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Monday, November 18, 2013

Nonfiction Reading

Even little baby readers know that reading nonfiction is different than reading fiction.  I'll never forget the day that my own daughter came home with her first nonfiction book in a bag and announced, "Mommy, I can start anywhere I want to when I read tonight, because this book is NONFICTION!"

Now that we are more sophisticated readers, we know that this is only partly true.  Good nonfiction readers do begin their nonfiction reading differently than their fiction reading, but it's not really about just picking a starting point.  Reading nonfiction means thinking about the text before, during, and after our reading.

PREview, PREdict, PREpare

We've learned that nonfiction readers spend time before they ever begin reading the main text previewing the text.  They focus on the text feature, which includes photographs, captions, diagrams, charts, maps, headings, footnotes, text boxes, and more.  We use these text features to get an idea about the topic of the text and predict what main ideas we'll learn about.

Taking it a step further, we've learned that sometimes readers can rephrase subheadings into questions, giving us a guiding purpose for our reading as we move throughout the article or book.  As we read, we'll carry these questions in our mind, looking for the answers.

Stop and Think

Reading nonfiction means stopping and thinking many times throughout the text.  As we come to the end of a section, we should stop to ask ourselves, "What did I just learn?"  We can take this time to jot a quick main idea in the margins or box the main idea phrase in the text.  The best readers might also underline the key words in supporting details, helping them hang onto their learning as they read.  

Good readers will also ask, "How did this section fit with other sections I've read?"  This second step helps us to recognize how the author has organized the text.  Is the author writing to describe?  Are they comparing and contrasting more than one idea or topic?  Am I reading about a cause and its effect?  Is that cause a problem?  If so, did they also write about the solution?  Does this text teach about a series of events that happen(ed) in a particular order, or sequence?  Understanding how a text is structured gives us a glimpse into the author's purpose and helps a reader to understand the most important ideas of the text.

Think Back, Write Long & Talk

Good nonfiction readers do not just read texts and walk away.  The best readers know that they're really reading nonfiction to become experts.  The goal is to truly learn from our nonfiction reading.  Learning means the knowledge you gain from a text becomes YOURS forever and always.  In order to achieve this level or understanding and forever knowing, good readers will think back on all that they've read, asking questions like: What is the author's big idea?  What do I think the author really wanted to teach me?  What does that mean?  Why is this important?  

Two strategies for helping readers reach these deeper understandings are writing and talking.  By putting what we've learned into our own words, orally or on a page, we're truly making it our own.  

Readers, what are some strategies you've enjoyed learning and practicing for nonfiction reading?  What is something you've learned about how reading nonfiction is different than reading fiction?  How can these nonfiction reading strategies help you in your fiction reading?


  1. Chatfield definitely practices the Think Back, Write Long & Talk Strategy with his nonfiction reading. It impresses me every time he shares a specific fact or detail he has learned from a book!

  2. Love your post! And perfect timing!


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