Nonfiction Unit of Study: Putting all those conventions together to make information

No matter the year or the particular group of students I have, one thing remains constant – their attitudes towards nonfiction.  They were less than enthused  when I launched  our nonfiction unit of study last year , so I was prepared for much the same reaction when I did my big “unit reveal” presentation last week – and this year’s batch were, predictably, unenthusiastic. Even their reasons were the same, and book ended in the same way:
  • do we have to?
  • it’s SOOO boring!
  • why do we have to read about things we don’t even care about?
  • Ugh!
  • Oh, NOOOO!!
  • do we have to?


This year, though, I began our unit even earlier. Why? Because my kids come back, year after year, and tell me that though our nonfiction unit was “not exactly the funnest” it helped them the most.  So, here we go.
It turns out (just as it has in years past) that though my kids say that they know all about  different nonfiction conventions, they rarely use them to clarify meaning or elaborate on the information in the text.  And they never study them closely or think to add information gleaned from these conventions onto their notes.
Franki Sibberson, in her wonderful book, The Joy of Planning, put it best when she wrote:

I soon realized that many students had experience with lessons on nonfiction text features -they could name and identify them – but their understanding often stopped there.  I listened in as students made sense of nonfiction texts.  They were consistently making incorrect inferences when they were confused.  Instead of using multiple reading strategies to find answers or clear up confusion, they often made things up.  There was little connection to them between the text and visuals.  They were not skilled at putting information from text and images together to make sense of what they were reading. 

I also realized that many kids did not have the same stamina for reading nonfiction as they did for reading fiction. (p.65)

So there were my two unit goals: 
  1. how to put  information from text and images together to make sense of what we are reading
  2. how to build stamina for nonfiction reading
#2 will have to build on #1 – and what better time to begin than now, when my kids are restless and ready for something new?  I chose this book:

Navy Seals: Elite Operations by Patricia Newman, partly because it had all those nonfiction elements I was looking to teach my kids to read carefully, and partly because I knew it was a high interest topic that would get my kids interested right away…which it did.

Our minilessons focused on strategies readers use to collect new information and synthesize new understandings:

I’m using  our document camera to read aloud, stopping to think aloud and demonstrate how readers of nonfiction use “multiple reading strategies to find answers or clear up confusion.”  We’re also practicing how to box and bullet information from each chapter:

and then collect new understandings and questions for the text as a whole:

It’s interesting to note that my kids seem to be actually enjoying the text and the cool things they are learning (did you know, for instance, that Navy Seals begin their training in Chicago??!!).  But, even more important, they are beginning to see the work it takes to make sense of all the stuff they see on  a page of nonfiction: text, photograph, chart and diagrams, to name all that I see on the very first page of our read aloud.  
We’ll practice all this again in partner reads after winter break, and then again in our topic based nonfiction book clubs.  After all, we have to build up that nonfiction stamina!  

3 thoughts on “Nonfiction Unit of Study: Putting all those conventions together to make information

  1. Tara,I love the examples that you are including in your pictures of your work. As a reader of your informational text, it makes it easier for me to follow your work with your class. Thanks so much!Now I am wondering if a "favorite topic" will emerge from your class?

  2. It sounds like a good start, Tara, a segue into next year. I suspect they'll learn a lot, and still think it's not the funnest! And it will help in other future classes, won't it? Have a great week!

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