January – for me anyway – has been all facts! I am knee-deep in nonfiction right now and absolutely loving it. Truth be told, I’ve always loved informational books (think: historical fiction).
When I was tutoring, I loved using nonfiction picture books and easy readers because the format allows kids to explore without having to remember story arcs or characters. Here’s what sharing nonfiction has taught me …
Kids actually read more text because they want to learn more about what’s in that picture.
Readers retain more because they would absorb a specific fact or select set of information.
Fidgety readers could move all around the book – read page 10 before page 3 – and not “miss” anything.
To paraphrase our friends at Reading Rainbow, there is no end to what we can learn in a book. Readers of all ages can enjoy a nonfiction book, if for no other reason they have pictures to look at. To demonstrate that idea, I thought I’d share two books from Rourke Educational Media and show how they can be used with readers of different readiness levels.
As you can see from the reading and interest levels, this book is meant for independent readers. There is lots of text and big words that young readers may not understand or be able to decipher. Younger readers will be lured by the cute seals, arctic fox, and colorful photography.
Left to explore the book, they can get a lot out of it just by looking at the pictures and reading the photo captions and the “Chew on This” insets. Sitting with a child, parents and caregivers can either read or paraphrase the more detailed information.
Although this book is for an elementary audience, the reading level is at the high end of that group. There are concepts (like ISO codes) that young students wouldn’t understand; but the book is peppered with “Interesting Fun Facts” that are simple, one-sentence pieces of trivia about money around the world (like why the 2-dollar Canadian coin is called a toonie).
There are so many topics you can talk about using this book as your starting point. Pull out a globe and it is a chance to introduce children to other places in the world. Diverse school populations open doors for students to bring in samples of money from their homeland, or maybe what things cost … which leads us to math. That fabulous picture of US currency (above) could help a first or second grader learning about money see the items side by side, front and back.
The great thing about books that cross reading readiness levels is that they have a great shelf life. What started as an interest in looking at cute seal pictures in first grade becomes a handy resource for the ecosystems project in fifth!
Using an Accelerated Reader program may be a standard reading approach to elementary-level teachers but new to parents and young students. It is a computerized reading management program that can motivate – even the most reluctant readers – to read.
Fifth and sixth grade Language Arts teacher, Ms. Amy Rollins from Indian Trail Intermediate School in Johnson City, TN, is currently using the Accelerated Reader program with Big Universe titles daily. Her students choose a book, which is preselected to be within his/her reading level, then answer a comprehension quiz, receiving immediate feedback on performance. She is able to monitor all her students through Big Universe.
Ms. Rollins finds that the greatest benefit to using Big Universe is “so many titles are AR. Since most books are non-fiction, it doesn’t take the students long to read one and then go take an AR test on the book.” She explains that reading comprehension of non-fiction titles is a much-needed skill for students because “Nonfiction is what all adults have to read, especially ‘Informational Text.’ It’s a life skill. Fiction will only be read as an adult by choice. Most elementary students in lower grades spend a lot of time reading fiction stories. Only in recent years has there been an emphasis on nonfiction. In addition, when it comes to testing, more and more test passages are long, nonfiction pieces.”
One of her classroom challenges is finding high-interest titles that appeal to boys, and Ms. Rollins maintains that “The Big Universe high-interest topics make it perfect for reluctant readers, especially boys. I think a lot of teachers will agree that it’s easier to get girls interested in reading than boys. In most classroom libraries, there will be many fiction stories/books to choose from, but not many nonfiction titles. Boys tend to want to read nonfiction. It’s higher interest (sports, bugs, animals, space, etc.) as opposed to fiction. There will be a few reluctant readers that are girls, but most are boys. Either way, it’s easier to get them to read a shorter, nonfiction book than a long chapter book. Chapter books are overwhelming to a reluctant reader.”
“My reluctant readers want to get on Big Universe every day.” She adds that two of her students have previously struggled to reach their AR goal, but experienced a reading breakthrough. “Finally, in the 5th grade, they attained their AR goal, thanks to Big Universe reading selections!”
She adds, “Becoming a better reader takes practice. Big Universe allows students to practice reading more than ever before! And they love it!”
I am in a cinnamon-spice-peak-of-autumn kind of mood. When I get in one of those moods, I want a “just so” book to go along with it. In this case, something tasty … smooth like a warm custard pie right out of the oven. So glad I found Pumpkins by Jacqueline Farmer (Charlesbridge Publishing).
In a word: YUM!
Yum because Phyllis Limbacher Tildes’ illustrations are perfect.
