Informational text is a type of nonfiction that conveys information about the natural or social world. Why should you expose students to this genre early on? According to numerous studies, the experience offers great benefits for young readers.
1) Provides the key to success in later schooling
As they advance in grade, readers more frequently face content-area textbooks as well as informational passages on tests. Including more informational text in early schooling puts them in a better position to handle later reading and writing demands. Ideally, all students would read to learn and learn to read from the earliest days of school and throughout their school careers.
2) Prepares students to handle real-life reading
Nonfiction text is ubiquitous. From home to work, studies such as those conducted by Venezky (1982) and Smith (2000) show that adults read a great deal of nonfiction, including informational text. In addition, there is growing reliance upon Web-based material. To prepare students for this world, you need to be serious about teaching them to read and write informational text.
3) Appeals to readers' preferences
Are your reluctant readers truly turned off to books, or is the literature they usually encounter just not appealing? As Ron Jobe and Mary Dayton-Sakari describe in Info-kids: How to Use Nonfiction to Turn Reluctant Readers into Enthusiastic Learners, some students simply prefer information text. Using these resources in your classroom may improve attitudes toward reading and even serve as a catalyst for overall literacy development according to Caswell and Duke (1998).
4) Addresses students' questions and interests
Studies by U. Schiefele, A. Krapp, and A. Winteler (1992) illustrate that regardless of readers' text preferences, when the text topic interests them, their reading is likely to improve. Not surprisingly then, research by Guthrie, Van Meter, McCann, Wigfield, Bennett, Poundstone, et al. (1996) shows that approaches emphasizing reading for the purpose of addressing students' real questions tend to lead to higher achievement and motivation.
5) Builds knowledge of the natural and social world
Reading and listening to informational text can develop students' knowledge of the world, as shown in studies by Anderson and Guthrie (1999) as well as Duke and Kays (1998). According to other researchers (e.g., Wilson and Anderson, 1996), the acquisition of this background knowledge can help readers comprehend subsequent texts. Overall, the more background knowledge readers have, the stronger their comprehension skills are likely to be.
6) Boosts vocabulary and other kinds of literacy knowledge
According to researchers, parents and teachers focus more on vocabulary and literacy concepts when reading informational text aloud versus when they read narrative text (Mason, Peterman, Powell, and Kerr, 1989; Pellegrini, Perlmutter, Galda, and Brody, 1990). This extra attention from parents and teachers may make informational text particularly well suited for building students'word knowledge according to Dreher (2000) and Duke, Bennett-Armistead, and Roberts (2002; 2003). Learning to read diagrams, tables, and other graphical devices that are often part of informational text may develop visual literacy.
Adapted from Reading & Writing Informational Text in the Primary Grades by Nell K. Duke, Ed.D. and V. Susan Bennett-Armistead (Scholastic, 2003).
Anderson, E., & Guthrie, J. T. (1999, April). Motivating children to gain conceptual knowledge from text: The combination of science observation and interesting texts. Paper presented to the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Montreal, Canada.
Caswell, L. J., & Duke, N. K. (1998). Non-narratives as a catalyst for literacy development. Language Arts, 75 , 108-117.
Dreher, M. J. (2000). Fostering reading for learning. In L. Baker, M. J. Dreher, & J. Guthrie (Eds.), Engaging young readers: Promoting achievement and motivation (pp. 94-118). New York: Guilford.
Duke, N. K., Bennett-Armistead, V. S., & Roberts, E. M. (2002). Incorporating information text in the primary grades. In C. Roller (Ed.), Comprehensive reading instruction across grade levels (pp. 40-54). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Duke, N. K., Bennett-Armistead, V. S., & Roberts, E. M. (2003). Bridging the gap between learning to read and reading to learn. In D. M. Barone & L. M. Morrow (Eds.), Literacy and young children: Research-based practices (pp. 226-242). New York: Guilford Press. (Note: This is an only slightly different version of the chapter listed immediately above.)
Duke, N. K., & Kays, J. (1998). Can I say Once upon a time?: Kindergarten children developing knowledge of information book language. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 13, 295-318.
Guthrie, J. T., Van Meter, P., McCann, A. D., Wigfield, A., Bennett, L., Poundstone, et al. (1996). Growth in literacy engagement: Changes in motivations and strategies during concept-oriented reading instruction. Reading Research Quarterly, 31, 306-332.
Jobe, R. & Dayton-Sakari, M. (2002). Info-kids: How to use nonfiction to turn reluctant readers into enthusiastic learners. Markham, Ontario, Canada: Pembroke.
Kamil, M. L. & Lane D. M. (1998). Researching the relation between technology and literacy: An agenda for the 21 st century. In D. R. Reinking, L. D. Labbo, M. McKenna, & R. Kieffer (Eds.), Literacy for the 21 st century: Technological transformations in a post-typographical world (pp. 235-251). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Mason, J. M., Peterman, C. L., Powell, B. M., & Kerr, B. M. (1989). Reading and writing attempts by kindergarteners after book reading by teaders, In J. M. Mason (Ed.) Reading and writing connections (pp. 105-120). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Pelligrini, A. D., Perlmutter, J. C., Galda, L., Brody, G. H. (1990). Joint reading between Head Start children and their mothers. Child Development, 61 , 443-453.
Smith, M. C. (2000). The real-world reading practices of adults. Journal of Literacy Research, 32 , 25-32.
Venezky, R. L. (1982) The origins of the present-day chasm between adult literacy needs and school literacy instruction. Visible Language, 16, 112-127.
Wilson, P. T., Anderson, R. C. (1986). What they don't know will hurt them: The role of prior knowledge in comprehension. In J. Oransano (Ed.), Reading comprehension from research to practice (pp. 31-48), Hillside, NJ: Erlbaum.