Friday, October 18, 2019

Nonfiction Smackdown!

Since 2019 marks the 10th Anniversary of this blog, on Fridays this year, I’m updating and re-running past posts that sparked conversation or that I think still have a lot to offer people teaching or writing nonfiction. The original version of today’s post appeared on October 30, 2015.

I’ve attended a lot of nErD camps and EdCamps in recent years, but one of my favorites was held at Dedham Middle School in Dedham, MA, in 2015. It was sponsored by the Massachusetts School Library Association and organized by a committee led by teacher-librarian Laura D’Elia. I came away with so many amazing ideas. One of my favorites was the Nonfiction Smackdown!, brainchild of beloved teacher-librarian Judi Paradis, who worked at Plympton School in Waltham, MA, until her untimely death earlier this year.
In this activity, students in grades 3-8 read two nonfiction books on the same topic. They can be two narrative titles, two expository titles, or one of each. Students evaluate, classify, and compare the titles, recording their thinking on a Nonfiction Smackdown! worksheet like this one:

Note: You can find a more printable version of the Nonfiction Smackdown! worksheet on my pinterest Reading Nonfiction Board

When students are done, they can share their responses with classmates. Or the worksheets
can be hung around the room or placed in a folder, so that other students can use the information to help them select books in the future.
The fun activity gets kids reading and thinking and sharing. It’s great!

Here are some possible book pairings:

For Intermediate Readers
Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sara Levine
Who Owns These Bones? by Henri Cap, Raphael Martin, and Renauld Vigourt

Flying Deep: Climb Inside Deep-Sea Submersible ALVIN by Michelle Cusolito
Otis and Will Discover the Deep: The Record-setting Dive of the Bathysphere by Barb Rosenstock

A Seed Is the Start by Melissa Stewart
Seeds Move by Robin Page

For Middle School Readers

Death Eaters: Meet Nature’s Scavengers by Kelly Milner Halls
Rotten: Vultures, Beetles, Slime and Nature’s Other Decomposers by Anita Sanchez

Dog Days of History: The Incredible Story of Our Best Friends by Sarah Albee
Made for Each Other: Why Dogs and People Are the Perfect Partners by Dorothy Hinshaw Pattent
Eye Spy: Wild Ways Animals See the World by Guillaume Duprat
What If You Had Animal Eyes? by Sandra Markle

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Reading Nonfiction Aloud: Locating Appropriate Books

As teachers and librarians become increasingly aware of research showing that many students prefer nonfiction, they are searching for ways to integrate it into their lesson plans. One great option is read alouds.

Since studies reveal that 42 percent of students prefer expository nonfiction and, overall, students choose nonfiction for pleasure reading about 40 percent of the time, I’d suggest choosing a nonfiction book as a read aloud about 40 percent of the time. If you’re doing #classroombookaday, that means selecting a nonfiction title—preferably an expository nonfiction title—twice a week.

This goal may sound good in theory, but is it realistic? Is it sustainable?

I talk to a lot of teachers who are hesitant to read nonfiction aloud. They ask me the same three questions over and over:

1.    How do I locate appropriate nonfiction titles?

2.    How do I read nonfiction aloud in a way that engages students?

3.    How do I encourage and facilitate student responses to a nonfiction read aloud?

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to provide some advice that should help.

If you scroll down to last Friday’s post, you’ll find a list of 25 great expository nonfiction titles that I highly recommend as read alouds.

As you search for more books on your own in the future, it’s important to think about how students will respond. For starters, look for books that will engage young listeners right away.
For example, An Egg Is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston and Trout Are Made of Trees by April Pulley Sayre have provocative titles that will immediately spark curiosity. 

Next, read the beginnings of books to see if they will hook your audience and make them want to hear more.
For example, here’s the first line of Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds and Me by Susan L. Roth:

“The differences between a bowerbird and me are fewer than you might expect.”
And here’s how Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs by Melissa Stewart begins:

“Everyone loves elephants. They’re so big and strong.

Everyone respects cheetahs. They’re so fast and fierce.

But this book isn’t about them. It’s about the unsung underdogs of the animal world. Don’t you think it’s time someone paid attention to them?”

Who could possibly resist openings like thse?

As you preview potential titles, look for books that aren’t loaded with academic vocabulary. If more than 10 percent of the words are unfamiliar to you students, it’s probably not a good choice for reading aloud.

I hope these suggestions help you with the first question above. Next Wednesday, I’ll address the second question.

