Friday, March 30, 2018

Classifying Nonfiction: Activities for Students

Normally, I don’t post on school holidays, but the response to my Nonfiction Family Tree has been so positive, that I wanted to sneak in one more post in March.

Thank you to all the educators who have sent me photos and feedback about introducing the 5 categories to your students and inviting them to sort titles using the system. I love how Tamra Snell (@tamra_snell), a school librarian in Pflugerville, TX, created cards with the characteristics students should be on the lookout for as they classify books. See them in this photo?
And that made me realize that I should create slides to help both students and educators. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

If you’d like copies of these slides, please email me or PM me via Twitter or Facebook. They can help students as they do the activities you'll find here and here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Behind the Books: Looking Forward, Looking Back

Twenty years ago, my very first book was published. Life Without Light: A Journey to Earth’s Dark Ecosystems was a nonfiction YA title that explored the fledgling scientific study of little-know creatures that eke out an existence deep inside caves, around hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor, on the walls of underground aquifers, and within rocky crevices deep below our planet’s surface. My timing is was perfect, and the book was well received. It was thrilling.

Since 1998, I’ve written 191 books about a wide range of science topics, but I’m still fascinating by creatures that live in total darkness and rely on chemicals rather than plants as their ultimate food source. That’s why I’m so excited to see two fantastic 2018 picture books that highlight topics I discussed in Life Without Light.

Otis and Will Discover the Deep: The Record-Setting Dive of the Bathysphere by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Katherine Roy, shares a little known story that I included in Chapter 2 of my book. In 1930, Otis Barton and Will Beebe became the first humans to dive into the deep sea. Crammed inside a hollow metal ball they’d designed themselves, they bravely dealt with a leak that could have caused them to drown and a sparking wire that could have made the bathysphere explode. After overcoming these obstacles, Barton and Beebe descended a record-setting 800 feet and were mesmerized by the life they discovered in inky blackness.

Rosenstock skillfully introduces the intrepid explorers by highlighting their many differences as well as the one thing they shared—a powerful desire to explore the deep ocean. Simple language bursting with vivid verbs, sensory details, and clever use of repetition brings the episode to life, allowing young readers to share the excitement. Roy’s breathtaking art captures the drama and intrigue of the adventure as well as the beauty of the deep ocean and its denizens.
Flying Deep: Climb Inside Deep-Sea Submersible ALVIN by debut author Michelle Cusolito, illustrated by Nicole Wong, takes readers 2,500 feet below the waves to a hydrothermal vent on the ocean floor to see many of the same amazing creatures I described in my book 20 years ago. Back then, the cottony bacteria mats, dinner-plate-sized clams, and giant tube worms with feathery plumes were newly discovered, but now scientists know so much more about them.
Cusolito deftly employs second-person narration and spare, precise descriptions to give readers a you-are-there experience as the three-person vehicle descends, explores, and then returns to the surface.  Wong’s lovely digital paintings show the deep, dark ecosystem in all its glory.
Both of these books feature beautifully-crafted language and stunning, accurate art. I highly recommend that you buy them both and share them together, exploring their similarities and differences in content, artistic techniques, and writing style.

Monday, March 26, 2018

5 Faves: Expository Nonfiction Recommended by Donna Miller

These five books are often used as whole class read alouds prior to the students starting a unit of study or a research project. I often do animal research in the younger grades and a variety of projects with the older grades. The topics vary depending on the timing of the projects and what the output is going to be.

Animals by the Numbers: A Book of Infographics by Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016)
This is a great book that I have in digital and print form. I project it and read parts of it aloud to my second grade prior to them choosing an animal book for their research project. It is a great way to introduce diverse animals and diverse ways of looking at and comparing animals. I try to get the students to look at details other than physical characteristics and habitat when they are writing their reports. The final project is a newsletter introducing the animal, and this book helps them think of “headlines” to use for their paper.
No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart and Nicole Wong (Charlesbridge, 2013)
This book is great for introducing cause and effect as well as introducing the rain forest. I use it with second graders before they start a unit on rain forest animals, and I also use it with older students before we do a project for Earth Day.
Now & Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin by Gene Barretta (Holt, 2013)
This text is great for making comparisons and having students think about what we use every day and how life would be without it. I do a short project with fifth graders involving inventions, and this text makes a good starting point. I also read this to third grade before they do their biography reports. It opens their eyes to ways of talking about a person without just the usual “when they were born, where they lived, what they died” format. I also pair this text with
I is for Idea: An Inventions Alphabet by Marcia Schonberg (Sleeping Bear, 2006). Although I don’t read it aloud, it is there for students to use as a resource.
We’ve Got Your Number by Mukul Patel (Kingfisher, 2013)
This text is not used as a read aloud per say, instead I use it for introducing a variety of topics throughout the year. Patel has included two-page spreads on a wide variety of topics that all have something to do with numbers. It is also available for staff who are looking for a good STEM or makerspace introduction. The section on “keeping secrets” is a great introduction to creating your own code.

