Taking a Look at Nonfiction Conventions
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.
Photo: Ripped-out magazine pages on display.
Photo: Red bins in our classroom indicate nonfiction. We currently house 2,500+ books.
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:
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.
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.
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."
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.