The benefits of teaching with nonfiction
Download video file (Right-click or option-click)
In this video, classroom footage and teacher interviews explore the benefits of teaching with informational text. Teachers discuss particular student populations that benefit from reading nonfiction, including exceptional children, English language learners, students with learning disabilities, and reluctant readers.
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.”
- Karen Caroscio Allen (00:08)
- Selecting texts for the different levels of my classroom is definitely one of the most challenging pieces. In small group, obviously, it’s easier because you can base it on the small-group needs but in whole group what I’ve done this year is try to just use varied text throughout the week. So some days it’ll be a higher-level text and some days it will be easier.
- Our school also has talked as a grade-level team about pulling some kids out using our resources such as our exceptional children teachers and our ESL teachers and that has helped to support those kids that are on the lower end. As far as the higher end, we really base that in the classroom so I’ll just give books that are on their level.
- Jennifer Coffey (00:49)
- Some children that I have, they just are interested in real-life things. You know, the fiction just does not, I mean it’s entertaining, but they would rather do the real life, what’s going on, I can learn from this, I can go out in the pond and find a frog or you know and I can understand what’s really going on.
- I have some special needs children who get that more because it’s real and it’s there and it’s information, whereas they don’t have to figure a lot of it out sometimes it’s better for them. I have some children who are completely obsessed with certain topics and so when they focus on that information, whether it be animals, or insects, or boats, or, you know, whatever, the informational text is something that will really give them what they want. I mean they really get into that and they learn all the facts and they continue to pore over those books to learn more and more and more and more. And it’s good with children who have learning disability because of the vocabulary terms that are in there and because of the real-life pictures that they may not know or they may not understand otherwise. It’s right there and they can look at it and read it and understand it better, I think.
- I have some books in here that were Nature’s Children books, where it’s got animals in it and I found that in the beginning of the year, that’s all they took to read. And some of them couldn’t read it real well but they would still pick that book, those books every single time. And I would say, “You’ve got to be able” — “Well, I can read this sentence or I can read this caption,” but those were the books they were drawn to the most. And I think it’s cause the pictures were real, they could read the captions if they couldn’t read anything else, so they kind of would skim through and read what they could read of it. But those were the ones that they liked the best.
- Karen Caroscio Allen (02:31)
- On vocabulary, that’s probably the toughest thing for our students with nonfiction and just not — some of them don’t have the experience with the topics and so our nonfictional texts we’re trying to give them those experiences but they don’t have the vocabulary. That’s our challenge as the teacher is to break it down and then build it back up so they can understand that concept.
- Jennifer Coffey (02:52)
- Throughout the year I can tell how they’ve changed. Obviously, their vocabulary gets larger because there’s more words that they learn in there that they could apply to real life because most of the texts are real-life information that they’re getting out of it.
- Jennifer Coffey (03:08) [in class]
- What is my question? See if you can read my question for today. Faith, what’s my question?
- Student (03:11)
- What are clouds?
- Jennifer Coffey (03:12)
- What are clouds? Some of my vocabulary today is a little bit harder.
- Student (03:19)
- You keep getting harder and harder!
- Jennifer Coffey (03:20)
- I keep getting harder and harder. These are not a lot of words that we’ve heard before but they have to do with clouds.
- Jennifer Coffey (03:27)
- I think that they understand things more when we read them from the informational text. As far as, like, the presidents they’ve learned a lot of information that they did not know anything about. So they’ve learned new information that they may not have been exposed to in another type of text. But in the informational text it seems like they’ve learned more real-life things or things they could apply to their life, make more of a connection than maybe in some of the other things, or maybe from what they knew in the beginning of the year.
- Jennifer Coffey (03:58) (to class)
- First, we have to, real quick, put our definitions of what we think. Let’s start. What’s the easiest cloud you think to remember?
- Karen Caroscio Allen (04:06)
- Our students have to do writing samples. And every day, as we’re growing up and going to college and those things, we’re always writing. And the exposure to the nonfictional text really helps with the writing. Our students are now having to do a content prompt based on something they’re doing in the classroom. We chose to do our plants with our science unit and that was writing as if they were the author of a nonfictional text. So being exposed to those nonfictional texts as a reader helps them with that writing. Gives them that broader range of understanding and abilities to put out a product.
- Jennifer Coffey (04:40)
- I do think the informational text helps them develop writing skills in that it gives them, one, more vocabulary. But it also lets them see real-life things that they can write about, where they may have not had exposure to certain things before. They’ve done a really good job doing that, some of them, and they’ve done it on their own. Like in the beginning of the year they read all those animal stories and then they just decided they were going to make their own animal book. So they all started drawing pictures and putting captions and writing their own information about what they learned to go with the books that they read. So that was really good. Because you know they’ve learned it here and now they’re carrying it over to do something different with it.
- Sheri Wieczorek (05:18)
- I can think of two of my students, reluctant readers, and I gave them the text and I had them do a timeline. And their timeline was so impressive and they really got so much out of it. They got more out of the book than I had expected them to get out of it. They really wowed me on the informational text, which, you know, that’s what you’re here for so it made me feel good. I think my reluctant readers, they get more out of it and I think they enjoy it. They also make the text-to-world connections.
- Karen Allen (05:49)
- I think all students really benefit from using nonfictional texts. We’re in North Carolina so we have the EOG, which is full of nonfiction. And so getting them comfortable with reading nonfiction is for every reader who takes that test and that’s every student. Teaching it explicitly has helped my highest reader and my lowest reader, and everyone in between.