Night Light: A Book about the Moon by Dana Meachen Rau (Picture Window Books, 2006)
This is a great book to introduce the moon to younger students. It is short and to the point. There are large illustrations and a “Fun Fact” on each topic. It can also be used to reinforce or introduce vocabulary before starting a moon unit.
Donna Miller is a K-5 library teacher in Norwood, MA. She shares her love of books with students and staff in three buildings. When Donna isn’t teaching, she can be found tweeting @DonnaMiller44 and at various EdCamps and NerdCamps in the area.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

MSLA Handout: Innovative Activities for Teaching Nonfiction Reading and Writing

Author-educator Melissa Stewart shares fun, practical ideas for helping K-5 students develop information literacy skills as they read award-winning nonfiction books and produce their own informational writing. Attendees will go home with creative ways to support student learning in the library and via collaboration with classroom teachers.

Nonfiction Smackdown!

Upper elementary students read two nonfiction books on the same topic. Then they evaluate and compare the two titles, recording their thinking on a worksheet that other students can use to help them make book choices.
Sibert Smackdown!
Similar to Nonfiction Smackdown!, but books are selected from a list of picture books contenders that I compile on my website. The worksheet uses a kid-friendly version of the criteria considered by the real Sibert committee. Several librarians have also used their own creative ideas to record students’ thinking, such as Padlet, Flipgrid, posters, and voting forms where students write the rationale for their choice.
March Madness Nonfiction
Inspired by the annual March Madness basketball tournament, students participate in a month-long, whole-school activity to select their favorite nonfiction title. Can be combined with the Nonfiction Smackdown!
“March Madness has not only created an energy and excitement for read aloud; it has also exposed students to more nonfiction. [It has been] a springboard for discussions of text features and structures, vocabulary and author's purpose.” –Instructional Coach
“I like that these nonfiction books really make you think about things for a while and then sometimes your thinking changes.” –Fifth-grade student

Nonfiction Family Tree
A system for sorting nonfiction to help students predict the type of information they’re likely to find in a book and how that information will be presented. It can also help them identify the kinds of nonfiction books they enjoy reading most.





Read aloud and briefly discuss a picture book every day of the school year. Display book covers, so it’s easy to refer back to them for comparison to new texts (theme, text structure, voice, writing style). They can also be used as mentor texts during writing workshop. You can work with teachers to get them started and make book recommendations or you could adopt a classroom.

Text Feature Posters
After reading a variety of age-appropriate books, K-2 students use the text features in those books as models in creating their own text feature posters.

Choosing a Topic
Ideas are all around us. I can get inspired by things I read, things people say to me, or things I see or experience myself. For me, the challenge is keeping track of the ideas, so I have one when it’s time to begin a new book. I have an idea board in my office, and I use it to remind myself about ideas I’ve had.
Teachers could have an idea board in their classroom or they could encourage students to write their ideas down on the last page of their writer’s notebook. ABC Brainstorming can work too. Other ideas include:
A Wonder Wall

An Idea Jar

Why Students Copy Their Research Sources and How to Break that Habit
Why do students copy rather than expressing ideas and information in their own words? Because they haven’t taken the time to analyze and synthesize the material they’ve collected so that they can make their own meaning. In other words, they haven’t found a personal connection to the content, and that’s a critical step in nonfiction writing.
Team Notetaking
Pairs or small groups participate in collaborative note taking on paper or using google docs, so that struggling students can access the thought process of more advanced students. This activity also reduces copying from sources materials.

Sources Students Can't Copy
Encourage students to use a wide variety of source materials, including some that it's impossible to copy, such as personal observations, webcams, and interviews. To facilitate interviews, your school can develop a list of adults in the school community with knowledge in particular area.
Create a Visual Summary
When students take the time to represent their notes visually as infographics or other kinds of combinations of words and pictures as part of their pre-writing process, they will find their own special way of conveying the information. And using that lens, they can then write a report that is 100 percent their own.
Use Thought Prompts
Invite students to synthesize their research and make personal connections by using some of the following thought prompts:
—The idea this gives me . . .

—I was surprised to learn . . .

—This makes me think . . .

—This is important because . . . 
Struggling with Structure
While writing Can an Aardvark Bark?, I experimented with 4 different text structures over a 4 year period before the manuscript was accepted for publication. The timeline on my website shows the details of my process through a series of 8 video, which take about 11 minutes to watch. The timeline also features  downloadable version of 4 rejected manuscripts, so students can see what changed over time.

