K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

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Daniel Lunk
Date created
March 2011
Flash Video
This video copyright ©2011. Terms of use

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In this video, classroom footage and teacher interviews explore the features of nonfiction texts and illustrate how instruction with nonfiction differs from instruction using fictional texts.

This video is one in a three-part series about teaching with informational text. The other videos include:

The videos are associated with the article “The Power of Nonfiction: Using Informational Text to Support Literacy in Special Populations.”


Sheri Wieczorek (00:05)
Which one do you like better? The historical fiction or this one?
Students (00:08)
This one.
Sheri Wieczorek (00:10)
Student (00:11)
Because it has more facts.
Sheri Wieczorek (00:12)
I believe if we want our children and our students to be lifelong learners, they need to be well-rehearsed in how to read nonfiction. And they need to have more nonfiction resources available to the children as well as the teachers.
Karen Caroscio Allen  (00:28)
We know fiction means—
Students (00:30)
Not real.
Karen Caroscio Allen (00:31)
Not real. So what does history mean? What does history mean, Carly?
Student (00:39)
Like something in the past.
Karen Caroscio Allen (00:42)
Something that happened in the past.
Karen Caroscio Allen (00:44)
So does that mean that it’s true?
Students (00:50)
No. No. Not necessarily.
Karen Caroscio Allen (00:53)
If it happened in the past, does it mean it’s true? Let’s not answer. Let’s think.
Students (00:58)
Karen Caroscio Allen (00:59)
Did it really happen?
Students (01:00)
Karen Caroscio Allen (01:01)
So did history really happen?
Students (01:03)
Karen Caroscio Allen (01:04)
Yes. So this part is true information. This is not real.
Karen Caroscio Allen (01:12)
The difference between teaching fiction and nonfiction, your fiction, you’re focused on different features. More summary with characters, setting, problem, solution, and it’s an easier read. The kids are used to that. They’ve been reading fiction for a long time. Nonfiction, the features are different. We’re talking about facts. We’re talking about diagrams. You know, we’re not talking about pictures anymore. We’re having to be able to read the diagram. We have captions that we’re trying to read. There are subtitles. So we have to pull out those features.
Karen Caroscio Allen (01:43)
What would be the purpose of a map?
Karen Caroscio Allen (01:48)
We have a different approach to teaching both, both things. We teach the kids when would you want to use a fictional book and when would you want to use a nonfictional book? But it’s really nice to have a pairing, to have a fictional book and then pair it with a nonfictional book, so the kids can see differences and similarities and get the facts along with having an enjoyable read.
Sheri Wieczorek (02:07)
I’m reading you this story, picture book of Harriet Tubman, so we can compare a nonfiction story to the historical fiction that we read yesterday. While we’re reading I want you to keep in mind: What parts yesterday made that story fiction?

Sheri Wieczorek (02:25)
[reading] Slaves often sang in the fields. The afternoon before Harriet ran off, she sang too. And in the words of her song was a message to the other slaves.
Student (02:37)
In the reading book, it said that she was singing it to her sister, while her sister was running into the house. And this book says she was telling it to all the other slaves in the field.
Sheri Wieczorek (2:48)
Teaching with informational texts versus fiction, I think it’s very different. I try to tell the kids with the fiction you read pretty much for enjoyment. Or you chose that book because it’s entertaining, whereas informational text is a lot of time to persuade you to do something or to inform you, give you more, again, information about a topic. And with that I try to tell them, think — even though you do it for fiction — think about what you’re reading, but really comprehend the steps. You know, what are they, what are you reading about? If you’re reading about tornadoes, make sure you read your captions. Read it, maybe, slower and give it more thought. With informational texts than a fiction, really, again, think about what you’re reading. How does this go along with my life, or, you know, text to text, or text to self. Why is this information important to me?

When a student has difficultly with that, with the fiction and the nonfiction, I just kind of sit down and we talk about the elements. The different elements of the story, of a fiction versus nonfiction. I kind of go over the fiction story with them and then work with them with the nonfiction, and they can compare and contrast. That really helps them a lot when you can compare and contrast: Okay, this is real, even though this is nonfiction and this is realistic fiction, and we really talk about the basic difference between realistic fiction and nonfiction. And that kind of helps them, but they still do get confused with realistic fiction as well as nonfiction and informational texts. And that’s just constant practice and constantly comparing and contrasting, talking about, you know, this could happen but this is not a real person.
Student (04:21)
That’s a nonfiction. Some nonfiction stories look like — their pictures look like they’re fake from the pictures.
Jennifer Coffey (04:29)
Right. Now this nonfiction had what kind of pictures?
Students (04:32)
Jennifer Coffey (04:33)
Real pictures. This one, are the pictures real?
Students (04:35)
Jennifer Coffey (04:36)
They’re drawn, but does it mean it’s not nonfiction? It can still be nonfiction. What kind of book do you think it is?
Students (04:43)
Jennifer Coffey (04:44)
Nonfiction. Why do you think it’s nonfiction? Someone else tell me why it’s nonfiction.
Student (04:48)
Cause it looks like real clouds.
Jennifer Coffey (04:49)
Okay. It looks like real clouds. It’s got some real pictures. What else would I find in a nonfiction book?
Student (04:54)
Jennifer Coffey (04:55)
When I turn the page, what should I find?
Student (04:56)
Index and in the back a glossary.
Jennifer Coffey (05:01)
Okay. In the back should be an index and a glossary.
Student (05:03)
And a table of contents.
Jennifer Coffey (05:05)
Students (05:06)
A table of contents.
Jennifer Coffey (05:07)
There’s my glossary. And then what’s in the front?
Students (05:10)
Table of contents.
Jennifer Coffey (05:12)
The table of contents. And look at what’s in my table of contents. How clouds form. Where are clouds? Well then look at this. It says cumulus clouds, stratus clouds, cirrus clouds, nimbus clouds.
Student (05:25)
What are nimbus clouds?
Jennifer Coffey (05:27)
Well, that’s a good question.
Jennifer Coffey (05:28)
Informational text is there. It’s real. You can really, really dig into a lot of vocabulary words, which I like. You know, a lot of new words they can learn. It just depends on what you actually want to try to work on or pull out of the book.
Jennifer Coffey (05:41)
What is my heading right there? Can you read that? I’m gonna give you a hint. Cu-mu-lus clouds. Look at the picture. What do they look like?
Sheri Wieczorek (05:57)
We did a wax museum on famous people and my decade was the seventies. I had a student who was doing Michael Jackson and I was trying to explain to him, “You’re doing Michael Jackson from the 1970s, not the 80s and the 90s.” Well he did, he brought a Michael Jackson biography, but I was showing him that this is his whole life from the time he was born to the time he passed. So I said, “Look, you want the 70s. You don’t want to read page one to five hundred and ninety five. You want, here’s the chapters. Just read those chapters and that’s going to be all that you need.” You know, “Those forty pages out of your five hundred.” And that helped him a lot, and he was like, “Oh really? I don’t have to read it cover to cover?” So that does help a lot, telling the students that the nonfiction with the table of contents. I know we’ve got the web, but still they need to learn how to pick up a book and read a book, instead of looking it up on the web.