Yum because this looks like a picture book but it is pure nonfiction.
And yum because there are great-sounding recipes in the back.
Farmer has packed this slim volume with SO much information. Now I knew that pumpkin is a fruit not a vegetable, but I had no idea that people have found pumpkin seeds that are more than 11,000 years old. Did you know that pumpkin family is one of the Three Sisters of Native American culture? There are lots of cool facts like that (dare I say) scattered throughout the book.
I read a lot of nonfiction and what stood out for me is that the text is informational, just like you’d expect, but the illustrations are more like a picture book. There are no insets to sidetrack distractable readers or listeners; the imagery tell pieces of the story not put into words. For example, the spread on pages 12 and 13 cite the fact that nine out of ten pumpkins are used to make jack o’lanterns. Now look at the illustration.
There are nine carved pumpkins on the right-hand page and one pumpkin pie on the left. Ten pumpkins. Your reader can explore their faces and shapes while you read, and when you’re done you can count them together to do the math. What a great way to help kids see what ‘nine out of ten’ pumpkins looks like.
On page 11, two young students are reading a report about the Pilgrims of Plimouth (sic). Yes, we all know it is “plymouth” but a young reader could probably use the help of the “i” in decoding the word. Massachusetts might LOOK harder, but it is easy to parse. Ply-mouth … not so much. Last but not least, the illustration in the back is a glossary with a translation of “pumpkin” in 12 languages. What a great way to show kids in one image that pumpkin is a universal / global product.
This is a book that covers lots of ground. It can be shared as a picture book, but there is a LOT more
Social Studies – use the material about Native American and European cultures to talk about traditions (turnip carving anyone?);
Language Arts / Social Studies – take the jack o’lantern story to talk about folklore and traditions;
Science / Health – grab a pumpkin and try one (or all) of the activities: carving, roasting seeds, baking and cooking.
This is a book you can get out in the spring when the planting season begins and then pull out in the fall when its time for harvesting.
Before I go though, I do have one lingering question. Why are so many pumpkin-related records in Ohio? The world’s heaviest pumpkin (1,725 pounds) grew in Jackson Township, OH; The world’s largest pumpkin pie (2,020 pounds) was made in New Bremen, OH; and Jerry Ayers of Baltimore, OH carved 2,000 pounds of pumpkins “with detailed designs” in seven hours and 11 minutes.
Hmmm. Think I’ll need a piece of pie to figure that one out. You?
Earlier this week I wrote about the importance of having ready reference materials within arms’ reach of young learners. Kids have lots of questions about all kinds of things … almost from the time they start talking.
There are plenty of places to find the answers, but finding tools that meet them “where they are” is not as easy. As educators, our goal is to help them independently discover the answers in a way that makes sense to them. That is, the material neither talks down to them nor is it so complex they can’t understand it.
I recently discovered the Bellwether Media easy readers, and think they are an excellent addition to the early learner bookshelf. Among the collection on Big Universe readers will find books on nearly every type of transportation (civilian and military), animals and insects (stink bugs anyone?), geography, sports, and people.
The number of high-interest topics for boys exceeds anything I’ve ever seen by a single publisher. The books will also appeal to districts with a strong military community. Last but not least, these are titles that naturally complement – and expand on – the material kids can find in illustrated dictionaries, atlases, and fact books.
First put into use many decades ago, bullet trains remain one of the fastest ways to get from Point ! to Point B. This easy reader covers the history, technology, and how-it-works elements of this phenomenal transportation vehicle.
This is for readers in the second or third grade.
The author does a great job explaining the physics of how a bullet train works, making it a nice selection for science class, too.
The glossary includes multi-syllable words, including several Japanese and French.
Given the company’s target audience, the book needs phonetic presentations of foreign language terms.
byWalter Simmons Blastoff Readers series
Bellwether Media, 2011
Readers explore the geography, flora, and fauna of this island country in the Gulf of Mexico. The photographs and text are annotated with Spanish words and concepts.
Third and fourth graders can enjoy and draw information from this books.
All readers will learn something, as access to the country by US citizens has been restricted for more than 50 years.
The Spanish references are excellent and would make this a great partner read for ESL students.
The Fun Facts and Did You Know? insets are text heavy, making this a selection for more confident readers.
by Emily K. Green Blastoff Readers series
Bellwether Media, 2007
Deserts may be dry, but not all deserts are sandy … the world’s largest desert is actually covered in earth 365 days a year! Young readers will discover new facts and learn that pre-conceptions can be misconceptions. They’ll love telling their parents about Antarctica being a desert!
