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My March Top Ten List: Nonfiction Reading Resources

By Beth Newingham on March 24, 2011
  • Grades: 3–5

Last month I shared my favorite resources for teaching fiction reading, and this month I'm focusing on nonfiction.

Last month I shared my favorite resources for teaching fiction reading, and this month I'm focusing on nonfiction. Students (and teachers) often choose to read fiction texts in the classroom, but it is crucial that we expose our students to nonfiction texts as often as possible.

Nonfiction texts allow children to experience the wonder of the world. Facts come alive when books about animals, people, or objects are read to children. Nonfiction texts build on children's interests and increase vocabulary and background knowledge. When we help our students become proficient readers of nonfiction texts, we help them become successful at school and in the “real world.” Research shows that about 85% of what adults read on a daily basis is nonfiction. Teachers have a great responsibility in teaching students to tackle this genre.

READ ON to check out resources for teaching nonfiction reading concepts, including posters, links to great Web sites and articles, printables, an exciting new way to make current events interactive, and much more!


1.  Using Text Features to Successfully Navigate Nonfiction Texts

Before I can teach students to gather information, determine importance, or find supporting details, I must first show them the tools that they will be using. Those tools are the predictable, common features of nonfiction texts. I created text feature posters to help my students recognize, name, and understand the purpose of the most common features. Below are nine of the 23 posters I created. (Special thanks to Charla Lau, the reading specialist at my school, for the idea.)  

CaptionDiagramGlossary Graph Heading MapTable Photograph Table of contenst
Download a PDF slide show of all 23 of my Nonfiction Text Features posters. Since it is a large file, right click on the link and choose "save target as."


2. Text Feature Scavenger Hunt

After students learn the different text features, I want them to start paying close attention to the text features they find in their own books. In the primary grades, students may simply do a scavenger hunt where they check off the features they find, but in the upper grades, they also need to be able to determine the purpose of each text feature and explain why it helps them read the text. Below are activities your students can use to accomplish these goals.

Text Feature Scavenger Hunt Text Features and Purpose

Download the "Text Feature Scavenger Hunt" and "Using Text Features" recording sheets pictured above. I've posted them as MS Word files so that you can adapt them for your grade level. 


3. Teaching Students to Recognize Different Text Structures

P1100662Content textbooks are often above the reading level of the grade for which they're intended. If some students struggle with grade level texts, how can they comprehend history and science textbooks? One strategy that can aid students in breaking down informational text is understanding text structure. Research shows that an awareness of text structure facilitates a greater ability to recall important information in expository texts.  

Text Structure Posters: Knowing the elements of text structure is an effective tool in understanding nonfiction. Each structure can be identified using “signal” words. Words such as “then,” “next,” and “afterward” are indicators of a sequencing pattern. When students learn the key words and can recognize the predictable patterns, they will be better equipped to scan the text and pinpoint the information they seek. Below are posters that I created to teach my students about the most common structures found in nonfiction texts. Download a PDF slide show of the text structure posters.  Since it is a large file, right click on the link and choose "save target as."

 Description Sequential Compare and Contrast Cause and Effect Problem and Solution

Professional Books & Lessons: Of course just introducing the text structures is not enough. Below are three great Scholastic professional books I have used. Click on the books for more information.

 You can also check out this great text structures SMART Board lesson created by Marcia Jones. It has tons of activities to help you teach your students about the different text structures.



4. Have Students Create Their Own Text Features and Text Structures Books

IMG_1595 [Desktop Resolution]Some teachers at our school have students cut out examples of different text features from magazines and paste them into blank versions of the text feature posters in #1 of this post to make a book. Scholastic News is a great source of text features for a project like this. The "My Text Features Book" can be an ongoing project throughout the school year. Students may cut out one or two text features from each new edition of Scholastic News as they read it in class (or any other magazines or newspapers they have access to). Download a PDF slide show of the "My Text Features Book" (shown below) in which I have included templates for 23 different nonfiction text feature pages that you can print and use with your own students.  Since it is a large file, right click on the link and choose "save target as."

 IMG_1597 [Desktop Resolution] IMG_1598 [Desktop Resolution]

Students in older grades should start recognizing that the articles in magazines and newspapers typically follow one of the five text structures I described in #3 of this post. Students can cut out and paste entire articles onto each page of a "My Text Structures Book" to show examples of text structures. Download a PDF slide show of the "My Text Structures Book" (shown below) in which I have included templates for these text structures.

