Nonfiction Unit of Study: Elaborate, clarify, learn new information

We came to the end of our first foray into nonfiction today, and here were some reactions to compare with those they had when we began the unit:

  1. wow, reading nonfiction is so different from reading fiction!
  2. reading nonfiction is hard work
  3. I never knew I needed to look at everything on the page, I mean everything!
  4. the thing is, I learned a lot, but I still have a lot of questions…that’s kinda weird
  5. definitely not boring
I was thrilled about #5, because that had been the biggest complaint.  Choosing a high interest book, and ending with a video tie-in contributed to that, I’m sure.  Since we read about Navy Seals, I used a video clip from the History Channel dramatizing the Bin Laden raid – apart from being pretty riveting to watch, my kids also noticed how all the technical information they had been reading about was used in practice. 
#2 and #3 were realizations that are just beginning to sink in.  If we were doing all this work:
…it would involve quite a bit of effort, too.  We paused after each paragraph of close reading to think: elaboration? clarification? or  new information?  By the time we’d finished the book, my kids had become adept at asking those questions themselves.  One of them commented that each of those questions called for different degrees of alertness: clarification meant “you know this already”, elaboration meant “pay attention – details coming”, and new information meant ” Really pay attention, this is all new stuff!”.  I love that sixth graders always put a sixth grade spin on things – after this student spoke, I heard many “oh, yeahs!”
What was really interesting to them was the fact that even though they were learning new stuff, they were left with so many questions at the end of each section: 

…and this, in turn, led to a wonderful discussion about how, in this information age we live in, we can turn to our smart phones for quick answers to these burning questions.  I shared the way I had to go about such (sometimes fruitless)  fact finding in the old days – a trip the library, a search through my encyclopedias, hunting here and there for books that may not have yet been written.  They were stunned – woah, what if you just forgot your questions in the meantime??  Precisely…times have changed!
As a final reflection, I asked my students to write about:
One new learning
One new woah – a new realization
And an opinion about the Seals.  Here’s what a couple of my students had to say:

All in all, we’ve laid a solid foundation for our nonfiction study; if nothing else, my kids seem to have come to the realization that nonfiction is worth their time…and even their effort.


One thought on “Nonfiction Unit of Study: Elaborate, clarify, learn new information

  1. Pingback: Our Nonfiction Genre Study Cycle Concludes…For Now | A Teaching Life

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