Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Reading Nonfiction Aloud: Tips and Tricks

I talk to lots of educators who are interested in sharing more nonfiction read alouds with their students, but they have some concerns. Here are the three main questions they ask: 

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?
Last week, I addressed question number 1. You can scroll down to read my suggestions. Today, I’m going to take a look at question number 2.

Reading nonfiction picture books aloud can be a challenge 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 lots 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.
In a book like Flying Frogs and Walking Fish: Leaping Lemurs, Tumbling Toads, Jet-Propelled Jellyfish, and More Surprising Ways that Animals Move by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page, some double-page spreads have six animal examples. Depending on the age of your audience, that may be too much. But it’s fine to let a student volunteer choose just one example for you to share with the class. Then, if children want to know more, they can read the rest of the examples themselves later.

In a book like Cute as an Axolotl: Discovering the World's Most Adorable Animals by Jess Keating, which has a lot of information on each page, you can share just a couple of spreads as a read aloud. As with Flying Frogs and Walking Fish, you can encourage interested students to read the rest of the book on their own.

Books like Warbler Wave by April Pulley Sayre have a short, poetic main text with lots of interesting extra information in the backmatter. Feel free to take your time savoring the gorgeous language and stunning photographs with students. Then, as time permits, share just a few sections of the backmatter. When it comes to nonfiction read alouds, there’s no rule that says you have to read every single word! 

During the read aloud, be sure to put expression into your reading. Be animated. Be dramatic. Show that you’re eager to discover whatever fascinating facts and amazing ideas the author will reveal. Remind students that professional nonfiction writers spend years researching, writing, and revising each book. Here’s how long it took me to write some of my most popular picture books—from inspiration to publication:
6 years    Can an Aardvark Bark?      
8 years    Feathers: Not Just for Flying    
10 years  No Monkeys, No Chocolate
5 years    A Place for Butterflies
6 years    Seashells: More than a Home
5 years    Under the Snow

Encourage students to think about how passionate professional nonfiction writers must be about their topic and how motivated they must be to share information with other people to keep working on a book for so long.

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


  1. I think I'm at about the 10 year timeframe on this chestnut book, as it keeps changing. Thank you for your encouragement.

  2. Love this, Melissa! I need to share it with teachers who feel intimidated reading aloud nonfiction or who worry that it won't be engaging.