Friday, October 11, 2019

25 Great Expository Nonfiction Read Alouds

Since 2019 marks the 10th Anniversary of this blog, on Fridays this year, I’m updating some past posts that sparked conversation or that I think still have a lot to offer people teaching or writing nonfiction. Today’s post is an updated version of a list that originally appeared on December 15, 2018.

Here are some of my favorite expository nonfiction titles that are perfect for sharing in 10 minutes or less.*
Actual Size by Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011)

Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds and Me by Susan L. Roth (Neal Porter Books/Holiday House, 2019) 

Born in the Wild: Baby Mammals and Their Parents by Lita Judge (Roaring Brook, 2014)

Daylight Starlight Wildlife by Wendell Minor (Paulsen/Penguin Random House, 2015)

An Egg Is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long (Chronicle, 2006)

Frog Song by Brenda Z. Guiberson and Gennady Spirin (Holt, 2013)
Homes in the Wild: Where Baby Animals and Their Parents Live by Lita Judge (Roaring Brook, 2019)

A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars by Seth Fishman and Isabel Greenberg (Greenwillow, 2017)

If You Find a Rock by Peggy Christian and Barbara Hirsch Lember (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2000)
Mama Dug a Little Den by Jennifer Ward and Steve Jenkins (Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster, 2018)

Many: The Diversity of Life on Earth by Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton (Candlewick, 2017)

Move! by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006)

Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature by Sarah C. Campbell and Richard P. Campbell (Boyds Mills Press, 2014)

One World, One Day by Barbara Kerley (Scholastic, 2009)

Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs by Melissa Stewart and Stephanie Laberis (Peachtree, 2018)

Rodent Rascals by Roxie Munro (Holiday House, 2018)

Seashells: More than a Home by Melissa Stewart and Sarah S. Brannen (Charlesbridge, 2019) 

The Street Beneath My Feet by Charlotte Guillain and Yuval Zommer (words & pictures, 2017)

Summer Green to Autumn Gold: Uncovering Leaves' Hidden Colors by Mia Posada(Millbrook, 2019)

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman and Beth Krommes (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011)

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton (Candlewick, 2014)

Wait, Rest, Pause: Dormancy in Nature by Marcie Flinchum Atkins (Millbrook, 2019)

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell and Frané Lessac (Charlesbridge, 2018)

With a Friend by Your Side by Barbara Kerley (National Geographic, 2015)

*I wish I could have included more books by IPOC or members of other traditionally marginalized groups on this list. Unfortunately, there are currently very few available. I hope that will change in the near future.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Kent Heights PD Handout: 5 Kinds of Nonfiction

Most children’s literature enthusiasts are naturally drawn to stories and storytelling, including fiction and narrative nonfiction But up to 42 percent of elementary students prefer expository nonfiction. This session breaks down the five categories of nonfiction children’s books, offers tips for updating book collections, and provides strategies for integrating a variety of nonfiction texts into reading and writing lessons.

I’ve written about the 5 kinds of nonfiction on my blog:

I’ve discussed the 5 kinds of nonfiction in this video created for Colby Sharp’s vlog:

Narrative vs. Expository Sample Texts

Red-Eyed Tree Frog by Joy Cowley and Nic Bishop (Scholastic, 1999)

Frog or Toad? How Do You Know? by Melissa Stewart (Enslow, 2011)

Citations for Articles about Student Preference for Expository Nonfiction
Caswell, Linda J. and Nell K. Duke. “Non-Narrative as a Catalyst for Literacy Development.” Language Arts, 1998, p. 108-117.

Doiron, Ray. “Boy Books, Girl Books: Should We Re-Organize Our School Library Collections?” Teacher Librarian. 2003, p. 14-16.

Hynes, Myrna. “‘I Read for Facts’: Reading Nonfiction in a Fictional World.” Language Arts, 2000, p. 485-495.

Mohr, Kathleen A. J. “Children’s Choices for Recreational Reading: A Three-Part Investigation of Selection Preferences, Rationales, and Processes.” Journal of Literacy Research. 2006, p. 81–104.

Repanskey, Lisa L., Jeanne Schumm, and Jacqueline Johnson. “First and Fourth Grade Boys’ and Girls’ Preferences for and Perceptions about Narrative and Expository Text.” Reading Psychology, 2017. p. 1–40.

Characteristics of the 5 Categories and Activity for Students

Monday, October 7, 2019

Writing Expository Nonfiction that Sings, Part 5

For the last few Mondays, I’ve been posting  about the importance of understanding the key elements of finely-crafted expository nonfiction and helping students identify those features as they read and include them as they write.

