Taking a Look at Nonfiction Conventions

By Angela Bunyi on January 14, 2011

Nonfiction reading material can be a powerful tool in grabbing the attention and interest of otherwise reluctant readers. However, reading lessons often focus primarily on fiction features (plot, character development, etc.). With this in mind, I thought it might be useful to share some of the resources and materials I have used in my classroom to help readers learn to read, interpret, and eventually write nonfiction texts independently.

Photo: You can download four printables in this post, including the nonfiction conventions posters shown above.

 

Nonfiction Supplies: Avoid the Literary Desert!

I've used the analogy of teaching in a literary desert before. As elementary teachers we know that we must have a plethora of classroom books for our students. According to Richard Allington, an elementary classroom should have 1,500 books as a base. Two thirds of that should be nonfiction and informational texts. That can be a real challenge, but it is so important when our students are reading to learn to have those books in the collection.

Are you feeling low in this department? One easy solution is to purchase used magazines. Most of my collection has been donated or purchased from garage sales. Magazines are also great because you don't feel too bad when you cut things out to discuss with your class.

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Photo: Ripped-out magazine pages on display.

 

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Photo: Red bins in our classroom indicate nonfiction. We currently house 2,500+ books.

Learn how we organize our classroom library. View part of our classroom collection online utilizing IntelliScanner, and download our 88 book labels.

Mini-Lesson Suggestions

Although there are fantastic books to read on teaching nonfiction, it doesn't have to be so complicated. Let me save you some time researching and reading. Are you ready? It's really very simple. Study it, talk about it, try it out:

1. Talk about how nonfiction and fiction are organized differently and have different conventions. This is where you would want to pull out a variety of nonfiction material to show to your class. Better yet, use a nonfiction big book to demonstrate some of the nonfiction conventions to the whole group. Here are some anchor charts we created this year and the previous year:

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2. Copy and pass out various examples of nonfiction passages, and ask your students to record what conventions are being used and why. This might include using different types of print, making comparisons, or labeling drawings. Download this guide on the purposes of the conventions.

3. Do a mini-lesson on comparisons. In my experience, examples of nonfiction comparisons can be a little harder to find. An excellent book totally dedicated to this nonfiction convention is Steve Jenkins's Biggest, Strongest, Fastest. Each page takes those numbers and compares them to something familiar (e.g., the Empire State Building). Reading this book is a great mini-lesson in and of itself.

Biggeststrongest

4. Help your readers create nonfiction convention notebooks or flip-books. This idea comes straight from Debbie Miller, except we used a Dinah Zike flip booklet instead of Miller's notebooks. Under each convention, the student adds an example. They also add the purpose for the convention. If you have a lot of magazines around, you can pass these around the room and have students go on a scavenger hunt for these features.

Flip_book

5. Apply it through writing. I usually find that writers can only write as well as they read. I believe this applies for nonfiction writing, too. The more we talk about and look at nonfiction pieces, the better prepared students are to try the conventions out in their own writing. When you see a student trying some of these conventions in their writing, make sure to show it to the class. Other students will begin to try it out on their own as well.

6. On a final note, just give your students the time and opportunity to look at, read, and discuss books in your classroom this year. Fiction and nonfiction. The more they read, the better equipped they will be across the curriculum. I am blessed to be working in a school that doesn't advocate basal-prescribed reading instruction or extrinsically motivated reading programs. It makes a world of difference, and I know we are creating lifelong readers and writers using the workshop approach in our room. To learn more about how Readers Workshop functions in my classroom, watch a video overview of Readers Workshop.

 

More Anchor Charts/Bulletin Board Ideas

Last year I wrote a post that included several of the anchor charts and bulletin boards in our room. This included a nonfiction convention bulletin board made by students. It has now been turned into an article, "Reading Strategy Charts and Bulletin Boards."

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Photo: We use Scholastic's Navigating Nonfiction to discuss various ways that nonfiction articles are organized (compare/contrast, problem/solution, etc.). You can find a link on the main page, if you are interested in ordering it for your class. 

 

Comments

Lori,

My entire team is using it right now. We have a teacher guide and book for each student (1 set for our grade level). Our focus will be on the organizational features of NF: cause/effect, sequence, problem/solution, etc. So, no, we will not use all the lessons.