IMG_1594 [Desktop Resolution] IMG_1600 [Desktop Resolution] 


5. Make Current Events an Interactive Experience!

Magazine [Desktop Resolution]With all that is currently happening in our country and around the world, I find it more important than ever to keep my students informed of current events. I use Scholastic News not only because the weekly editions are written at an appropriate level for my 3rd graders, but because they also include a new “whiteboard-ready” interactive option with the subscription. Check out the photos below to see how this new feature can spice up your teaching of current events.

The digital edition can be displayed on your interactive whiteboard — a great option for sharing reading in primary classrooms!

Full Screen

Highlight important text, use shape tools to circle text features, and add “digital sticky notes” with student ideas. Tap the purple W next to important new words to reveal the definition.

Definition final

Students can watch videos related to the text to find exciting additional information.

Video Final
 Teachers can access both current and previous editions at any time. Teacher editions, skills sheets, and even alternate versions of the cover story written at a lower reading level are also available.


 Watch a demo of Scholastic News Interactive!


6.  Comprehension Strategies for Reading Nonfiction Texts

Laura RobbAuthor Laura Robb presents several classroom-proven strategies that enable students to construct meaning from nonfiction in her book Teaching Reading in Social Studies, Science, and Math: Practical Ways to Weave Comprehension Strategies Into Your Content Area Teaching. These include asking open-ended questions, skimming text, and making connections.

You can use her lessons "Posing Questions," "Skimming Text," and "Connect & Apply" to model each strategy. They will help you improve student reading and support learning in different content areas.




7. Evaluating Internet Resources

5ws1While publishing companies work hard to create quality nonfiction texts for our students, the Internet is also a valuable tool — when used effectively, that is!

My students are currently doing research on a country from which their ancestors came to America. While we have checked  out lots of great books from the library, we have found that many of them are outdated. For the most current information about population, government, etc., students must use the Internet. However, it is more important than ever that students (and teachers) learn to evaluate Web sites. I love Kathy Schrock's "5 Ws of Web Site Evaluation" handout.

Brent Vasicek, the Scholastic classroom advisor for grades 3–5, also wrote a great post a couple of weeks ago titled "Danger on the Internet: A Lesson in Critical Thinking." In it he includes some great lessons to help students distinguish the “real” from the “fake.”

8. Make Research Exciting and Memorable!

P1020121International Festival: As I mentioned, my students do country research each year. In addition to a traditional report, we host an international festival as a culminating activity. The festival allows students to share what they have learned about their country through a performance, fashion show, and taste-fest. To learn more about this memorable event, read my post from last year "Host an International Festival at Your School!"

Joey39African-American Wax Museum: Our 4th grade students do research on a notable African American during Black History Month. To make their research more purposeful, they do a presentation at the annual Hill School 4th Grade African-American Wax Museum. All classes take turns visiting the museum to listen as the wax figures come alive and talk about their lives and achievements. To learn more about this special event, read this post I wrote a few years ago.

How do you make your research come alive?  Perhaps you bring visitors to your classroom, take virtual field trips, or plan special events at your school. I’d love to hear how you make your nonfiction reading or research units come alive for your students!


9. More Nonfiction Materials and Lesson Ideas

Angela My Top Teaching colleague Angela Bunyi wrote a great post titled "Taking a Look at Nonfiction Conventions."  In it she provides tons of resources and ideas for teaching the conventions of nonfiction, including great mini-lessons and anchor chart/bulletin board ideas. She includes lots of photos of projects in her classroom and printables to download. 



10. Nonfiction Reading Sources and Strategies

Brent jpeg1 Brent Vasicek recently posted another great piece describing purposeful ways to weave nonfiction into your curriculum. He provides teachers with a list of sources to use for nonfiction texts and describes three creative nonfiction comprehension strategies: “Mind Mapping,” “In Three Words,” and “RCRRC: Read, Cover, Remember, Retell, Check.” Read his post "Nonfiction Reading Sources and Strategies" to learn more! 

Comments (72)

Nina (comment #18),

Thanks for posting your feedback on The Comprehension Toolkit! You mentioned that the lessons can sometimes last for multiple days. I think you will find that to also be the case if you use Making Meaning!


