Friday, September 15, 2017

In the Classroom: Reading Nonfiction Picture Books Aloud

Reading nonfiction picture books aloud can be tricky because they often contain significantly more words than fiction picture books. And even if the art is enticing and the writing is engaging and the information is fascinating, a picture book read aloud shouldn’t last too long.

When I plan a nonfiction read aloud, I ask myself a lot of questions. What parts of the book should I highlight? Should I skip over anything? Would additional visuals or props improve the audience’s experience? Would using a document camera help? Sometimes I make the right decisions on the first try. But other times, the kids surprise me, and I make adjustments as I go along.

For Can an Aardvark Bark?, I thought students would be excited to make the animal sounds throughout the book’s main text. But I worried that reading the spreads that featured secondary text about four animal examples might be too much. I considered reading just the main text and pointing out the four exemplar animals shown, but that would mean skipping over a lot of cool information.
When I asked author Josh Funk (@joshfunkbooks) for advice, he suggested that I read just one or two of the examples.

“And kids can choose the examples,” I said, piggybacking on his idea. I was confident that this combination of strategies—making animal sounds and choosing animal examples—would make for a great read aloud. But I was wrong.

It turns out students weren’t as enthusiastic about making the animal sounds as I expected. What captivated them was the information. They stayed quiet so they wouldn’t miss a thing.

Luckily, my other strategy—letting students choose the animal examples—was a huge hit. On pages where the vote was close, I read the two top choices, and everyone was happy.

What was my take away from this experience? I was delighted to discover that the thing kids liked most about the book—the fascinating information about how and why animals communicate—was the same thing that inspired me to write it in the first place. What could be better than that?


  1. Love this post, Melissa! Great strategy!

  2. Thank you for sharing! My goal this year has been at least one non-fiction book per week for #classroombookaday, but I struggled with HOW due to the complexity of the text. These strategies will work!

  3. That's revealing. Engagement (by choices, predictions, open-floor questions) makes read-alouds alive.

  4. The same thing happened to me when I read Shaking Things Up I thought they wouldn't want me to read every page, so I started in order then skipped around. They clung to every work and wanted me to go in order and not skip any. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, reading non fiction or longer picture books takes up a ton of time. I did the exactly same thins as you and previewed the text first trying to see how I could get more bang for my buck. Ss sure can surprise us! Great post, can't wait to read this book now.