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Teaching Tip: Using Nonfiction Text for Guided Reading

How often do you select nonfiction books for guided reading? One study found that, on average, first graders spent only 3.6 minutes per day with informational text (Duke, 2000). It is important to use nonfiction as well as fiction throughout your work with students. Guided reading is a great place to help students gain independence at reading nonfiction. As students move into grades 3 and 4, they will be expected to read and understand complex nonfiction text. Our students also will need to read and answer tough questions about nonfiction content on many state tests. 

Drop down a level

Using nonfiction for guided reading can often feel challenging. Nonfiction books frequently have different sentence structures, sight vocabulary, and concepts from fiction texts at the same level. Marie Clay tells us, “A successful choice of book would be well within the child’s control, using words and letters he knows or can get to with his teacher’s help.” Consider dropping down one to two text levels when you use nonfiction, especially at Levels G through M.

Plan your book introduction

Once you have selected your text, plan your book introduction. Start with an overview of what the book is about; I like to describe in one or two short sentences what students will be learning about when they read.

Introduce new concepts and vocabulary

Next, prepare students for successful reading by introducing them to new concepts and vocabulary. Go through the book and think about what words students may have never seen before and what words they may not be able to define. Say and have them practice unusual sentence structure. Take a bit of time to show them new text features and how those elements in nonfiction can help them learn new things about the subject.

A book introduction is not meant to be a picture walk; you should not talk about every image in the text. In fact, you should construct some opportunities for students to cross-check and self-correct. Instead of introducing everything, leave one or two items you think they could problem solve on their own as they read.

It is also important to preplan your comprehension focus. This can help direct students’ attention. I will be writing more about this next month.

Here is an example of a book introduction for one of my nonfiction texts, A World of Squirrels. Jackie Duane and I used it in our recent session at the Literacy for All Conference. I promised participants I would post a video I have of Jan Richardson introducing the book. Here it is!