By Shannon Anderson author of Penelope Perfect
It’s easy to get kids excited about reading fiction books, like the Pete
the Cat series, due to the rhythm, humor, and art. A book like Charlotte’s Web hooks you with emotion and characters you grow to love. Books like these will be snatched up in your classroom. But, how do we get kids just as excited to read nonfiction?
Just as with anything we teach, if we can get excited about a topic, our passion will show and cause our students to be more enthusiastic. If we can show genuine curiosity about something, students will want to find out the answers, too. If we can provide a variety of quality nonfiction for our students to read, students may find something that hooks them.
I figure I’m giving my students a double dose when I can tie in comprehension and writing strategies with science and social studies topics. Students not only learn the strategies, they also learn the content. Integrating subjects makes the learning more meaningful for students.
We can accomplish this double dose by working on a new subject each week that complements the content in a story in their reader or by conducting month-long units of study with a unifying theme. Whichever way you go, it’s the same concept. Here are some tips for motivating students to read more nonfiction:
- Build the anticipation when you introduce a new topic by sharing fun facts or something currently relevant about the topic.
- Show a video clip about what you’re studying.
- Ask students to bring in related items, books, or articles.
- Invite a guest speaker to class or Skype with an expert in the field.
- Provide a real-life experience on the topic, whether you visit somewhere, create or grow something, or present on the topic to an authentic audience.
- Keep bringing in more information and show your excitement for finding it.
- Praise students for anything they do outside of class on the topic; it becomes contagious.
It makes my nerdy heart thump when kids get excited about learning a topic and ask for more. Recently, I broke my students into groups and let each group choose a landform to study. I started out the excitement by announcing that our class was chosen to take part in a publication. Students were given specific information they needed to find, and then I let them pull up videos and images of their landforms on their tablets. Their first task was to describe their landform. I provided books I had on hand and some books from our school’s library. The next day, I brought in books from our town’s library, and I also ordered books from nearby libraries. The day I brought in the books I had ordered, I heard kids say things like, “She found more cave books!” and, “Look at the new volcano books!” I had kids asking for more. They were devouring the books and learning a lot about the landforms, the format and rules for research writing, and how to put what they read into their own words.
When we studied the pioneers, we were able to work on comparing and contrasting as we read about schools, homes, jobs, transportation, and inventions from the past and today. All of our research led up to a field trip to a one-room schoolhouse, log cabin, and old post office. We then had a pioneer day at school. The students and teachers dressed up as pioneers, and they participated in pioneer activities hosted in each of the classrooms. They made butter, learned how to weave a rug, visited a trading post, and played some games from long ago.
When the cicada bugs were chirping and leaving their shells on trees this fall, I used the opportunity to get the kids excited about reading more about this insect. I began by telling them that I was pretty sure the cicadas we were seeing had been underground since before the students were born. They were amazed and asked if they could look it up. We also watched a video of the cicada emerging from its shell. Students brought in shells and cicadas in jars. We read every book we could get our hands on and also learned about sequencing and writing descriptions.
At the beginning of the year, I ask the parents of my students to ask two or three friends or family members to write to their child at school. I ask them to try to find people who live in other states, or better yet, other countries. The request is to write about what is significant about the place they are from and to send some kind of symbol or artifact from their state or country. As the letters and packages start coming in, my students can’t wait to read about the places they are coming from. I have had part of a cotton plant sent from Georgia, a tumbleweed from Wyoming, scarves from Indonesia, macadamia nuts from Hawaii, and many other things. The kids share the information in the letters with the class and put a tack on our map where the letter was from. It makes them eager to read more about the states and countries and the items that are sent. I also have them write back to the person to thank them, which allows us a real-life letter writing opportunity.
If you can spark some excitement about a topic, you can get students to yearn to find out more. When they are requesting more, you can smile and know you’re doing something right.
Shannon Anderson has her master’s degree in education and is a literacy coach, high ability coordinator, adjunct professor, and former first-grade teacher. She loves spending time with her family, playing with words, teaching kids and adults, running very early in the morning, traveling to new places, and eating ice cream. She also enjoys doing author visits and events. Shannon lives in Indiana with her husband Matt and their daughters Emily and Madison.
Free Spirit books by Shannon Anderson:
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