Monday, April 25, 2011

Conventions of Nonfiction Texts

Exploring nonfiction text features, conventions and structures are fundamental components of a reading program.  Much of the reading we do as adults is nonfiction, and much of the texts that many of our students enjoy are from that genre as well.  When looking at our classroom collection, we need to be very critical of the texts included in our libraries and think about how we can include more nonfiction.

Iain's class explored nonfiction conventions together, reading nonfiction books on topics they are interested in.  Together, they deconstructed those conventions to understand a key question: how do these features help me better understand the text?  It is irrelevant whether students remember the conventions if they don't know why they exist in the first place.

Using his new Promethean board, Iain, along with his students, put together some examples of different nonfiction conventions, after spending some time discussing them and sharing as a class.  The focus always remains constant: how does this convention help the reader?

Here are a couple of Iain's anchor charts that he co-created with his students on the different conventions:
Students worked on their own conventions notebook with different books of interest to each of them.  In this way, students self-selected their books and the topics they wanted to read about.  Iain then threaded in some lessons from his Science and Social Studies topics to model and guide students in their learning of the conventions. 
Students work with the different texts independently, or with a partner, to discover how the conventions help them, as readers.
From their exploration of nonfiction conventions, Iain has tied in the concept of main idea with the genre.  He worked on main idea quite a bit with fiction texts, and now he has connected the learning using nonfiction.  They were asked to look at one page of their book and identify the conventions they found and state the main idea for the page.  This allowed students to see how things like the heading, or the captions under pictures, help to create the main idea.
An important question that teachers often ask is: how can I include more nonfiction in my classroom library?  Nonfiction texts are much more expensive to purchase and so those bins are often sparse.  Pulling books from the school library, especially on the topics you are working on from your content areas, is always a fabulous way to include more nonfiction.  Here, Iain has created a display of books for students to access and he has a few more spread out in his classroom.
To explore nonfiction text conventions and features, in her book Nonfiction Reading Power, Adrienne Gear suggests using Seymour Simon's books.  He has a wonderful collection of nonfiction books but he doesn't use nonfiction conventions.  Analyzing these texts will help students see how important these features and conventions are to us, as readers.

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