This is an easy reader for the first grade into second grade audience.
The sentence structure is simple, but it also introduces words that will require deciphering and an understanding of sound patterns (e.g., evaporate, oasis).
The www.factsurfer.com links – particularly the videos – help deepen a reader’s understanding of this subject.
Wherever and whenever its needed, the US Navy’s EA-6B Prowler is in the air, jamming enemy communications systems and protecting our military forces. Military units have been relying on the EA-6B for more than 40 years.
The most likely audience for this book are third and fourth graders.
The Fast Facts insets have the “wow” factor that grab readers and keep them on the page the read the rest of the text.
Readers must know how to read large numbers (e.g., 61,500) and understand some basic military concepts (e.g., electronic jamming and countermeasures).
There is more to a walkingstick than what meets the eye … if you can spot one, that is. These creatures, found in warm, wet parts of the world, are masters of camouflage. Each species adapts to the habitat within which it moves.
Kindergarteners and first graders will be fascinated by this book.
The vocabulary words in bold are also tagged in the actual illustrations, pointing out the object the reader needs to decode.
The book talks about camouflage and has plenty of illustrated examples, but it does not use the word in the text.
These are just a few of the Bellwether books you’ll find on BigUniverse.com. There are more than 180 titles in the collection that you can read online. Visit www.bellwethermedia.com to see their complete catalog for classrooms and libraries, including the Torque (sports, vehicles, adventur); Blastoff Readers (general nonfiction, for emerging and developing readers); Pilot (wild & dangerous animals, learn to draw); and Epic (military) series.
In the interest of full disclosure and transparency, I first learned of Bellwether Media Inc via BigUniverse.com. The opinions expressed are my own and do not represent either company.
Did you know that we had so many nonfiction books on Big Universe Learning?
To find the nonfiction books on Big Universe, simply go to the reading section of the site and click on the Advanced Search link on the right side of the screen. One of the genres you can select is nonfiction. If you just click there and then press the search button, you will get a list of the nonfiction books. You may want to type in some keywords to help you find what you want before you hit the search button.
I have found that when children and reading and trying to understand nonfiction books, they need to be doing something along with reading to help keep track of all the information.
I think a KWL, KWLH, or even FQR chart might work well ….
What Is K-W-L?. K-W-L is the creation of Donna Ogle and is a 3-column chart that helps capture the Before, During, and After components of reading a text selection.
K stands for Know This is the prior knowledge activation question.
W stands for Will or Want What do I think I will learn about this topic? What do I want to know about this topic?
L stands for Learned What have I learned about this topic?
Asking questions can engage and inspire learning! It also provides direction for what you want children to learn from a resource. I have shared a previous post on KWL and FQR charts which may work even better for nonfiction … Facts, Questions, and Responses.
These nonfiction information articles provide a place for guided practice on this type of text as well as what to do when you encounter words that you do not know when you read.
Another idea is for children to create posters/signs/lists online or offline of the interesting information the discover. You could even jigsaw this site by having different groups read each section and then report back to the other about what they learned. This could be a time for students to choose how to represent the information to share it!
Here are a few places you can find nonfiction reading strategies and lessons that could be used with the non-fiction books here on Big Universe:
As I mentioned last week, reading with your kids – even when there are many years between them – can be enjoyable for everyone to share together. Sometimes it may be about the book, but every time it is an opportunity to connect with your kids and connect them with each other!
With homework looming most days, it can be very hard to find time to be together and remind the kids that reading is for enjoyment, too. Even a ritual like reading a [insert: poem, chapter, picture book, comic strip] at the table one morning or evening a week is great. It is your tradition, so do what works for you!
In The Read Aloud Handbook (now in its Sixth Edition!) Jim Trelease emphasizes that as readers, we have a listening level and a reading level. In Hey! Listen to This! (an article on his website), he re-emphasizes this point.
A consistent mistake made by parents and teachers is the assumption that a child’s listening level is the same as his or her reading level. Until about eighth grade, that is far from true; early primary grade students listen many grades above their reading level. This means that early primary grade students are capable of hearing and understanding stories that are far more complicated than those they can read themselves.
What does that mean? Well, you don’t have to read only picture books with simple messages or text. Young audiences can be enticed to enjoy text-heavy picture books and chapter books alike. There are a number of genres that naturally lend themselves to reading to mixed-age audiences, including …
Nonfiction. More specifically, nonfiction picture books, also called “informational picture books.” One of the best ways to hook kids of any age on reading is to give them some nonfiction books. They may be straight-up factual books, or they may be stories that have lots of facts in them (think: historical fiction for example). The great thing about informational picture books is that they have something for everyone. These are books that invite exploring, so whether you read all of the text or just talk about the illustrations, you’re in for an enjoyable, shared read.
