Share a Story-Shape a Future… with nonfiction!

March 10th, 2009

This post is part of the Share a Story – Shape a Future Blog Tour for Literacy. Today’s focus is “Selecting Reading Material.” The complete schedule for the week-long blog tour can be found here.

Mary Lee Hahn has been teaching fourth and fifth graders for over twenty years. In her book, Reconsidering Read-Aloud, she shows teachers how to identify and capitalize on those teachable moments that surround read-aloud time in the classroom. In today’s post she shares her favorite nonfiction works for read-aloud. You can find more topics on today’s host blog, The Reading Zone.

Using Non-Fiction for Real-Aloud

In 2002, Stenhouse published my book, Reconsidering Read-Aloud. I’m proud to say that in the seven years since then, I haven’t stopped reconsidering the content or the function of read aloud as a part of the balanced literacy approach I take in my classroom.

Three of the biggest changes in my read aloud over the past seven years are:

  • I read much more nonfiction aloud.
  • I read aloud more frequently during the day now, and often for shorter periods of time.
  • I don’t finish every book from which I read aloud — sometimes my read aloud is a preview or a “book hook.”

Here are some of the reasons I read aloud nonfiction:

I read aloud nonfiction to teach or review or reinforce content.

When we were studying weather, I read aloud THE SNOW SHOW: WITH CHEF KELVIN by Carolyn Fisher. It was a fun way to review the concepts of evaporation, condensation and precipitation.

I read aloud nonfiction to introduce or review the structures of nonfiction text.

The student population of my school is very diverse. I read ONE WORLD, MANY RELIGIONS by Mary Pope Osborne to promote discussions about our similarities and differences, but we wound up noticing the way each section was organized, the way the chapter and topic headings alerted us to get ready for new information, and the way a topic sentence in a paragraph promoted accurate predictions about the information that followed.

I read aloud nonfiction to model thinking strategies.

I didn’t read aloud all of WATER HOLE (24 HOURS) by Zahavit Shalev (DK), but I wanted my students to know how to make sense of all of the information that’s presented on each page. As I read aloud the first couple of pages, I talked about how my eye was moving across each page. I flipped back and forth to show them some of the features that mark time on each page. I asked questions, made connections, and ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the cute baby elephants (and at the recycling process that takes care of the massive amounts of elephant dung that the herd leaves behind!).

I read aloud nonfiction to tempt my students to read it more often.

All I would have had to do to sell THE WORST-CASE SCENARIO SURVIVAL HANDBOOK: JUNIOR EDITION by David Borgenicht and Robin Epstein would have been to read aloud a few of the topics in the table of contents (How to Soothe a Peeved Parental Unit, How to Survive Outdoor Chores, How to Deal with Poo on Your Shoe). I did that, but then I read just one complete section: How to Survive Farting in Public. The book hasn’t been back on the shelf since.

In another example, I tempted my students by reading one entry in HOW BIG IS IT? by Ben Hillman and they went on to read every entry in all of his books in the How Big/Strong/Fast Is It series.

I read aloud nonfiction that doesn’t look or act like nonfiction to challenge my students’ thinking about genre.

WHY? by Lila Prap. Are we supposed to take this book seriously and learn about animals, or is it a joke book, or a book to challenge us to think more creatively? (or all of the above?)

TALKIN’ ABOUT BESSIE by Nikki Grimes. Is this a biography? But it’s written in poems! And the poems are all from different points of view!

And finally, most of all, I read aloud nonfiction for the sheer enjoyment of it — for the talk we have — for the connections and questions and WOW moments that come when young people learn about the way their world works, about the people who have made their world what it is, and about their place in our amazing world.

Entry Filed under: Literacy

13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Heidi Estrin  |  March 10th, 2009 at 11:23 am

    Excellent post! There are so many good reasons for reading nonfiction to kids, and there is so much great nonfiction out there. I think adults sometimes have an incorrect impression that nonfiction is all boring and textbook-y and that is not the case at all. Also, every class contains at least one kid who prefers nonfiction (even at the preschool level) even if they can’t articulate that yet, so it’s great to be able to validate that for them.

  • 2. Pippi  |  March 10th, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    Thank you! It’s great to hear about reading Non-Fiction as a read aloud. You’ve inspired me to add Non-Fiction to my read aloud sessions. Thank you again.

  • 3. Terry Doherty  |  March 10th, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    Thanks for sharing this post Mary Lee. I often wonder how to make nonfiction work better. Now I know: I need to expand my formats!

  • 4. Rasco from RIF  |  March 10th, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    Mary Lee, I so appreciate this posting and want to talk later about using these points on my blog read by many of RIF’s local coordinators across the country. In the meantime, I have laughed all day about the “farting” chapter as well as been thrilled to my core to read your “WOW” moments mention. Thank you!

  • 5. Cathy Bryan  |  March 10th, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    Excellent post. Thank you! Non-fiction is often the way to go to “hook” a reluctant reader.

  • 6. Janelle @ Brimful Curiosities  |  March 10th, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    Even younger children (those not in school) enjoy reading and looking at non-fiction picture books. I highly encourage parents to take the time to read them to their children. My young daughter loves non-fiction books about animals, especially those showing life stages like frog development. Her latest non-fiction favorite is “Eggs” by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Emma Stevenson.

  • 7. LeAnn Carpenter  |  March 10th, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    The world of nonfiction has exploded with such great books. There are so many more options available these days. It’s great to have a resource to help us find our way through the choices. Thanks for the heads up on some great books.

  • 8. Andrea Ross of JOMB  |  March 10th, 2009 at 7:36 pm

    Thanks for this great post. Engaging non fiction has always been a huge hit at our house — especially fascinating subjects that embarrass adults and, therefore, aren’t part of everyday conversation.

    From extremely early on (far before she could read) our very curious eldest would ask for us to read aloud non-fiction books about biology, reproduction and … er… waste then would sit for ages taking in the illustrations on her own. There are excellent sex-ed and body-ed books in the full range of details with very friendly illustrations and since these kept our preschooler very content on long car rides, we ended up with a huge collection.

    As a bonus, all our … um… uncomfortable preliminary conversations were years behind us well before the awkward ages.

  • 9. Vicki Hall  |  March 10th, 2009 at 10:10 pm

    Mary Lee,
    I truly enjoyed reading about why and how you use non-fiction. I read non-fiction to the students in my libraries and am always looking for titles that will hold their interest. Thank you for sharing!

  • 10. Sarah Campbell  |  March 11th, 2009 at 8:24 am

    This is a great post. I love the way you made your points with specific books. My sons went through a stage where all they wanted was nonfiction — animals, vehicles, weather, Aztecs, knights, oceans, etc. Thank you for giving me some great new ideas for read-alouds.

  • 11. Charlotte  |  March 11th, 2009 at 11:50 am

    Thanks for the great post! I’ve added the survival handbook to my list of birthday presents for my boy.

  • 12. Pippi  |  March 11th, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    I read my first Non-Fiction book today. It was fantastic! That kids were so excited with each page turn. I read Whose Shadow is This? By Claire Berge. I can’t wait to try another non-fiction book! Thank you for the encouragement.

  • 13. Share a Story: Now ItR&hellip  |  April 3rd, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    […] Using Non-fiction for Read-Aloud – Mary Lee Hahn of A Year of Reading, hosted by the Stenhouse blog UPDATED (11:20 […]

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