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Monday, March 9, 2015

Unlocking the Rosetta Stone: How to Share Nonfiction with Kids

In a previous blog post, we opened up the wonderful world of nonfiction books for kids. Nonfiction is important because kids love it, it provides facts and it's plentiful.

Once you've selected some nonfiction books (using the tips and sample series provided in the previous post) you may want to think about how to read nonfiction aloud. It's different experience than reading a fictional picture book or a novel. With a little preparation, you can include nonfiction in your Read-Alouds with ease.

To share nonfiction with kids, think out loud to explain how nonfiction works.

With very young children, that could be as simple as pointing to a picture of a mother animal and its baby and then pointing to their names in the text as you say them. It's also a good idea to explain to young listeners that fiction books are made-up stories, but nonfiction books contain true information.

Mother and baby animal names "Deer and Fawn" and
"Koala bear and Joey" are in the top margin of this book,
I Love My Mommy Because... by Laurel Porter-Gaylord

With an older listener, say 7 years old or older, you could explain what a table of contents is (if the book you are reading has one) as you open the book. Demonstrate how to use it. Also explain features like the index or glossary.

Page through the book, pointing out graphs and sidebars. Explain that sometimes they contain important information not found in the text. Demonstrate how to use them.

Finally, explain concepts of comparison, sequence or providing examples. Show how sometimes the words the author chooses can signal that she is making a comparison, setting up a sequence or providing examples. Point that out when you see it in the text.

The Rosetta Stone, with text of the same
decree in three languages. provided the key
to understanding Ancient Egyptian  hieroglyphs.
By modeling how to read a nonfiction book, you are giving kids the Rosetta Stone--the secret to unlocking the knowledge they seek. Kids don’t know how to do this, but you can show them how if you point out design features, describe how you are looking at graphics, or model using tools like an appendix to find information. 

Ways help kids read nonfiction
By slowing down when you read nonfiction aloud, and spending time on the elements described above, you not only help kids understand what you are reading about, but also help them build their own skills to successfully navigate nonfiction text.

Before you share a nonfiction book with kids, see if you can find examples of some of the things listed below.

Vocabulary and Comprehension
Graphics and Illustrations
Design Features (table of contents, index, appendices etc.)

Teach new words in advance
define words while reading

Use visual thinking: Ask
What do you see in this graphic? What makes you see that? What else does it show?

Use title and table of contents to get kids thinking about the topic and what they already know about it
Point out and define
Signal and Academic words
(compare contrast, sequence
or examples of a concept)

Does this graphic give examples of what the words say or does it provide extra information?

Point out chapter titles, headings, subheadings and definitions

Find the main idea and point it out, then find supporting
ideas and point them out

Where can I find the answer to my question? In the words? In the graphics? In my own head? By combining any of these?

Point out sidebars, insets and captions and explore the information they contain.

Ask questions to see if kids understand
what you are reading
along the way

Question the picture: Does it make sense? Is it accurate? Does it support the words?
Could you make a better picture?

Search for answers to kids questions using the index and appendices

In addition to these elements, the format of the book will affect how you read it aloud. Some children's nonfiction reads like fiction, so you can read it straight through, like Groundhog Day! Other books are better suited to jumping around to answer kids' questions, reading bits and pieces here and there. Be sure to read through books first to get an idea of the best way share them with kids.

reads like fiction
reads like a reference book


One way to ease into reading nonfiction with kids is to pair it with fiction books on the same topic. Here are two of our favorite books about ice cream.  

Joe runs a soft-serve stand in the summer, but no one knows where he goes in the winter. Rhyming text and double-page illustrations describe where people imagine him to be.

In which Elephant struggles with the dilemma:  Should he share his ice cream with Piggie?  The longer he dithers, the more his ice cream melts.  What to do?

For most kids, ice cream comes from the store.  By providing books about cows, milk, dairy farming and how ice cream is made, kids can learn about the different parts of the process.

Another way to get kids into nonfiction is to create a treasure hunt. Choose a variety of books on a single topic, from a series or by the same author.  Read through them to find a question or two that each can answer. Be sure the difficulty of each question is appropriate for the age of the children you are reading with. Write the questions on index cards, with the title of the book.  

What animal weighs the same as
a ping pong ball?
How long are the tentacles of
the sun jellyfish?
What is the strongest animal for
its size?

Which animals have dangerous kicks?
Which animal kills more people in Africa
than any other?
How many animals called
"Goliath" or "Pygmy" are
in this book?  What do the words
Goliath and pygmy mean?

In addition to specific questions for kids to find in the books, generate some general questions too:
  • Which dangerous animal is your favorite and why?
  • If you could be one of the animals in the book, which one would you like to be?
  • Have you ever seen any of these animals?
When the kids choose a book they want to explore, work with them to find the answers to the questions. The questions you bring with the books are just a tool to get the kids exploring. If they start generating their own questions, follow their lead and look for those answers instead. 

Keep track of the answers to questions, so you can share them with the group at your Read-Aloud. Most kids like providing cool facts to their peers.
Kids are bound to get excited about all the things they can learn through a nonfiction book once they know how the books work. Whether you choose to do an all nonfiction Read-Aloud or just to include more nonfiction books related to your theme, be ready to follow the kids' lead, hunt for answers to their questions and provide more books for them to explore.

To receive credit for this online training, please fill out the form here.

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