Poetry. Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein write poetry that is meant to be read aloud.
Their poems are very “graphic,” allowing readers to “see” what they describe, and they often have a nonsensical quality that strike kids’ funny bones.
Humor. Despite the dictionary description, defining “funny” is a matter of personal taste. Still, a good laugh is something we all enjoy. As a parent, you understand the types of humor your kids enjoy … and you can decide what types of things you want to share together.
Books with lots of dialogue. “Dialog books” aren’t a specific genre, but a lot of short chapter books use conversation among the characters to tell the story. There are usually only a few characters (often school-aged kids and an adult or two) so it is an opportunity for everyone to take a role and read together.
These are by no means the only genres. On her website, storyteller Mary Hamilton offers a handy checklist that describes reading interests for various ages, from preschool through high school.
When you are selecting a book the whole family can enjoy, what types of books do you pick? If you have a family – or classroom – favorite, be sure to share!
Mom reading with kids: Family Story Minute by Sean Dreilinger on Flicker. Copyright. Some rights reserved.
Collage of nonfiction picture books: University of Maryland News photostream on Flickr. Copyright. Some rights reserved University of Maryland Press Releases.
Bookshelf with poetry books. Thingamababy Awesome Wall photostream on Flickr. Copyright. All rights reserved.
Roscoe Riley by Katherine Applegate. Book cover image by Mr. Biggs photostream on Flickr. Copyright. All rights reserved.
Reading aloud is not only a great way to model reading, it can be lots of fun … especially when you add voices and noise and bring the story to life.
With “little kids,” reading aloud seems the natural thing to do. They can’t read the words on the page, so you do it for them. Once young readers become independent, though, we sometimes forget that they still enjoy – and can also benefit from – listening to you read. But who has time to read with each child every night? “Not I,” said the exhausted parent.
We need one book for sharing with everyone. But picking the right book can get tricky. The 9-year-old doesn’t want to hear “baby” books, and the preschooler isn’t ready for some of the subjects nor can they sit still that long! Finding books that interest your 4-year-old AND your preteen may be easier than it sounds.
Don’t give up on picture books. Librarian Pam Coughlan points out in a PBS Booklights post that sometimes those pre-teen protests are a surface reaction. See: Reading Aloud: Picture Books Rule! (MotherReader, March 2009). After the requisite “that’s for babies” teens will still sit and listen to a picture book. They may even surprise themselves with how much they enjoy their little brother’s reactions. The secret bonus: you are modeling reading for them so they can read to their brother later!
Chapter books need pictures, too. Illustrated chapter books are helpful because young audiences often need the images which engage their interest while you read pages with a lot more text. In general, the chapters in these books are short, making it easy to read in small spurts and over consecutive nights.
Mix it up. Sometimes you have enough time – and the kids’ temperaments are in sync – to read something that each child likes, and you can share a picture book and a chapter or two from a longer story. On those days when your energy is low, just pick one. The kids will understand … and be happy not to miss the chance to spend quality time with you.
Regularly sharing a book as a family will not only let you reconnect and renew a love of stories and books. Who knows, as everyone becomes readers, maybe everyone will want a turn!
Toes and a book: Public photo on Flicker.com. Copyright All rights reserved by Tina Cockburn Photography, tcockburn2002.
December 7th is a day that stands out in US History. Do you know why? Do your students know?
On Big Universe Learning, I found World War II by Lisa Zamosky and Wendy Conklin. This book is one of the Primary Source Readers from Teacher Created Materials Publishing. This book starts off talking about December 7, 1941 (that is actually the beginning of the first sentence) in a section called ” Secret Missions and Superbombs.” This book contains great pictures, captions, news articles, famous leaders, symbols, and extra information to help answer questions and fill in the gaps. You could work on lots of nonfiction characteristics using this book as well.
Here are some great resources that could be used along with this book:
From PBS: Freedom: A History of US: Pearl Harbor ispart of the excellent PBS site based on Joy Hakim’s A History of US,this focuses on the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and the ramifications of the attack. You can access primary sources andphotographs to bring this part of American history come alive.
From The War Times Journal: Pearl Harbor Animated Maps presents animated Pearl Harbor maps that provide an overview of the areas that were attacked and the actual action that took place.
