Reading to Learn: Nonfiction in the

Primary Classroom


It is an established fact that interest in a topic affects both comprehension and motivation when it comes to reading. This is especially true for boys, who generally tend to be more reluctant readers. Most classroom libraries contain very little nonfiction reading material, yet most boys prefer expository text. The majority of reading we do as adults is expository in nature, yet most of us cannot remember being taught how to read and comprehend this type of text. Fortunately, we now know that is important to include well written and interesting nonfiction reading selections in our primary reading programs, and publishing companies have responded to this need. Rigby, Newbridge, and Great Source, to name just a few, have produced a variety of excellent nonfiction reading selections for beginning readers.


Providing high quality nonfiction text in the classroom is a good start; however, it is also important to include instruction in how to read and comprehend this type of material, as well. By exposing children early on to the unique features and challenges of informational text, a strong foundation can be laid for handling the demands of content area reading in the intermediate grades.


From: Developing Comprehension in the Primary Grades, by Elaine M. Czarnecki, M. Ed. ©2001



Comparing Fiction and Nonfiction


A good place to begin introducing children to the unique features of expository text is by comparing it to fiction. Prior to this, the children should have been exposed to many read-alouds of both types of text. The following is a five day plan to introduce the features of nonfiction text to young children.



Day One


Tell children that you have brought in some special books to share with them today, and that these books are about different things you know they like (e.g., dogs, cats, dinosaurs, trucks, etc.). Show a few of the books, and discuss the fact that when you want to learn more about something that interests you, you can read to learn about the topic. The books that you would read to learn about something are different from the storybooks you usually read. These books don’t have the five story parts. Instead, they contain information. At this point, you can introduce the vocabulary terms, fiction and nonfiction. Have a collection of obvious books for the children to sort into storybooks (or fiction) and informational books (or nonfiction).



Day Two


Tell children that today they will take a closer look at what is different about nonfiction books. Start by examining one of the nonfiction books you sorted yesterday. Create a chart with the students to compare nonfiction to fiction, using features from several books. The following is a chart created with a first grade class.





pictures look real

pictures don’t look real

tells you about something  

tells a story

has little pictures

doesn’t have words underneath them (captions)

is true

is made-up (fiction)

has some dark (bold) print

doesn’t have this

has charts and labels

doesn’t have this




 From: Developing Comprehension in the Primary Grades, by Elaine M. Czarnecki, M. Ed. ©2001


Days Three - Five


Review the chart from yesterday, and tell children that today they are going to write their own informational book! This book will be about what to look for in a nonfiction book. The title will be Learning About Nonfiction. Guide children to create a page for each of the characteristics of nonfiction text listed on their chart. Each page should tell about the characteristic and give an example.



A good culminating activity might be to share their books with another class to teach them about nonfiction. Children can also go on to create “fact books” about topics of interest, using some of the features of nonfiction text.


From: Developing Comprehension in the Primary Grades, by Elaine M. Czarnecki, M. Ed. ©2001


As children increase in their reading ability, they will naturally be reading more sophisticated expository reading material. Strategy lessons using nonfiction reading material are important for growth in comprehension. Graphic organizers are also particularly helpful for developing understanding of expository reading selections. Organizers for main idea and supporting details, cause and effect, and fact/opinion are included on the pages 56-58.



Taking time to tap and develop background knowledge is crucial for success with expository text. The K-W-L chart is an effective technique for this. Using this technique, the class brainstorms what they think they know about a topic, allowing students to take an active role in learning from each other. The class then lists questions they would like to have answered when they read, thereby setting a purpose for reading. After reading, they record their answers on the chart, as well as any other important facts they learned when reading. This strategy for processing expository text has been found to be effective in actively involving students in their own learning.



Responding to reading nonfiction text through a variety of media is also helpful for developing comprehension. Writing a letter to a friend explaining what you learned, keeping a learning log, drawing and labeling pictures, and/or creating a poster or a mural are all ways for students to actively process what they learned by reading.





From: Developing Comprehension in the Primary Grades, by Elaine M. Czarnecki, M. Ed. ©2001