Friday, May 22, 2020

Getting Ready to Research, Part 4

Since the 2019-2020 school year marks the 10th Anniversary of this blog, on Fridays, I’m resurrecting and updating old posts that sparked a lot of conversation or that still have a lot to offer people teaching or writing nonfiction. Today’s essay is number 4 in a six-part series that originally appeared in spring 2016.

Because it’s difficult to create authentic, self-driven research experiences for early elementary students, I’m in the midst of sharing a series of activities that will allow K-2 students to develop research skills, such as visual literacy and information literacy, without actually doing research. As a result, they’ll be ready to start doing authentic research in third grade. 

Last week, I focused on the Visual Teaching Strategies method. You can scroll down and read that post if you like. Today, I’m going to continue my discussion.

As students do research for a report, they need to decide what information is important enough to record. You can help students learn this critical skill by posing a focus question or developing a wonder statement, and then working with them to extract relevant content from a fiction-nonfiction book pair. 

As you read each book aloud and discuss the content, organize the pertinent information in a table, list, or diagram, as shown below, so that students have a visual record of the process. Then have the children participate in an activity that involves synthesizing and integrating the information in the table(s).

Here are two examples:

Focus Question: How do animals depend on the place where they live?

Book Pair: Just Ducks by Nicola Davies & Hip-pocket Papa by Sandra Markle

Sample Tables: Guide your students in compiling tables on chart paper after reading the books.


Sample Activity: Students create a mural that compares what ducks and frogs need to survive and how those needs are provided by their environment.






Wonder Statement: I wonder how a rain forest is different from a desert.

Book Pair: The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry & Here Is a Southwestern Desert by Madeline Dunphy

Sample Lists: Guide your students in compiling lists on chart paper after reading the books.

Sample Activity: Students fill in blanks to create poems about one of the animals in the list. Then they draw a picture of the animal. All the poems are compiled in a class book that compares the creatures and features of each environment. 


For more examples and details about how to implement this method, please see Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, K-2 by Melissa Stewart & Nancy Chesley

What’s next in getting ready for research? Next week I’ll discuss the role of graphic designers in creating books and other visual materials, including advertising. Stay tuned. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Expository vs. Narrative Nonfiction: Honeybees, Part 2

On Monday, I shared an expository passage about honeybees from my upcoming book Ick! Delightfully Disgusting Animal Dinners, Dwellings, and Defenses and talked a little bit about my process. You can scroll down to read it.


Today, we’re going to continue our discussion of the differences between narrative and expository nonfiction by looking at a passage from Candace Fleming’s fantastic new book Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis mellifera, illustrated by Caldecott Medalist Eric Rohmann. AND, as an added bonus, Candace is going to share some of the reasons she chose to use a narrative writing style for this book.

First, a little background. For several years now, I’ve been using this visual to summarize the basic difference between the two nonfiction writing styles—narrative and expository. 

But it’s important to understand that very few nonfiction books are 100 percent narrative. The key element of narrative nonfiction is scenes, which give readers an intimate look at the world and people (or insects 😊) being described. The scenes are linked by expository bridges that provide necessary background while speeding through parts of the true story that don’t require close inspection.

Here’s a wonderful spread from Honeybee that presents some of the same information as the passage I shared from Ick! on Monday. 

Instead of a numbered list, Candace has written a compelling scene that’s illustrated with Eric’s stunningly gorgeous art:


Apis stands on soft honeycomb, waiting.
A forager bee approaches. Dusted with pollen and smelling of sunshine and fresh air, she is loaded with nectar.
Food for the colony!
Apis creeps toward her.
Furry heads bump.
And the forager brings up the nectar to her open mouth.
Sticking out her straw-like tongue, Apis sips up the nectar.
   She folds and unflolds,
        folds and unfolds,
           folds and unfolds her mouth.
Until the nectar grows
     thicker,
        stickier.
She stores the half-dried nectar in an empty cell. Over the
next few days it will ripen into honey.

Candace is truly a master of rich, luscious language. I love her use of strong, precise verbs; alliteration; repetition; and imagery. Notice how her text breaks force you to pause at just the right moments. Wow!

Why did Candace choose to write her book with a narrative style? Here’s what she had to say:

“For me, the narrative style … comes naturally. I’ve always preferred a story with scenes and characters and emotional weight. And let’s face it; anything that comes naturally has its advantages. 

“When I began this project the plight of bees was foremost in my mind. I wanted to write a book that would engage and enlighten kids, as well as help them recognize the importance of this extraordinary creature. Above all, though, I wanted to spur young readers to action. But action requires empathy. I wanted my readers to care, truly care, about honeybees. And I didn’t think fascinating facts and startling statistics alone would be enough to elicit that kind of emotion. So I turned to narrative.  