Text Structure Swap
After reading No Monkeys, No Chocolate, upper elementary students make book maps to get a stronger sense of the architecture of the main text’s cumulative sequence structure. Then each child chooses one example from the text and rewrite it with a cause and effect text structure. The third and fourth links are for worksheets that guide a similar activity based on the content in Can an Aardvark Bark?

Same Structure, New Topic
Students read a selection of my books and chose one to use as a mentor text. They created a book that emulated the structure and style of my book but presented information about a different topic.

A Feel for the Flow/ Colorful Revisions
Typing out a mentor text can help students get a fee for the flow. They can study how the text was constructed by highlighting various elements with different colors. They can use a similar technique to look for ways to improve their own works in progress.

Radical Revision!
First graders write a piece of nonfiction. When the students are in second grade, teachers share the No Monkeys, No Chocolate Revision Timeline on my website and ask the children to revise the piece they wrote in first grade. Both drafts are placed in a folder, and students revise again in third, fourth, and fifth grade.

Authentic Illustration
After K-2 students write nonfiction about a topic of their choice, children in another class at the same grade level illustrate the text. Then the original writers review the artists’ work and write a polite letter asking for any necessary changes. This activity mimics the process nonfiction picture book authors go through when they review sketches created by an illustrator.

Friday, March 23, 2018

In the Classroom: Science-Lit Activity for Grade 4 & 5 Students

During a planning period, create a worksheet with a three-column data table that lists all the plants in A Seed is the Start (column 1) and how the seeds are dispersed (column 2). Lave column 3 (Plant Part that Helps) blank.

When your class returns, read the book and use the information in it to create a data
 table like this one.

Next, pass out the worksheets, and invite students to find a buddy and complete column 3 (Plant Part that Helps) using information from A Seed is the Start. Be sure to let the class know that, in two cases, the book does not have sufficient information. Their completed worksheets should look similar to this:

Now invite each duo to join with one or two others to create four groups—Wind, Water, Self, and Animal. After giving each tea an index card with their team name written on it, invite students to choose a plant from their worksheet that disperses in the way written on the index card. Students will pretend to be a seed from that plant and write a letter to a seed that disperses in the following way:
Wind disperser à Water disperser

Water disperser à Self disperser

Self disperser à Animal disperser

Animal disperser à Wind disperser

Each letter should explain (1) how the seed is dispersed, including what plant parts help it move, and (2) why they think their dispersal method is best, including potential problems with other kinds of seed dispersal. Allow time for volunteers to share their letters with the rest of the class.

4-LS1-1. Construct an argument showing that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction.


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Monday, March 19, 2018

5 Faves: Expository Nonfiction Recommended by Franki Sibberson

Here are five expository nonfiction books I was excited to add to our classroom library this year:
Once I brought this book into the classroom, I could not get it back. It is hugely popular with fifth graders. This book is packed with information about cities in our country. The colors and the visuals are appealing and the layout makes it fun to read. The thing I like most about this book is that it isn’t your usual information about the states. Instead, a variety of cities (not necessarily capitals) are included with interesting information that is unique to the city.

C is for Chickasaw by Wiley Barnes
Early this year we enjoyed the book Mission to Space by John Herrington, an astronaut and citizen of the Chickasaw Nation. After reading the book, students had several questions about the Chickasaw Nation, so I ordered C is for Chickasaw to add to our collection. This is an alphabet book packed with information that may correct misinformation our students might have. The format makes it engaging and allows readers to learn a great deal about the topic in a short time. This is a good book for read aloud or independent reading.

Grand Canyon by Jason Chin
This book won NCTE’s Orbis Pictus Award, an award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children. It features expository writing, but the artwork includes a story, making it well suited for a broad range of readers. Packed with information, this is a book readers can return to again and again to learn more.  

This is book, intended for older elementary readers, is a combination of narrative and expository writing styles. It includes stories of five refugees--children who escaped their countries by sea--as well as expository sidebars and fact boxes. This topic is timely and this book is a bit more in-depth than other picture books for this age. 

So many fifth graders enjoy fractured fairy tales by Leisl Shurtliff, Christopher Healy, Sarah Mlynowski and others. This nonfiction picture book lets readers know that the things we might know about being a princess from stories and movies may not be true. It compares princess life as we may visualize it with the real truth. It is a fun book, and I can see it being enjoyed by readers of all ages.

Franki Sibberson currently teaches fifth grade in Dublin, Ohio. She has worked in elementary schools for over 25 years as a classroom teacher, a Reading Support Teacher, a curriculum support teacher, and a school librarian. Franki’s books include Digital Reading: What’s Essential in Grades 3-8 (NCTE), Beyond Leveled Books (Stenhouse), Still Learning to Read (Stenhouse), Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop (Scholastic), and The Joy of Planning (Choice Literacy). She blogs regularly at A Year of Reading and she is also a regular contributor to Choice Literacy. Franki Sibberson is currently President-Elect of NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English)