When I was little I was a great reader. I read a lot and I read often. I read fantasy, realistic fiction, fairy tales, folk tales, and I loved poetry. But I did not understand what I was reading. I could read a book and then not be able to tell you what that book was about the next day. My reading comprehension skills were weak, and it is only now, as a teacher, that I look back and know why.
I hated non-fiction. I found non-fiction texts boring, difficult to read, and without imagination. No one pushed me to read more of them, and my ability to read and comprehend non-fiction text got weaker and weaker. I had trouble understanding my text books in high school, and in college I would have to focus really hard on what I was reading. My mind would wander because interest nor understanding was there, and pretty soon I would be pages into a heavy text and have no recollection of what I just read. I spent a lot of time reading and re-reading to understand my classwork.
It was not until my early 30s that I started loving non-fiction. All of the sudden I wanted to know everything about everything. I realized how little I remembered about the history I had learned in school. When I decided to become a teacher, I took a college world history class to fulfill a requirement for my Masters. I sat there in the front row, raising my hand to answer every question and taking copious notes.
I also found myself gravitating toward National Geographic magazines. The stories were so incredible and I learned so much after reading articles in them. My father had a collection of these magazines growing up, and I wish I could get my hands on them today. As a kid they were just yellow bound magazines taking up space in our basement playroom.
I wish that I had read more non-fiction as a child. I wish that it had been incorporated in school more, and that my teachers encouraged exploring these books. As far back as I can remember, we just read fiction unless it was a passage in a SRA kit that I was forced to read. There was not an emphasis on non-fiction.
The Common Core Curriculum includes and emphasizes the use of non-fiction texts. In my opinion, being able to read non-fiction is one of the best skills a student can be taught. In the Common Core, we teach children to find evidence and examples in their reading. They are learning to analyze and inspect before they even know what that means. If this becomes innate from the very beginning, reading and understanding non-fiction will lead to increased reading comprehension overall. Working with non-fiction is a solid pathway to strengthening comprehension skills.
The role of non-fiction is changing in the classroom and it should change at home as well. Your children are wondrous creatures, soaking up information at astronomical rates. They learn about the world through books, television and experiences. They want to learn about the world. Encourage this. Find your child’s passions and help them absorb more information about those passions.
Non-fiction books are beautifully composed and illustrated today. When I was little they were kind of boring looking, and the level of writing did not quite fit the reader. Now you can find non-fiction books at many different ability levels, and on many different subjects.
Here are a couple of series to look for when you are on the hunt for non-fiction. (Animal books are a great way to transition your children into non-fiction.)
- Flip the Flaps Series by Hannah Wilson, Karen Wallace, Mike Goldsmith, Judy Allen (various authors) and Nicki Palin (illustrator) – great for young kids (pre K) to independent readers (3rd grade).
Titles Available: Pets, Baby Animals, Farm Animals, Seashore, Dinosaurs, Animal Homes, Whales and Dolphins, Planet Earth, Jungle Animals
As the series title suggests there are flaps to flip, keeping it interesting for even the most antsy three year old!
- National Geographic Readers – a series of texts about a variety of subjects. These books come in different levels and the subjects are broad.
- The Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science series – there are 3 stages (levels) of books in this great series. Subjects range from clouds to eggs to rock collecting. A wonderful group of books for your little scientist.
Yesterday I showed a new book that we were going to read to a group of third grade students.
“Yay! Non-fiction!” One yelled out.
Me (heart swelling): “Why do you like non-fiction?”
Child 1: “Because you get to learn things, and you find out things you never knew before.”
Me: “That’s right. What is another reason non-fiction is so cool?”
Child 2: “Because sometimes there are maps and things that you can look at, and I think that’s really cool.”
And that just sums it up… third graders that love reading non-fiction, a far cry from where I was at their age. This is why I teach.