“I wrote a birth-to-death story—a biography—of one bee, following her every movement from the day she emerges into her hive until thirty-five days later when, tattered and exhausted, she falls to the ground. I emphasized her struggles, heightened tension and suspense, and intentionally created an emotional punch. 

“A narrative style is the best way I know of distilling a story and getting to the heart of it. I chose narrative with the goal of the writer’s profession: readers finishing the story and maybe, just maybe, caring.   

“The biggest challenge [of writing a narrative] is staying within the nonfiction fence. [Facts] have to be woven thoughtfully and artfully into the text, so they feel like a seamless part of the telling. While I want kids to cheer, gasp and cry for Apis mellifera, I cannot anthropomorphize to achieve this goal, and I cannot make up anything. Every detail in the book has to be documented. It has to come from a reliable source.” 

By comparing this response from Candace to my comments on Monday (scroll down), it’s easy to see how a writer’s natural affinity for a particular writing style as well as her purpose for writing a piece play critical roles in how she decides to present the material. That’s why it's so beneficial to share book pairings or even multi-book text sets with students. 

By reading a variety of related passages, students can gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the topic as well as for all that the wonderful world of nonfiction has to offer. Children can also gain important insight into the kinds of texts they enjoy reading and writing the most.

After Memorial Day, I'll continue this discussion by sharing another set of passages on related topics but with different writing styles.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Expository vs. Narrative Nonfiction: Honeybees, Part 1

For several years now, I’ve been using this visual to summarize the basic difference between the two nonfiction writing styles—narrative and expository.


During conference sessions and professional development workshops, I often read aloud two books about the same topic, but with different writing styles to help solidify the concept in my audience’s mind. Fourth grade teacher and children's book author Kate Narita recently suggested that I do something similar on my blog for people who haven’t had a chance to see me present in person.

So for the next few weeks, on Mondays, I’m going to share an expository passage from my upcoming book Ick! Delightfully Disgusting Animal Dinners, Dwellings, and Defenses and talk a little bit about my process.

Then, on Wednesdays, I’m going to share a narrative nonfiction passage on the same topic from a book I love. Then the author will talk a little bit about her process.

Our first topic is honeybees. Today I’ll share a spread from my book, and on Wednesday, the uber-talented Candace Fleming will discuss her brand-new, totally amazing narrative nonfiction book Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis mellifera, illustrated by Caldecott Medalist Eric Rohmann.   

Okay, here’s the honeybee spread from my expository nonfiction book Ick! Delightfully Disgusting Animal Dinners, Dwellings, and Defenses. 

Notice that it’s illustrated with photographs, including a truly astonishing close-up image of a bee with a drop of nectar. The spread includes a variety of text features, including captions with fascinating facts and figures, a stat stack for kids who love data, a spit-tacular sidebar, and a factoid that compares honeybees to archerfish—another animal that relies on spit for its dinner.

Here’s the main text for this spread:

What’s in Your Honey
You probably know that honeybees make sweet, sticky honey. But do you know how? The process might surprise you.

1. A field bee—a honeybee that leaves the hive to collect nectar—sucks up thin, runny liquid from dozens of flowers. She swallows some of the nectar and stores the rest in her honey sac.

2. Back at the hive, the field bee upchucks the nectar, and a house bee slurps it into her honey sac. Little by little, she regurgitates the sugary stuff. As she rolls it around in her mouth, it mixes with her spit. The nectar warms up and thickens.

3. After the house bee spreads the mixture along honeycomb cells inside the hive, her sisters fan their wings over the cells. Water evaporates, causing the liquid to thicken even more.

4. After about five days, most honey is ready to eat. It’s nutritious and delicious!


Since this book focuses on animals that use substances like pee, poop, vomit, or spit to find, make, or catch food; make their homes; or defend themselves from predators, my goal on this spread was to explain how bees make honey (using spit). 

To make the expository description engaging, I employed a casual, conversational voice and included lots of strong, precise verbs; alliteration; and a tiny bit of rhyme.

A numbered list is a great way to convey this information clearly and succinctly to curious kids who are excited to soak up ideas and information about the world. The linear progression helps young fact-loving minds digest and remember the content, so they can quickly and easily share the tantalizing tidbits with their family and friends—something many kids love to do

This way of presenting the material seems natural to me. It appeals strongly to my analytical mind. But thanks to a growing body of research, I recognize that this approach may not be right for every child. 

Some children are narrative lovers who prefer stories and storytelling. Luckily, Candace Fleming has created a wonderful book that’s perfect for these kids. And that’s why we’ll be taking an in-depth look at Honeybee on Wednesday. 