First, I discussed how starting with a question can help writers come up with a focused topic, which allows for more engaging and creative writing. Then I focused on why writing tends to be stronger when we make a personal connection to the topic we choose and the approach we take. Last week, I wrote about the importance of an irresistible hook. You can scroll down to read those posts.

Today, I’m going to shift gears and talk about text format. Why is breaking up fact-filled expository writing into distinct chunks a good idea? Because it makes the text easier to read and understand. It encourages children to pause briefly, giving them time and (white) space to digest the ideas and information.

The Dorling Kindersley designers and editors who developed the Eyewitness Books series back in the 1980s were the first to understand the incredible benefits of combining lavish illustrations with heavily formatted expository text. These books contain an astonishing amount of visual and written information, and yet the reader feels excited to explore rather than overwhelmed.

In addition, the standard design of Eyewitness Books and the many other browseable books and series they’ve inspired is comforting to young readers, allowing them to easily locate and access information. The consistency also helps children compare similar content from page to page and book to book.

The layered text we now see in many expository literature titles offers the same benefits—time to pause and ponder and a comforting consistency that helps young readers organize ideas and information in their minds.

To understand how different authors utilize layers and get a sense of the range of possibilities available to writers, let’s take a look at six expository literature books about birds:
Birds of Every Color by Sneed B. Collard, III

A Nest Is Noisy by Dianna Aston Hutts

Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart

Bird Talk: What Birds Are Saying and Why by Lita Judge

Mama Built a Little Nest by Jennifer Ward

A Place for Birds by Melissa Stewart

All of these books include two layers of text on each double-page spread. The short, simple main text, which is set in larger type to let children know they should read it first, can stand on its own and provide a general overview of the topic. It also captures the imagination of young readers, inspiring them to continue reading. 

In the first four books listed above, the main text presents main ideas, while secondary text provides supporting details. In Mama Built a Little Nest, the main text is a charming, tightly-construct poem that conveys interesting information, while the secondary text reinforces the main text with a more straightforward explanation.

In A Place for Birds, the two layers of text have different text structures. The main text has a cause and effect structure that lets young readers know how thoughtful human actions can help birds survive and thrive. The secondary text has a problem-solution text structure that presents a specific challenge a bird population faced and describes how scientists and citizens worked together to protect those birds.

While the main text in Birds of Every Color is clear and straightforward, the main text of the remaining three books use language devices that enrich the writing. A Nest Is Noisy features intriguing personification, while Feathers: Not Just for Flying includes thought-provoking similes and Bird Talk: What Birds Are Saying and Why utilizes fun exclamations and invitations to the reader.

The next time your students are working on a nonfiction writing project, encourage them experiment with format. They can use some of the books included in this post as mentor texts and let their imaginations soar, or for a more structured lesson, try this activity developed by Fran Wilson (@mrswilsons2nd) for grades 2 and 3 or this activity developed by Amanda Schreiber (@MsAPlusTeacher) for grades 4 and 5.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Question and Answer Text Structure

Since 2019 marks the 10th Anniversary of this blog, on Fridays this year, I’m resurrecting and updating old posts that sparked a lot of conversation or that I think still have a lot to offer people teaching or writing nonfiction. Today’s essay is an update of a post that originally appeared on June 1, 2016.

As I mentioned on Wednesday, most state ELA state standards currently emphasize five major nonfiction text structures—description, sequence, compare & contrast, problem-solutions, and cause and effect. But the truth is that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to text structure.

Some books have a one-of-a-kind text structure that reinforces the book’s content, but there are also a couple of other text structures that are common in children’s nonfiction. One of them is question and answer.

Not only is Q&A a powerful way to organize information, it can also add a fun, interactive game-like quality to a book. And that’s not all. Because the Q&A format is easy for even young children to identify, it’s a great window into text structures. It can help students get their feet wet before immersing themselves in text structures that are more difficult to grasp and differentiate.

Here are some great examples:

Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sara Levine (also compare & contrast)

Can an Aardvark Bark? by Melissa Stewart

Do Sharks Glow in the Dark? . . . and Other Shark-tastic Questions by Mary Kay Carson

Fossil by Fossil: Comparing Dinosaur Bones by Sara Levine (also compare & contrast)

Hatch! by Roxie Munro

Hello, Bumblebee Bat by Darrin Lunde

How Many Ways Can You Catch a Fly? by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

Tooth by Tooth: Comparing Fangs, Tusks, and Chompers by Sara Levine (also compare & contrast)

What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

What to Expect When You’re Expecting Larvae: A Guide for Insect Parents (and Curious Kids) by Bridget Heos