This year, one of my goals as a teacher is to integrate science and social studies into our language arts learning. One way I’ve been able to do this is by incorporating more nonfiction reading into our daily routine. Starting the year with nonfiction has created a new way of thinking about reading with my students. Instead of looking at main characters, setting, and plot, as our first unit of literature study, we are looking at text features to locate key facts and information relevant to a given topic with efficiency.
I used Scholastic Reading Club's, National Geographic Kids Little Kids First Big Book of Animals by Catherine D. Hughes to introduce my students to nonfiction text features. Text features are the "story elements" in the world of nonfiction. The author uses the different features (title, table of contents, maps, and glossary) as a guide to help the reader understand the text.
Besides the great attention to detail and specifics of text features, the book offers a variety of ways to keep students entertained and engaged while they read questions about each animal and track them using a world map. Teachers (and parents) can further the lesson using tips for extension activities at the end of the book.
My original plan was to use this book as an extra resource for students to gather information about animals and their adaptations. Once I read the book, however, I found that the format lends itself to a perfect introduction lesson on text features.
Our first look at the book was a picture walk-through. This is where students get to look through the book with the purpose to observe, take notes (as a class), and ask questions.
Students shared about what they noticed and I wrote their responses on a document at the front of the room for everyone to see.
National Geographic Kids Little Kids First Big Book of Animals is well organized. The book has all of the animals featured categorized by habitats, which is important to note when first glancing over the book with students.
One student shared, “I noticed that all the animals are sectioned by where they live.” I asked, “Why might the author have done that? Turn to your neighbor and discuss what the purpose of sectioning off the animals might have been.”
Another picture walk-through moment was when a student talked about the map at the back of the book. “Look how big this map is. Why does it have so many colors?” I replied, “Why might there be a map in a book about animals? Why are there so many different colors?” We then had a class discussion about how the maps are there to show the different areas where the animals live. The colors represent the different continents, and they match the text box where the animal names are so that the reader can connect the animal with its location.
The questions students were asking gave us a whole class opportunity to explore the many features of nonfiction text. It was also an opportunity to have a discussion and see what these features look like in an actual book.
During our picture walk-through, I brought up the many text features we might have missed in our discussion. We talked about the title page, table of contents, index, glossary, and others. During this discussion, I used these text feature visuals I found on a blog by Deana Kahlenberg. They were great for flashing on the projector as we went through the many text features of the book. Students had a visual in the book and a visual on the screen along with a kid-friendly definition they could refer to.
I kicked off the discussion with, "Look at the text feature we call keywords. These are words in the text that are important. They can be bold, italicized, or in a different color. As you glance through our book of animals, raise your hand and share if you notice any keywords.” I posted a copy of the visuals in the classroom for students to look back at. On the board we created a list of the text features we noticed. For every nonfiction feature example that students were able to find, we wrote down the page number in which they found it.
As a wrap-up of our investigation of nonfiction text features, I have students take National Geographic Kids Little Kids First Big Book of Animals and complete a scavenger hunt activity. The purpose of this activity to check students' understanding of the nonfiction text features. This can be given to students the next day as a follow-up to the whole class learning. Giving students time to work on the scavenger hunt allows me time to work with those who demonstrated a need for more guidance during the whole class activity. While partners work together, I do a small group review going through each text feature together, similar to what we did as a whole class only now I am prompting them for details with questions like:
What did you notice on this page?
How did we know this page was about the thorny lizard? What tells us this?
Where is the heading on the page and what features about the words tell you it is the heading?
Every student is given the scavenger hunt form with rows and columns as places to document their findings. The goal of the assignment is for students to partner up and then tag (put a Post-it and label) where they find the nonfiction text feature, and to label how it helps them understand the book. Students have the option to take a picture of the feature with their tablet or other device and then label it and create a page with their findings in Google docs, or they can work with a partner from the book to complete the following: where the text feature is found, draw a picture of it, and how does it help you understand the book?
After students have completed the activity, I allow them to do a habitat station share:
I use the habitats listed in the table of contents and create five areas around the classroom where partner groups can sit. I ask partner groups to first pick a favorite habitat that they can agree on.
Then I show students where each habitat group will sit for class sharing. For example the grassland might be in one corner, the forest in another, the ocean in the middle and so on.
Students then sit in their habitat area and take turns sharing where they found the answers to the scavenger hunt.
By the end of this lesson students have explored a perfect example of kid-friendly nonfiction. They have visually connected with nonfiction text features and have notes they can refer back to for future nonfiction reading. Author Hughes wrote this book for those who like to inquire. The precision to detail and specifics to nonfiction writing allow for quality instruction on what informational books can offer and great practice for students to navigate through informational text. Students continue coming back to the book because they can’t get enough of the pictures and descriptors of animal life in the wild.
The book was so good I couldn’t stop at just one lesson. Come back next week as I dive deeper into this book with a reading and note-taking strategy to try with your classroom of students.
Do you have tips on introducing text features? Have you used this book with your class? I’d love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below.
Thank you for reading.
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