What I think you’ll ultimately realize is that, to reach the greatest number of kids, teachers should recognize the range of readers in their classroom and pair passages with different characteristics. This strategy gives all children access to text they can connect with AND text that helps them stretch and grow as readers.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Getting Ready to Research, Part 3

Since the 2019-2020 school year marks the 10th Anniversary of this blog, on Fridays, I’m resurrecting and updating old posts that sparked a lot of conversation or that still have a lot to offer people teaching or writing nonfiction. Today’s essay is number 3 in a six-part series that originally appeared in spring 2016.

Because it’s difficult to create authentic, self-driven research experiences for early elementary students, I’m in the midst of sharing a series of activities that will allow K-2 students to develop research skills, such as visual literacy and information literacy, without actually doing research. As a result, they’ll be ready to start doing authentic research in third grade. 

Last week, I focused on using reading alouds as a foundation for teaching visual literacy. You can scroll down and read that post if you like. Today, I’m going to continue my discussion.


A few years ago, I attended a summer seminar at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA. The instructor introduced us to Visual Teaching Strategies, a method developed by the museum community to help children think critically about fine art. The Carle’s workshop emphasized using the method to explore the illustrations in fiction picture books, but I’ve discovered that the method works equally well with nonfiction picture books. 

When I work with students, I like to use art from four books I’ve written—A Place for Turtles, Feathers: Not Just for Flying, When Rain Falls, and Under the Snow). Here are some suggestions for implementing the method in your classroom or library. 

After selecting a few illustrations to share with the class, cover the words, as shown below, so that students’ minds can roam free. Show the first image with a document camera and encourage students to look at it closely. Then ask: “What do you think is happening in this picture?” When a child has answered, follow up with: “What do you see that makes you say that?” 

As you guide an active class discussion with these two simple questions, students build observation and communication skills while developing confidence in their ability to construct meaning from visuals. To facilitate the conversation and promote full-class engagement, help students stay focused on the topic, restate students’ comments and ideas, and encourage the class to give students the time they need to formulate and express their ideas. 

As students discuss this image, they say the bird could be hunting or taking a bath or getting a drink of water or taking off or landing. Without the words, we just can’t tell.

This is where the Visual Teaching Strategies method ends, but I’ve added another step that I think makes the activity even more powerful. As the class discussion winds down, I reveal the text, as shown below, and read it aloud. 

Then I ask the children a key question: “Would you have drawn something different if you were the illustrator?” The students usually make some great suggestions. 

If time is limited, I move on to the next illustration, but if possible, I invite students to create the illustration they envision. And the results are amazing!


What’s next in getting ready for research? Next week I’ll discuss way to help students learn to extract key content-area information as they read fiction and nonfiction picture books. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Beyond the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Blended Books, Part 3


For the last few weeks, I’ve been taking a close-up look at blended books—titles that feature characteristics of two or more categories in the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction classification system. This week I’m continuing that discussion by focusing on books that blur the line between narrative nonfiction and expository literature. 

Books with a narrative writing style tell a story or convey an experience. They include real characters, settings, and scenes. Books with an expository writing style explain, describe, or inform in a clear, accessible fashion. 

Nearly all narrative nonfiction includes expository bridges that transition from one scene to the next and provide necessary background information, but many expository literature titles are entirely exposition.

Books that blend narrative nonfiction and expository literature contain roughly equal amounts of expository and narrative text, with authors moving seamlessly from one writing style to the other. 


Why do I think these books important? Because they’re exactly what highly-regarded school librarian Jonathan Hunt had in mind when he coined the term “gateway nonfiction.” These books have something for everyone, AND they can help all children build critical reading skills.  
The expository sections of high-quality, high-interest blended books will captivate fact-loving kids. The clear explanations and descriptions will feel comfortable and familiar to them, giving these students the confidence and motivation to tackle the narrative sections. And once these info-kids learn to access and enjoy narrative text, they can discover how characters—both real and imagined—exist in the world and successfully overcome challenges.

Similarly, young narrative lovers will be drawn to the story-rich sections of blended books, inspiring them to do the work necessary to digest and comprehend the expository passages. As a result, they’ll be better equipped to wrangle the complex expository texts they’ll encounter in middle school, high school, and college, and in their future careers. 

And that brings me to what I think is one of the most important attributes of the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction classification system. When students understand the wide world of nonfiction books at their disposal, they can more easily identify the characteristics of blended nonfiction that match their natural reading preferences and learn to navigate the portions of the text outside their comfort zone. 

Approaching nonfiction in this way puts students in the driver’s seat. It helps them understand their reading strengths and challenges, and it encourages them to stretch and grow as readers.

