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September 30, 2009 Readers Workshop: Taking a Closer Look at Nonfiction By Angela Bunyi
Grades 3–5





    Nonfiction reading material can be a powerful tool in grabbing the attention and interest of otherwise reluctant readers. However, it seems resources that provide 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 need to have a plethora of classroom books for our students. According to Richard Allington, an elementary classroom should have 1,500 books as a base. For me, the hardest part of creating a classroom library is keeping a balance of fiction, nonfiction, and informational texts. According to the research I have looked at, two-thirds of the library collection should be nonfiction and informational texts. That can be a real challenge, but it is so important when our students are reading to learn.

    Are you feeling low in this department? One easy solution would be to purchase used magazines. Most of my collection has been donated or purchased from garage sales. Magazines are great because you don't feel too bad when you take out the scissors and cut out elements that you want to discuss with your class.


    Class_photos 048

    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 and use a system very similar to Beth's.

    Learn how we organize our classroom library.

    View part of our classroom collection online, utilizing IntelliScanner.



    Mini-Lesson Suggestions




    You can call it craft study, look at fantastic authors such as Katie Wood Ray (Study Driven is an excellent read/resource), and purchase a book that has detailed step-by-step instructions on this. However, it does not have to be that complicated. Let me save you some time researching and reading what the professional authors are going to suggest to you for teaching nonfiction. 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 to the whole group. Here are some anchor charts we created this year and the year prior.


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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. I find that nonfiction comparisons can be a little harder to find examples of. 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). I usually read this book as a separate mini-lesson.




    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 of the convention. They also add the purpose for the convention as well. 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 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 out 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 become 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.


    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."







    Class_photos 001


    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.


    Teaching Matters Resource Center


    Soon, you will be able to find all the materials Beth and I discuss and use in the classroom in one easy location. I uploaded quite a bit of materials and photos yesterday, and those will be featured there in the future. For now, here are some of the resources that were mentioned in this post.


    To learn how we organize our classroom library,click here:

    To view part of our classroom collection online, utilizing IntelliScanner, click here:


    Nonfiction Convention Definitions/Purpose

    Download Convention_definitions 

    Posters Shown in Main Photo/Bulletin Board

    Download Nf+conventions_board

    Nonfiction Conventions Banner

    Download Nf_banner

    Nonfiction Layout/Format Posters

    Download Nf_format_board




    I created an introductory video on Readers Workshop and plan to add a series of videos to address the various activities that it describes (e.g., reading conferences, guided reading, mini-lessons, etc.). You can also find this video on the main page of our Teaching Matters Resource Center.

    Readers Workshop Overview


    Reading Strategy Charts and Bulletin Boards-

    Creating an Organized, Balanced Classroom Library-








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Susan Cheyney