Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Using Nonfiction in Your Read Aloud

This post is part of the Share a Story - Shape a Future Blog Tour for Literacy. The focus of Day Two is "Selecting Reading Material." The complete schedule for the week-long blog tour can be found here.

Stenhouse Publishers has sponsored this stop on the blog tour, and this stop is cross-posted on their blog.

In 2002, Stenhouse published my book, Reconsidering Read-Aloud. I'm proud to say that in the seven years since then, I haven't stopped reconsidering the content or the function of read aloud as a part of the balanced literacy approach I take in my classroom.

Three of the biggest changes in my read aloud over the past seven years are:
  • I read much more nonfiction aloud.
  • I read aloud more frequently during the day now, and often for shorter periods of time.
  • I don't finish every book from which I read aloud -- sometimes my read aloud is a preview or a "book hook."
Here are some of the reasons I read aloud nonfiction:

I read aloud nonfiction to teach or review or reinforce content.

When we were studying weather, I read aloud THE SNOW SHOW: WITH CHEF KELVIN by Carolyn Fisher. It was a fun way to review the concepts of evaporation, condensation and precipitation.

I read aloud nonfiction to introduce or review the structures of nonfiction text.

The student population of my school is very diverse. I read ONE WORLD, MANY RELIGIONS by Mary Pope Osborne to promote discussions about our similarities and differences, but we wound up noticing the way each section was organized, the way the chapter and topic headings alerted us to get ready for new information, and the way a topic sentence in a paragraph promoted accurate predictions about the information that followed.

I read aloud nonfiction to model thinking strategies.

I didn't read aloud all of WATER HOLE (24 HOURS) by Zahavit Shalev (DK), but I wanted my students to know how to make sense of all of the information that's presented on each page. As I read aloud the first couple of pages, I talked about how my eye was moving across each page. I flipped back and forth to show them some of the features that mark time on each page. I asked questions, made connections, and ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the cute baby elephants (and at the recycling process that takes care of the massive amounts of elephant dung that the herd leaves behind!).

I read aloud nonfiction to tempt my students to read it more often.

All I would have had to do to sell THE WORST-CASE SCENARIO SURVIVAL HANDBOOK: JUNIOR EDITION by David Borgenicht and Robin Epstein would have been to read aloud a few of the topics in the table of contents (How to Soothe a Peeved Parental Unit, How to Survive Outdoor Chores, How to Deal with Poo on Your Shoe). I did that, but then I read just one complete section: How to Survive Farting in Public. The book hasn't been back on the shelf since.

In another example, I tempted my students by reading one entry in HOW BIG IS IT? by Ben Hillman and they went on to read every entry in all of his books in the How Big/Strong/Fast Is It series.

I read aloud nonfiction that doesn't look or act like nonfiction to challenge my students' thinking about genre.

WHY? by Lila Prap. Are we supposed to take this book seriously and learn about animals, or is it a joke book, or a book to challenge us to think more creatively? (or all of the above?)

TALKIN' ABOUT BESSIE by Nikki Grimes. Is this a biography? But it's written in poems! And the poems are all from different points of view!

And finally, most of all, I read aloud nonfiction for the sheer enjoyment of it -- for the talk we have -- for the connections and questions and WOW moments that come when young people learn about the way their world works, about the people who have made their world what it is, and about their place in our amazing world.


  1. What a great post! I can't wait to share this with the teachers at my school!

  2. Mary Lee, thanks for this peek inside your methods and reasons. I love stuff like this, and it makes me miss the classroom.

  3. Great post! We've been trying to do more nonfiction bedtime read alouds as a family. The biggest surprise for me is how it has inspired conversations that begin "Do you remember.." or "Can you imagine..."

  4. Very neat. I'll have to look for these, especially your book!

  5. This is a great post - and very helpful to me. Sometimes I wonder where fiction ends and nonfiction starts. This helps a lot!

  6. Thanks for sharing your thinking over the past seven years! That's what teachers, writers and readers do...keep thinking.

  7. Once again Mary Lee, what a great, useful and practical post! So many ideas, so concise. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience with all of us!

  8. I am just reading this...loved reading your thinking. Thanks Mary Lee!


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