In their 2016 book, Reading Nonfiction: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies, Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst say:
“Relevance is about what matters to you. It starts with observing something in the world, but then it shifts to a thought or a feeling inside you.” Here are three ways to incorporate that kind of experience into our classrooms.
Connect to Current Events
With the popularity of social media, students of all ages are exposed to events happening locally, nationally, and internationally. Sharing nonfiction related to these current events, helps bring relevance to what is happening in the world around us.
Recently, I listened in as a classroom of third graders discussed the story of Koko the gorilla’s death. Koko became famous for his use of sign language as well as his fascination with pet cats. Recognizing the relevance this news story had for the children, their teacher tracked down Koko’s Kitten by Francine Patterson and read it with the class.
Over the next few weeks, some of the students asked the school librarian for additional books about gorillas. They wanted to know more about a gorilla’s habits and life expectancy. They were also curious about other famous gorillas.
To have a similar experience with your students, hunt for age-appropriate nonfiction books and articles related to news stories that your hear students discussing. These websites offer short nonfiction pieces connected to current events:
· News ELA (https://newsela.com)
· ReadWorks (www.readworks.org)
· The Nonfiction Minute (https://www.nonfictionminute.org/)
Connect to Topics of Study
Think about the topics of study throughout your school year. How can you tie-in expository nonfiction books and articles to supplement the content in your textbook? How can you make the topics more relevant to students’ lives and experiences?
In the article “Motivating and Engaging Students in Reading,” which was published in The New England Reading Association Journal in 2010, Jenna Cambria and John Guthrie shared an anecdote about a teacher who had her students doing an investigation with owl pellets during science class. The students were so intrigued when they found the skeletal remains of a mouse in a pellet that this topic of study immediately became relevant to them.
Activities, videos, experiments, guest speakers, are all great ways to captivate students, and once they are engaged, it’s the perfect time to introduce nonfiction texts that can supplement and broaden their learning experience.
To prepare for this opportunity, curate text sets about key curriculum topics in advance. Teaching with Text Sets by Mary Ann Cappiello and Erika Thulin Dawes can help you get started. After sharing text sets as a class, showcase them in your classroom library for students to choose independently.
Connect to Student Interests
Students learn best when a topic of study or a specific text connects to them in some way. It is intrinsically motivating to read something that you enjoy knowing about.
Through individual reading conferences, interest surveys, and just being with your students, you can begin to pinpoint their specific interests. Seek out expository nonfiction books that appeal to your learners. Personally hand these titles to your students or put a sticky note on the book with a message like, “I thought of you when I found this text.” Children will appreciate the effort.
An interested student reads because it’s an enjoyable experience. And when the child is motivated, he/she will dig deeper into the text and strive to comprehend material that is above their reading level. That’s how they become better readers.
Dr. Marlene Correia is the Director of Curriculum and Assessment for the Freetown-Lakeville Regional School District in Lakeville, MA. Marlene has 15 years of experience in K-8 education as a classroom teacher and special educator. Dr. Correia has also taught undergraduate and graduate education courses at Framingham State and Bridgewater State University. She is the co-author of Informational Texts in Pre-Kindergarten through Grade-Three Classrooms. Dr. Correia is a past-president of the Massachusetts Reading Association.