Jada (comment #19),

Thanks for your comments! I fixed the cover of the student text structure book. I'm glad you have found my resources to be helpful! -Beth

Sara (comment #14),

For some reason I cannot find the file of the posters for the different types of endings. I will keep looking so that I can post a visual for you. I have them in my classroom printed out, but cannot find the actual file.

For now, here are descriptions of 3 types of endings:

1. Repeat the Lead: This type of ending echoes the lead

Examples: Lead: If you give a mouse a cookie... Ending: Chance are if he asks for a glass of milk, he's going to want a cookie to go with it.

2. Emotional Ending: This type of ending can be happy, sad, mysterious, funny, or surprising.

Example: I cannot remember a time in my life that I was as terrified as this experience at the zoo. I hope the tiger never scares me like that again!

3. Hope or Wish: In this type of ending, the writer shares a hope or wish that has something to do with the story.

Example: I wish that every Christmas could be a great as this one!

I hope this helps for now!


Beth, Thanks for all the great info. on teaching non-fiction! My student teacher used the slideshow in a lesson just the other day. I know you are very busy, but I think there is an error with the text structures student booklet cover page...I am pretty sure both covers say text features.

Hi Beth

Like Randa I have found that the lessons in The Comprehension Toolkit last for longer than one lesson - there is so much to them and so much for the children to take on board. I do think it is one of the best resources I have come across for teaching comprehension that I have seen. I don't stick to it religiously, but it does provide a great framework. My class have benefited enormously from having the comprehension strategies and skills explicitly taught to them. I use it in conjunction with the CAFE book that I read about on your website! That is also a fantastic book. I also use so many of the ideas that you have posted here as well. I am going to look at Making Meaning - it sounds really interesting and we were just talking about a read aloud program recently! Thank you again for all that you do! Nina

Randa (comment #11),

Thanks for sharing your thoughts about The Comprehension Toolkit. Like you, I have never found that one program is enough when it comes to my teaching. I am always looking for additional and supplemental resources to make my instruction as effective and thorough as it can be. I look forward to checking out The Comprehension Toolkit this summer!

I'm glad you liked my theme resources!


Colleen (comment #9),

Thank you SO much for letting me know about the mistakes in some of the text feature posters! I made the changes and added updated versions of the PDF slideshows to my post.

I appreciate your comments!


Kristy (comment #7),

You asked about Making Meaning. We use it as a read-aloud program for grades 1-5 in our district. While it builds on the concepts we are teaching in reading workshop, it is a separate program that we use during read-aloud time each day. In our classroom, reading workshop, writing workshop, word study, and read-aloud make up the 4 components of our balanced literacy program.

Our second grade teachers do guided reading (mixed with strategy groups and conferring) during the IDR component of reading workshop each day. I agree that it is hard to fit it all in! I do not have the expectation that I will meet with every guided reading group each day (or sometimes every week). I look at my students and determine first who needs the most individual instruction. I try to see those students the most often in guided reading groups and strategy groups.

You can check out my daily schedule to see how I (try) to fit it all in:http://hill.troy.k12.mi.us/staff/bnewingham/myweb3/indexschedule.htm

Thanks for posting your comments!



You had shared some examples of great leads in narrative writing. They made it very easy for my students to understand good ways to start a story. Do you know of any resources or have any examples for teaching kids about writing closings/endings to their stories.


Laura (comment #8),

Thanks for posting your comments! I'm glad you are enjoying my blog!


Linda (comment #4),

You asked how I fit it all in? You can check out my daily/weekly schedule here: http://hill.troy.k12.mi.us/staff/bnewingham/myweb3/indexschedule.htm

One thing that will help is to make sure your mini-lessons are indeed "mini." When I first started doing reading and writing workshops in my classroom, I tried teaching too much during each mini-lesson, and I was really cutting in to the students' independent practice time. I began taking my mini-lessons and breaking them into shorter mini-lessons with a single (more specific) teaching point. Perhaps this will help.

I also understand your frustration with students being pulled out for speech, resource room, etc. I always try to collaborate with the teachers who are pulling my students out of my classroom so that they can build on what we are doing in class. Classroom teachers at my school have also been asking those teachers to "push in" rather than pull out whenever possible. That way the students are given extra support, but the support is directly related to what I am teaching in my classroom.

