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Recipes for Effective Literacy Instruction

Nonfiction Reading Strategies

At least 90% of what we read out in the "real world" is nonfiction.  And yet much of what students read in English classes is fiction, so their reading instruction focuses on how to read fiction.  Meanwhile, in math, science, and social studies, as they wrestle with nonfiction, they NEED HELP.  Students need direct instruction on how to read NONFICTION.  Teachers in every subject must also teach READING, and let's be honest: they need support in how to do this.

How can we make nonfiction come alive for students?  What strategies will help them understand and appreciate nonfiction texts?


BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING ELSE, check out Comprehension 101 for an explanation of how the comprehension process works and how to teach the four key critical reading skills.  Also, my book The Literacy Cookbook explains this process in depth.  You can order it here.

BIG PICTURE ADVICE: Check out this TLC Blog post: CLOSE READING STRATEGIES: Nonfiction Edition."

Teach students how to ANNOTATE and how to find the topic sentence.  Check out Effective Topic Sentences for an in-depth explanation of how to do this.




Provide alternatives to “questions about the chapter.”  These will also strengthen their WRITING skills:

See the Book Talk Project page for how to run this cool project.  The Book Talk Project can also be found in the Download Zone. 

Find engaging nonfiction for students to read: 

  • The CNN San Francisco bureau and Literacyworks (Western/Pacific LINCS) have partnered to develop an online adult literacy site that benefits all learners and instructors. This site offers Web-delivered instruction using current and past CNN San Francisco bureau and CBS 5 news stories. Each story module includes the full text of each story and interactive activities to test comprehension. The learner can choose to read the text, listen to the text, or view the broadcast through streaming video.  Check out the STORY ARCHIVESa vast array of news stories, including abridged versions of the articles, outlines, vocabulary, and other supporting materials!  NOTE: The content is appropriate for students as well as adults who wish to strengthen their reading comprehension skills.  If you're a teacher looking for more nonfiction texts for your students, this is a GREAT RESOURCE!  PLUS: The Website supports inquiry and additional research by referring to other resources relating to the stories presented!
  • Time for Kids is helpful because it includes leveled articles on current events and comprehension quizzes.  Drudge Report provides links to most of the major national and international news organizations (newspapers, columnists, and magazines).  Although the Drudge Report itself has a particular political bias, it could lead to some interesting lessons on media bias.  But it's the only site I know of that has so many news links in one place.  Also, check out the Byliner Spotlights, which is a curated site with links to LOTS of awesome nonfiction pieces!!! 
  • The Atlantic magazine put together "Slightly More Than 100 Exceptional Works of Journalism from 2015" (by Conor Friedersdorf).
  •  BOOKS: See Recommended Nonfiction in the Download Zone. 
  • For additional excellent resources on reading instruction (esp. nonfiction text support), even if your state doesn't use PARCC assessments, check out the PARCC Prep page.

Are you trying to prepare students for standardized tests?

Check out Generic Test Prep Strategies.

Are you a history teacher looking for ideas?  Check out History Writing: DBQ Essays, which includes links to an array of documents.

How should students write about nonfiction?

Designing a curriculum?


Daniels, Harvey, and Steven Zemelman.  Subjects Matter: Every Teacher's Guide to Content-Area Reading.  Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2004.

Gallagher, Kelly.  Deeper Reading: Comprehending Challenging Texts, 4-12.  Portland, ME:  Stenhouse Publishers, 2004. 

Harvey, Stephanie, and Anne Goudvis.  Strategies That Work: Teaching Comprehension for Understanding and Engagement (2nd ed.).  Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers, 2007.

Hyde, Arthur.  Comprehending Math: Adapting Reading Strategies to Teach Mathematics, K-6.  Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2006.

Keene, Ellin O., and Susan Zimmerman.  Mosaic of Thought: The Power of Comprehension Strategy Instruction (2nd ed.).  Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2007.

Lattimer, Heather.  Thinking Through Genre: Units of Study in Reading and Writing Workshops 4-12.  Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers, 2003.

Robb, Laura.  Teaching Reading in Social Studies, Science, and Math.  New York: Scholastic, 2003.

Tovani, Cris.  I Read It, but I Don't Get It: Comprehension Strategies for Adolescent Readers.  Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers, 2000.

Trelease, Jim.  The Read-Aloud Handbook.  New York: Penguin, 2006.

Zwiers, Jeff. Building Academic Language: Essential Practices for Content Classrooms.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008.





















 IN THE DOWNLOAD ZONE for Nonfiction Reading Strategies:


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