From ThinkQuest: The Pearl Harbor Story shares a very detailed description of the events leading up to the war, the
Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the outcome. Be sure to check the interactive map and the survivor and eye witness accounts. The site also provides great animated photos.
From Calisphere: Pearl Harbor includes a broad selection of images featuring Japanese-Americans during World War II can be found on this site by Calisphere. By clicking on individual images you’ll find high quality photographs and image information.
From Scholastic: Our America: World War II is a way to learn about World War II and the American home front through diaries, interviews with those lived through these times, and writing about what you’ve learned.
From EDSITEment: Turning the Tide in the Pacific 1941-1943 includes activity sheets, student resources, and media, (This from the We The People program: We the People is an NEH program designed to encourage and enhance the teaching, study, and understanding of American history, culture, and democratic principles. )
From National Geographic Education: A Date That Will Live in Infamy includes the article and vocabulary. There are also links for further exploration (audio, video, interactives, websites) Grades 5-12
On December 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy” in the words of President Franklin Roosevelt, many Americans were called upon to act as
heroes. Countless Americans gave their lives in defense of our country and its citizens in Pearl Harbor. Similarly, the surprise attacks on
America on September 11, 2001, called for heroic acts of selflessness from ordinary citizens, as well as firemen, police, military personnel,
and other government workers. Ask students to compare these two events using the interactive Venn Diagram. How are they alike? How are they different?How did each event change American citizens’ perspectives on war and the need for war? How did the two different Presidents of the United States
react? What was different about the media coverage?
Big Universe provides a wealth of both fiction and nonfiction stories to read. In my classroom, I often read fiction books with my students either as read alouds or in guided/independent reading time. We have end of the year test that use mostly pieces of nonfiction to assess reading skills.. Realizing that difference, I think we need to help our children understand there are different ways to tackle reading a fiction story and a nonfiction story. The nonfiction books on Big Universe are a great place to start.
I have some questions that I use to think about the ways to approach reading these different genres. (I don’t necessarily use these questions exactly as they are worded here when I use them to talk to students.)
What is that author’s goal when writing a fictional story?
What is a reader’s goal when reading a fictional story?
What is the author’s goal when writing a piece of nonfiction?
What is the reader’s goal when reading a piece of nonfiction?
What evidence or data does an author need to support the information provided in a fictional story?
What evidence or data does an author need to support the information provided in a piece of nonfiction?
Are there concepts and ideas that a reader needs to understand before reading a fictional a story?
Are there concepts and ideas that a reader needs to understand before reading a piece of nonfiction?
How can knowing about these concepts and ideas help a reader’s understanding/comprehension?
How can not knowing about these concepts and ideas hurt a reader’s understanding/comprehension?
What assumptions does a reader have concerning reading a fictional story?
What assumptions does a reader have concerning reading a piece of nonfiction?
What assumptions do writers make when choosing to write a certain genre?
What assumptions do readers make when choosing to read a certain genre?
This post is inspired by Dawn Little’s (AKA Links to Literacy) Book Buddies blog post where she explained the benefits of pairing fiction and nonfiction readings to increase comprehension and engagement, and to increase background knowledge about a subject. Unfortunately, most of our home, classroom, and school library book collections are limited. The public library is always an option, but there are times when you aren’t able to make the trip to the library. Why not utilize the Big Universe website for your fiction and nonfiction pairings? There are hundreds of books to choose from!
Just search for your topic using the Search bar:
Screenshot of The Big Universe Search Box
-or- Browse the different categories:
Screenshot of the Category option
Leave a comment for other pairings that you discover on the Big University website.
Here are a few to get you started:
Nonfiction- Bear Cubs by Anne Wendorff This book answers basic questions about bear cubs: newborn facts, what they eat, how they play, & how they grow.
Nonfiction- Carolina’s Story: Sea Turtles Get Sick Too!by Donna Rathmell The true photo journal story of a critically ill loggerhead sea turtle, as she is cared for and nursed back to health at the Sea Turtle Hospital of the South Carolina Aquarium.
Fiction- Turtles in my Sandbox by Jennifer Keats Curtis A little girl discovers baby turtles in her sandbox. She gets information from various sources and turtle-sits them until they are ready to be released back into their natural habitat.
Keisa Williams (aka Ms. K) is a K-5 School Librarian at Monarch Academy, a public charter school in Oakland, CA. She is certified in secondary and elementary education (MLIS and MEd) and loves collaborating with teachers and integrating technology into her library lessons. She considers herself a “Technology Diva” and “Gadget Junkie”.