However, after we complete our NF unit, I will most likely use the other lessons for reading material during warm-up. The articles are all full color, interesting, and durable. It can replace Weekly Readers and Scholastic News if you don't have the money to order them each year. You can use it for multiple years, which is nice.

Best,

Angela

Kelly,

That's odd that you asked because I dealt with this yesterday. I still have most of my books logged on Intelliscanner, but once I moved to fifth grade I donated many books and bought many more. Being in a Mac school, I purchased a program that allows you to use your iPhone or built in laptop camera to scan the books and catalog them. It's cheaper and visually interesting (shows a bookcase and offers book reviews): http://www.delicious-monster.com/

I "hired" two librarians in my room this week and they are in charge of the task of scanning the library. I'll post my web address when it is completed. Here is the old address from my old library: http://www.intelliscanner.net/bunyia/books/

I hope that helps!

Angela

Hello Angela, I just saw Navigating Nonfiction in the latest Scholastic catalog. I was wondering if you have the teacher's guide and a student book for each child or do you just work off of what is in the teacher guide.

The reason I am looking at this resource is because I am looking for examples of the text structures in nonfiction (cause/effect, sequence, etc). I am not thinking I would use it for the full 30 weeks it is describing.

So I guess my question is how do you use this resource in your classroom? Thanks for all of the ideas that you share.

Angela,

I love all of these ideas. I also love how you have all of your books organized on IntelliScanner. I have a very large classroom library also and I am looking for a way to keep track of all of the books that I have. Did you find IntelliScanner to be worth the money? Can you add new books to your collection (as you buy new books)?

Thank you, Kelly

Madisen,

I almost forgot to respond...great book suggestions. I would suspect your hard to reach boy readers would zone in when a athletic figure is mixed into the lesson.

Thanks for sharing!

Angela

Hope,

Such great ideas (and enthusiasm)! Also, thank you for sharing some future blog ideas. In my current setting, I don't have an ELA population but assessing the content areas could be a good one to discuss.

Best to you,

Angela

Brittany,

Glad I can help you. We will be hitting this skill hard as well. If you have any resources you'd like to share, please do so. :)

Best,

Angela

Eileen,

Thanks for that suggestion of velcro dots. Those work very well!

Angela

Another book that I found that could be used for a comparisons lesson is How to Train with a T-Rex and Win Eight Gold Medals. It is a book by Michael Phelps and Alan Abrahamson. It combines all of his training statistics and compares them to everyday distances and objects that we are familiar with like lifting a subway car and the Great Wall of China. It's a really great book and the students love it!

Angela,

Happy New Year!! I certainly have looked forward to your new post this year! I have followed you for some time, but it is my personal New Year's Resolution to build a PLN.

Thanks so much for this current post. As Brittany echoed, I have a few lessons of my own planned for non-fiction skills. I ran across one of Angela Maier's Youtube video of some lessons she did with reading fiction vs. nonfiction. She compares it to eating apples and oranges. I am sure you have used that comparison in your Reader's Workshop.

I also LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your posters and photos of how you use them. I also have a conventions lesson planned this week. I now have to rework it since this post. LOL I think I will download posters and put one at each table with magazines, newspapers, etc. Then do a carousel brainstorm activity with them to get all students thinking about each convention together in groups.

We are going to have so much fun thanks to you!

Hope

PS: Special request- I would love for you to consider doing some posts on assessment in ELA and content areas.

Perfect timing on your post! A couple weeks from now we're going to hit the non-fiction hard to help prepare for state testing! THANKS!!

Josh, I use velcro dots. They work perfectly!

Josh,

I don't have ANY labels that fall off. My secret is Gorilla Glue. I put the laminated label on the front and apply the glue from the back, pressing down the front label into it. You can see any of the glue from the front. I also used that hard lamination paper so it is very sturdy.

One other item that helps were some clear U-shaped clips I found at a store several years back. They grab/pinch the labels pretty tightly and several have held strong for years with no glue, tape, or goo at all.

I hope that helps!

Angela

Angela,

Love these ideas! I put my labels in plastic baseball card sleeves, but I cannot keep them attached to my book baskets. I've tried double-sided tape, hot glue, everything short of super glue. Any creative ideas to keep them attached to the baskets? Thanks!!

Josh

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