For me, that’s the end game. It’s what I hope for all children . . . because before a child can become a
confident, lifelong reader, they must first be able to successfully interact with a broad range of fiction and nonfiction texts.



For more information about blended nonfiction and gateway nonfiction, be on the look out for 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing with Children’s Books, coming soon from Stenhouse Publishing. 

Monday, May 11, 2020

Narrative & Expository: Two Nonfiction Writing Styles

If you’re like most educators, you’ve probably heard the terms narrative nonfiction and expository nonfiction, but you might not be completely clear about the differences between these two writing styles. 


Let’s start with what narrative nonfiction and expository nonfiction have in common. They’re both meticulously researched, and every single fact and idea the author includes can be verified. 

The difference between the two writing styles lies in how the ideas and information are presented. Narrative nonfiction tells a story or conveys an experience, whereas expository nonfiction explains, describes, or informs in a clear, accessible fashion

Narrative nonfiction appeals strongly to fiction lovers because it includes real characters and settings; narrative scenes; and, ideally, a narrative arc with rising tension, a climax, and a resolution. The scenes, which give readers an intimate look at the world and people being described, are linked by expository transitions that provide necessary background while speeding through parts of the true story that don’t require close inspection. 

The art of crafting narrative nonfiction lies in pacing, which means choosing just the right scenes to flesh out. Narrative nonfiction typically features a chronological sequence text structure and is ideally suited for biographies and books that recount historical events. It also works well for books that describe the process of doing science.

Expository nonfiction, on the other hand, shares ideas and information in a direct, straightforward way. It often relies heavily on format and design to help convey meaning, and it’s more likely than narrative nonfiction to includes a wide variety of text features.

Expository nonfiction comes in many different forms. In some cases, the sole goal of an expository title is to share fascinating facts. Examples include The Guinness Book of World Records and Time for Kids Big Book of Why. In other cases, books with an expository writing style can help readers learn a new skill, such baking cookies or making origami. 

Some expository nonfiction books provide a general overview of a topic, such as the human body or Ancient Egypt. Expository nonfiction can also focus on a specific concept, such as how our skeleton is similar to those of other animals or unusual ways birds use their feathers. These more specialized books often present ideas and information in creative or unexpected ways. 

Comparing Narrative and Expository Nonfiction
One of the best ways for you and your students to gain a solid understanding of the difference between narrative and expository writing styles is to read and compare the books Red-Eyed Tree Frog by Joy Cowley and Nic Bishop (narrative) and Frog or Toad? How Do You Know? by Melissa Stewart (expository). These books are short and simple, and they’re both about frogs. 

As you read Red-Eyed Tree Frog, you can easily identify all the elements of a good story.

Pages 2-3
Author introduces setting (evening in the rain forest)
Pages 4-5
Author introduces main character (the red-eyed tree frog)
Pages 6-7
Author introduces main conflict (the frog is hungry)
Pages 8-9
Frog searches for food
Pages 10-11
Frog searches for food
Pages 12-13
Author introduces subconflict (a hunting boa constrictor)
Pages 14-15
Rising tension (snake moves toward frog)
Pages 16-17
Rising tension (snake spots frog)
Pages 18-19
Resolution of subconflict (frog jumps to safety)
Pages 20-21
Frog spots a moth
Pages 22-23
Resolution of main conflict (frog eats moth)
Pages 24-25
Falling action (frog climbs onto leaf)
Pages 26-27
Falling action (frog goes to sleep)
Pages 28-29
Satisfying circular ending (morning comes to rain forest)

Before you begin reading Frog or Toad? How Do You Know?, take a few minutes to preview this expository nonfiction book in search of text features. You will find a table of contents (page 2), glossary (page 3), list of references (22-23 pages), and index (page 24). As you page through the main text, you will notice headings, photos with labels, and boldfaced glossary terms. 

As you read, you will see that the book is organized as follows:

Pages 4-5
Introduction
Pages 6-7
Compares skin of frog (verso) to the skin of the toad (recto)
Pages 8-9
Compares length of back legs of frog (verso) to length of back legs of toad (recto)
Pages 10-11
Compares body shape of frog (verso) to body shape of toad (recto)
Pages 12-13
Compares teeth of frog (verso) to teeth of toad (recto)
Pages 14-15
Compares song of frog (verso) to song of toad (recto)


At this point, stop reading for a moment and ask a question: What is the book’s text structure? Even elementary readers who have recently been introduced to text structures can easily answer this question. It’s Compare and Contrast. 

Now flip to the end of the main text and examine the colorful double-page infographic. It provides a fitting conclusion by summarizing all the frog vs. toad characteristics described throughout the book.

By reading these books aloud and discussing them, both adults and students can gain a solid understanding of the key differences between narrative nonfiction and expository nonfiction writing styles.