As soon as children begin school, nonfiction texts will be a part of their learning process. Whether you refer to this as informational, nonfiction, or expository text, there will be everything from textbooks to articles, essays to biographies, and so much in between. Readers have plenty of interesting topics they want to learn about, but sometimes informational texts can be overwhelming and difficult to tackle. So, we must allot time and tools to teach students explicitly how to understand nonfiction texts. In this blog post, I am going to cover 3 simple tools that will help your students improve their nonfiction comprehension skills.
Nonfiction Reading Strategies
Before getting to the interactive tools, we must talk about the “key concepts” for understanding nonfiction texts. Of course, for any texts, we want students to be able to ask questions and draw conclusions. We want them to be able to use context clues to determine the meaning of unknown words and draw connections. However, with nonfiction texts, there are 3 main skills that students can use to truly understand the content within the information.
- Main Idea & Key Details: Of course, nonfiction texts are full of information. It can be overwhelming for a reader to try and take it all in. Students should be able to identify the main idea of the text and the major details that support it.
- Text Structure: The way a text is “structured” or organized is also going to help readers understand the important information from a nonfiction text. Authors will set their texts up in a way that makes the information accessible and connected. Students who can identify these structures can more easily pull the important concepts from the text.
- Text Features: Lastly, are text features. Text features are many times used as tools of clarification for the reader. They provide visual aid and additional support to important parts of a text. Students should be able to use these features to strengthen their understanding of the concepts of the text.
If you’re looking for more information on teaching these nonfiction reading skills, I have blog posts on them linked at the bottom of this post. But, for now, let’s chat about these interactive tools that can really help your nonfiction readers!
Close Reading for Nonfiction Texts
Firstly, a great interactive tool for nonfiction readers is close reading skills. Teachers around the world have been introducing their students to close reading and annotation skills for years. This can be as simple or as in-depth as you’d like it to be. The main goal of close reading is to look at a text in detail and critically examine its content. Readers do this by studying the text’s words, ideas, structure, and language, as well as how they relate to the wider context. Close reading requires the reader to approach the text with an open mind and keep an inquiring eye out for further information that can help them draw more meaningful conclusions.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Close Reading
- Begin by previewing the text, and familiarize yourself with the title and topic. Many times this can include looking at the title, photographs, subheadings, and other text features to get a “gist” of what the text will be about. Students can set the stage in their minds for the content they are about to receive.
- Read the text closely, paying attention to words, concepts, and information.
- Annotate- Take notes and jot down any questions you have about the text. Students will annotate the text as they are reading. Using a standard “annotation guide” or set of “annotation symbols” can help students create a familiar routine with this tool. Keep one on display in your classroom or print mini versions for your students to keep in their reading toolkits.
- Unknown Words- Circle any unfamiliar vocabulary and phrases. Students will be able to refer back to unknown words and phrases, using context to determine their meaning and connection to the text.
- Re-read the text carefully, focusing this time on understanding the important information, vocabulary, and concepts. Include opportunities for students to complete specific vocabulary activities and answer text-dependent questions.
- Vocabulary Activity- Add unknown vocabulary to a context clues journal or include a vocabulary printable as an interactive activity for these re-readings.
- Text-Dependent Questions- Use a color-coding strategy for text-dependent questions. Students will highlight or underline each question in a different color. Then, when they located the information in the text that supports their answer, they will highlight or underline that in the same color as the question.
- Summarize your findings into concise statements so that you can draw meaningful conclusions from them later on.
- Writing to Show Understanding- This can be done in the form of a short answer, extended response, article, blog post, exit slip, journal entry, etc. Ideally, students will have an opportunity to summarize the important information from the text in order to show what they know and help strengthen their understanding.
*Nonfiction Close Reading resource pictured in examples above.*
Graphic Organizers for Nonfiction Comprehension
Secondly, we have a simple, straightforward tool for nonfiction comprehension: the graphic organizer. Graphic organizers are a great way for students to record the information they gather from nonfiction texts. It helps them organize information in a way that aids understanding and comprehension. Some great “umbrella” graphic organizers that can apply to all nonfiction texts are:
- Main Topic/Main Idea Organizers
- Fact/Information Webs
- KWL Charts
- Nonfiction Summary Charts
Graphic organizers are also the perfect tool for skill-specific understanding. If your students are in the process of learning a nonfiction reading skill, like the author’s point, text structure, or context clues, you can provide graphic organizers that are specifically formatted for those skills. It’s a good idea to keep printable or digital versions of graphic organizers available to your students anytime they’re reading nonfiction text. Many teachers like to keep a station for these near their library or student book bins. On the other hand, if you like less prep work, you can keep a digital folder of graphic organizers available for your students on whichever online classroom platform you use.
*Spring Close Reading resource and Digital Graphic Organizers are pictured in the examples above.*
Sticky Note Summaries for Nonfiction Comprehension
Similarly, sticky notes are an excellent tool for nonfiction comprehension. They are no prep for you and are easy to implement. They are especially helpful when students are reading nonfiction texts that they cannot annotate or highlight.
Some of my favorite ways to implement sticky notes for nonfiction text include:
- Sticky Note Summaries: Students record a short summary of each “section” of a nonfiction text. This could be a page, section, or subsection of a nonfiction text. It is even helpful to “summarize” the text features in an informational text. For example, if students are reading an informational article, they can record one sticky note summary for each section/subsection. Then, at the end of the article, they can use their section summaries to gain insight into the main idea of the entire text.
- Sticky Note Glossaries: Students can use sticky notes to record unknown words and phrases or important concepts from the text. Then, as they go back to determine the meaning of these words and concepts, they can provide a short definition or explanation. Having a small glossary of the important terms and concepts for a nonfiction text will help their understanding of the text as a whole.
- Sticky Note Annotate: Similarly to the annotation in close reading, students can use sticky notes to annotate texts that can’t be marked. They can use similar annotation symbols and markings, too. A simple strategy for this is to line up 5 sticky notes on the side of their text (whichever side is their dominant writing hand). Put one annotation mark at the top of each sticky note and record your annotations there. For example, instead of marking an exclamation point next to something that is new or interesting information, they can record an exclamation mark at the top of a sticky note and record the information they would have marked in the text.
Nonfiction Comprehension Resources You May Enjoy:
If you’re looking for resources to implement nonfiction comprehension strategies, some of the resources used in these activities are linked below.
Here are two close reading sets and a nonfiction comprehension resource. The close-reading resources come with structured 5-part close reading activities. Students will be able to learn to use close reading strategies easily with these guided activities. The nonfiction comprehension resource has nonfiction texts that include skill-specific comprehension questions and informational writing activities.
Digital Graphic Organizers:
These are digital graphic organizers for each grade level. They come with graphic organizers for all of the RI skills! No printing is necessary!