students’ comprehension of content and their understanding of the characteristics of nonfiction.

I have always instinctively known that good teaching involves fun. Now I have solid research to back up my intuition. Learning occurs in “aha” moments and an atmosphere of discovery. Fun equals engagement and investment (Willis, 2006; Slade, 2010).

I agree—fun is essential! The adventures in this book are crafted activities, opportunities to teach nonfiction skills and strategies in a memorable way. (Some people say I’ve never grown up, and it’s probably true—I want my classes to be festive and fun!) I chose to teach the youngest grades to be with spirited children, who are playful by nature. Good teaching provides them with cherished activities that are learning-rich and joyful. It’s like fertilizing the soil with plant food and nutrients, then planting seeds to create beautiful flower beds!

Each of the following chapters contains a reading adventure, self-contained and ready to be replicated. They are the how of teaching nonfiction. Enjoy the journey of nonfiction and content-area reading!

This excerpt comes from Barbara Pinto's Teaching Real-Life Nonfiction Reading Skills in the K-1 Classroom