Thanks for posting your comments!


Hi Beth, Like Nina, I use the Comprehension Toolkit in my school. It is a wonderful framework for great minilessons, but I find myself supplementing text to extend lessons over several days. My students often need the extra practice or enrichment. Each lesson is stretched to about a week, rather than a day, in my school. Also, there are skills and strategies that are not taught in the toolkit, but are great for minilessons, so I often turn to your resources for inspiration and materials. I recently came across your Theme ideas. They have greatly enhanced my instruction and added value to the Toolkit lessons. Thank you for sharing your awesome ideas and effective lessons. Your work is much appreciated! Keep it up!

Lori (comment #5),

I'm glad you liked my post! Thanks for your book suggestion for teaching text structures. (Teaching Text Structures: A Key to Reading Nonfiction Reading Success by Dymock) I will check it out!


Hi Beth! Please don't post! I love your site. You are an amazing teacher full of wonderful ideas. Thank you for all of the posters and teaching materials. I am about to start a unit on nonfiction so I was thrilled to see so much great information. I just wanted to let you know about two small errors I found so that you can update your site: Illustration is missing either the "I" or an "l" on both the posters and the student book - (they look the same) and in the student text structure booklet the wrong "purpose" is listed under bullets. Thanks again for sharing all of your ideas!

Hi Beth!

I just wanted to say thank you for sharing all of your wonderful ideas! Laura

Hi Beth! Love all your posts!! I look forward to them every month! I was interested in the Making Meaning read aloud program you mentioned and went online to check it out. Was wondering if your 2nd grade teachers use this as well, and if they do guided reading groups along with IDR. Our district wants us doing small groups, but I find it hard to fit everything I want to do into our day. Just interested in your thoughts as I know you have taught 2nd grade before. Thanks!

Nina (comment #3),

You asked if I use The Comprehension Toolkit. I assume you are talking about the program created by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis. We do not use it at our school, but I think it looks awesome. I love pretty much everything that they have written, so I'm sure that this is another great product. We use Making Meaning, a real aloud program with similar strategies and materials. Do you use The Comprehension Toolkit at your school? I'd be interested in your thoughts about it!


Your timing is great. I was just working on text structure posters very similar to yours. I am about half way through making mine. It was nice to see that we had similar elements.

I agree that Teaching Students to Read Nonfiction is a great resource. One other resource that I found helpful in teaching nonfiction text structures was Teaching Text Structures: A Key to Reading Nonfiction Reading Success by: Dymock. It provides 3 or 4 examples of each structure at 3 or 4 different reading levels.

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and ideas. I am always inspired.

Beth, Thank you for allowing us into your classroom. You are amazing! My question is "How do you fit everything into your day?"My schedule is so tight that just when I feel like I am getting into the best part of the lesson, I need to transition to another subject. I have children who are pulled out for Basic Skills instruction, speech, Resource Room, etc. and feel that they are missing the lessons. How do you manage this?

Hi Beth Thank you for posting all your hard work! It is so generous of you to share your fantastic ideas! I am an Australian teacher and have recently come across 'The Comprehension Toolkit'. Do you use this? If you do, do you think it is useful? Thanks again!


I'm glad you are enjoying my work on both my class website and on Scholastic!

You asked about my teaching of text features and text structures. I introduce the text features and the txt structures during my nonfiction unit of study in reading workshop. However, the application and reinforcement of the concepts also takes place in social studies and expecially when we use Scholastic News in our classroom. As you can see in the post, students have text feature and text structure books. Those books are an ongoing part of my curriculum. Students add to their books throughout the year each time we read a new issue of Scholastic News. They simply cut and paste examples of text features in their text feature books,and they cut and paste entire articles into their text structure books. If you do decide to make the books, I would make multiple copies of the pages so that students do not have to find just one example of each text structure or text feature. This will require students to always be analyzing the articles to determine the text stucture so that they are not done once they have found one example.


Thank you Beth for sharing all of your wonderful ideas. I discovered your class website a few years ago and have been referencing it ever since. I'm glad Scholastic has you on a platform that allows more teachers to learn from you and use your ideas.

About your nonfiction features and structures, how long do you take to teach those and when do you introduce them? Do you integrate them within science/social studies or is it strictly part of your reading curriculum?

Thank you!

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