Infusing wonder into nonfiction reading and writing

December 3rd, 2013

Jennifer McDonough is the coauthor with Georgia Heard of A Place for Wonder: Reading and Writing Nonfiction in the Primary Grades. In their book Jennifer and Georgia discuss how to create “a landscape of wonder,” a primary classroom where curiosity, creativity, and exploration are encouraged. Here, Jennifer shares a couple of tips and tricks she uses in her own classroom.

In A Place for Wonder, Georgia and I quote Seymour Simon who says, “I’m more interested in arousing enthusiasm in kids than in teaching the facts.  The facts may change, but that enthusiasm for exploring the world will remain with them the rest of their lives.”  This is the idea behind infusing wonder into our exploration of nonfiction reading and writing.  Writers are curious about the world and hungry for answers.  Writing comes from these curious moments and wonderment about the world.  This is what we want to teach young children before they even pick up a pen to start writing informational books.  Reading nonfiction comes from a hunger to answer questions and learn more.  To celebrate wonder and encourage questions in the classroom primes the pump for great nonfiction writing and reading.  Here are a few ways I get students thinking and wondering in my first grade classroom before we begin a nonfiction unit.

Wonder Boxes

Debbie Miller in, Reading with Meaning:  Teaching Comprehension in the Primary Grades, first introduced me to the idea of wonder boxes.  She encourages her students to write down wonders they have about the world and keep them in a file box to pull out at later times to investigate.  We keep these boxes going all year long and find ways and reasons to pull out the questions and find the answers.

Wonder Wall

In my classroom I have students create a wonder wall where they put up wonders they have and answer each other’s questions.  When a question has been answered by a student or whole class exploration, the student gets to take home their question and answer and put up a new one.

Observation Window

Use bulletin board border to mark off a part of your window so your students can look out and observe the world outside the classroom.  Leave a notebook and some colored pencils for the students to record their thinking and observations as they look outside.  Encourage them to ask questions about what they see and leave them for the next student that comes to the journal to ponder and possibly answer.

Observation Journals

Leave small notebooks next to living things in your classroom for students to observe, write about and leave questions.  I have one in my classroom by our hermit crabs and any other living things that come to live with us for awhile:  butterflies, ladybugs or ants in an anthill.

The Wonder House

My students nicknamed the nonfiction section of our classroom, The Wonder House.  After all, they said, this is where we go to find the answers to questions we have.  They created a sign that says, “Enter Here if you Have Wonders” and we had parents volunteer to come and hang netting around the area to create a cozy area for exploring nonfiction topics.

One Small Square

To encourage descriptive detailed writing, create small frames out of black construction paper and have the students bring them outside to set on the ground.  Have them write only about what they see in their one small square.

Leaving Space in Writing for Wonder

Finally, when writing information books I always make sure to have students leave a chapter open for a wonder about the topic being written about.  After writing everything the student knows, he or she will then explore nonfiction text to find out more about the topic to write in the book.  After all, isn’t this is exactly what writers in the world do?

If you need some more inspiration, take a look at this video created by Joanne Maria Babalis and her colleagues at Bond Lake Public School in Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada, after using A Place for Wonder in a book study group.

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