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Grades 3-5: Nonfiction Reading Activities

Five activities to prepare your information investigators for nonfiction summer reading success.

  • Grades: 3–5

Noteable Fiction Award-winning expository texts to recommend for summer reading.

Parrots Over Puerto Rico
by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore. $19.95.
Recipient of the 2014 Sibert Medal for most distinguished informational book, the story intertwines the history of Puerto Rico with that of the Puerto Rican parrot.

Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin
by Robert Byrd. $17.99.
Suited for your above-level readers, this challenging book serves as an in-depth biography of Franklin.

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909
by Michelle Markel. $17.99.
This picture-book bio informs readers about the poor working conditions for immigrants in the early 1900s and a young woman who fought for workers’ rights.

Locomotive
by Brian Floca. $17.99.
This year’s Caldecott Medal winner transports readers back roughly 150 years, to one of the first Transcontinental Railroad trips.

Send a “Text”

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1

What You Need: Informational paragraph, Text Messaging Printable
What to Do: Some nonfiction texts are so loaded with information that it’s hard to tell the forest from the trees. Students end up struggling. Use this activity to help students synthesize what’s at the heart of an informational text.

Explain that sending a text message is an easy method of brief communication. Tell students they’ll read a short paragraph and then “text-message” the most important details and an image to another student.

Distribute a copy of a nonfiction paragraph of your choice to students, as well as the Text Messaging Printable. Students should read the paragraph and then carefully select two or three important pieces of information to share via a text message. (They can write the text in one of the cell phones on the printable and draw an image in the other.) When complete, students should “send” their message to a classmate—perhaps by hand-delivering it. Once students have exchanged messages, partners can respond with an observation or a question.

Bag It

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.2; SL.1

What You Need: Small paper lunch bags; index cards, colored and white; larger paper bag (one per group); tape or glue stick; informational text
What to Do: To further practice determining the importance of facts, give each student a small lunch bag and four white index cards. As they read an informational text you assign, students should write four important details or facts—one on each index card.

Next, assign students to collaborative groups. Give one colored index card and a larger “group” bag to each team. Instruct students to share their index-card facts with team members. If the group agrees the fact is important, they should place it in the group bag. Afterward, the group should write the main idea of the text on a colored index card and glue it to the front of the bag. Then, groups can rejoin as a class and “let the facts out of the bag” by sharing what they’ve learned.

Wonderful Wordles

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.4; L.4
What You Need: A sample Wordle, paper for note-taking, computer with Internet access
What to Do: Content vocabulary might not be the most exciting lesson of the day—unless it involves a word cloud! Show students how to make a Wordle. If you don’t have access to a computer, students can make the Wordle using colorful markers and unlined paper.

Explain that students will make Wordles of their own. Allow them to select a nonfiction text and, as they read, jot down challenging vocabulary terms and a short definition for each. When they’re done, have students create a Wordle using their newly acquired vocabulary. Students can print their Wordles and then share with the class.

Sticky-Note Questions

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1; R.7
What You Need: A nonfiction text with graphics, sticky notes
What to Do: In some nonfiction texts, “reading” the visuals is just as important as reading the words. In this activity, students will ask questions about photos, charts, and other graphics.

Put students in pairs and give each pair a copy of a nonfiction text with sophisticated visuals. Give each partner group three sticky notes. As they read together, students should write one question on a sticky note to help clarify what the text says. They can place that note near the text that prompted their question. On the second note, students should write a question about a visual and adhere it next to that visual. Finally, partners should devise a question about the words and visuals that other students can answer after reading the text.

When they’re ready, two sets of pairs can meet up in small groups to answer each other’s questions. Later, students can put this same strategy to work during independent reading.

Slices of Text

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.2; R.4; R.7
What You Need: Informational paragraph, It's All in How You SLICE It! printable
What to Do: You’ve practiced skills like understanding content vocabulary and analyzing nonfiction text features. Put that together with a wrap-up lesson on how to “slice” an informational text. Distribute the printable and explain what each letter of the acronym SLICE stands for. S is for summarize points, L is for list important ideas, I is for inadequate information (What could the author have explained better?), C is for conversation point about a graphic, and E is for explanation (What information did an author add to make a point easier to understand?). Use a sample text to complete the printable as a class. Allow students to choose a nonfiction text and complete the printable independently. When done, they can show the class how they “sliced” their text.

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Nancy Witherell is a former teacher and author of many books on literacy, including Teaching Students to Read Informational Texts—Independently.

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    Independent Reading, Literacy, Literature, Class Projects
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