State and national standards are changing to emphasize the reading of more informational texts in elementary grades. In fact, Common Core standards require that 50% of reading in elementary grades should focus on reading non-fiction, informational text. Why?
- Reading informational text in elementary school prepares students for high school and college. Most of the text read in later grades focuses on informational text. When students have learned strategies for comprehension of non-fiction, the transition to academic reading in high school and college will be smoother.
- Reading informational text builds prior knowledge and academic vocabulary for later learning. One of the strongest predictors for academic success is academic vocabulary. Informational text is dense with new, content-specific words that build a foundation for knowledge in fields such as science and history. The Common Core standards reflect this goal when they state, “By reading texts in history/social studies, science, and other disciplines, students build a foundation of knowledge in these areas that will also give them background to be better readers in all content areas.”
- Informational text helps English language learners. Non-fiction books usually contain realistic pictures that support the words in the text. With locally contextualized content, students learning to read in a second language can connect familiar images with words from their new language.
- Non-fiction texts teach children about the real world, and they love it! Children love to learn about the world around them. Social studies informational texts share stories about people and places around the world. They highlight the challenges and accomplishments of real people from the past. Science non-fiction informs students of the amazing natural world that surrounds them. Children are naturally curious, and they love to learn about “real” things.
Unfortunately, studies show that elementary classrooms are primarily focused on fiction texts. According a recent study, students in primary grades spend 25 minutes each day reading. But less than four minutes of that time is spent reading non-fiction. (Rideout, Foehr, & Roberts)
So how can we encourage reading informational texts in elementary classrooms?
- Use informational text during read-alouds. The read-aloud (or shared reading) time is essential to modeling strategies for successful comprehension. And learning to read informational text is more difficult. Students need to learn the pacing and strategies specific to this kind of text. However, 98% of teachers acknowledge that they didn’t do enough read-alouds of informational text. Teachers need to bring non-fiction stories into this essential instructional period.
- Place informational texts in classroom libraries. Look for texts that appeal to student interest areas and that are visually appealing. For independent reading, lots of pictures and enticing text features encourage students. Fill your little library with books that hook students on non-fiction.
- Pair non-fiction and fiction books. When you are planning to read a fiction story, pair it with a related non-fiction book. For example, read the fiction book, George and Martha Round and Round, and the non-fiction text, Owen & Mzee: The Language of Friendship. This approach bridges the gap between fiction and non-fiction and creates opportunities for discussion similarities and differences when studying different types of texts.
- Make real-life connections with informational text. Give students the opportunity to share ways that informational texts connect to their lives. Students will learn that non-fiction reading covers every topic in the world around them which encourages students to engage with more informational texts in the future!