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Early Literacy: How to Introduce Nonfiction to Young Children

Open a book about the life cycle of a butterfly the world of the dinosaur, or astronauts in outer space, and you'll see the wonder in a child's eyes:

  • Grades: Early Childhood, Infant, PreK–K, 1–2

Good nonfiction contains the essence of life--pieces of the "story" about who we are, about the animals and plants with which we share our inhabitance of the earth, and about how the world works, with all its wonder and fascination. Good nonfiction helps build vocabulary. It also fosters critical thinking and information-gathering skills. Good nonfiction makes that real-world connection children need to grow and learn. Here are some ways that you can integrate nonfiction meaningfully into your classroom:

  • Think aloud. After reading an information book aloud, share what you found strange or interesting, what you liked, what you want to know more about, and how you might go about getting the information. Your model will inspire children's thinking. 
  • Don't worry if you don't have an answer. New information should always lead to the need to gather even more information. Children need to see you as a learner too.
  • Integrate nonfiction and play. Put a telephone book near a play phone, post a fine arts poster in the art area, put a book about bridges or construction sites in the block area. Not only are you helping children explore using real-life tools, you are also exposing them to different kinds of informational print.
  • Make your own nonfiction materials. Every time you create a classroom chart or diagram with children, you are generating an informational tool. When you make a class book about a field trip exprience, you are doing the same. This acknowledges that children are experts too. And experts share what they know. You can also introduce children to the value of writing letters and conducting interviews.

How to Choose Nonfiction

Here are some tips for selecting good nonfiction books the next time you visit the library or a bookstore:

  • Look for books with clear, large photographs, preferably one or two at most per page. They help the child focus on critical aspects of the images and inspire them to think deeply about them. Concepts such as color, shape, and size can easily be discussed. Avoid nonfiction that is illustrated through art; it rarely has the same impact upon a child as a photograph.
  • Look for books with focused text. Just because a book is nonfiction doesn't mean it can't tell a story. The problem with most nonfiction is that it tries to tell everything there is to know about a subject all in one book. Not only does this cause information overload for the child, but it also results in a potentially boring book with a lot of unconnected facts.
  • Look for books that have accessible text for the young child who is learning about print concepts and beginning to acquire some ideas about reading. Predictable text, words and phrases that clearly support the photographs, and large print are just as critical for independent exploration in nonfiction as they are in children's favorite stories. A good nonfiction writer for young children will include just two or three critical content vocabulary words in simple repetitive text.
  • Look for books that give additional information for the adult, usually on a page at the end of the book. If you read these background notes, you will be equipped to answer children's questions and carry on a lively discussion.

  • Subjects:
    Curriculum Development, Content Area Reading, Literacy, Phonemic Awareness, Early Reading, Environmental Print, Communication and Language Development, Learning and Cognitive Development, New Teacher Resources, Teacher Tips and Strategies
  • Skills:
    Phonemic Awareness, Print Awareness, Nonfiction Texts
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