Top 6 mistakes to avoid when teaching non-fiction reading comprehension.

GUEST COLUMN | by Harriet Isecke 

Top Mistake # 1: Assume Your Students Can Effectively Use Nonfiction Reading Strategies.

Most students who struggle with nonfiction lack the strategies needed to comprehend complex, grade-appropriate text. Research shows that comprehension increases when students receive direct reading strategy instruction as they read compelling content.

Traditionally, students are inundated with fictional text at early grades and cannot always use strategies to comprehend nonfiction effectively. Nonfiction is particularly challenging because of its unfamiliar vocabulary and new concepts. Kids don’t have the background knowledge to make the connections they need to read with understanding. Since they are not getting meaning from text, they might complain that the text is “boring,” or they might say something like, “I read it but I don’t get it.”

Comprehension increases when students learn and practice proficient reading strategies. They need to learn how to “get into the author’s head” to see why information was organized and presented in a particular way.

The right technology can be very useful in helping students learn the strategies they need to comprehend nonfiction text.

“The right technology can be very useful in helping students learn the strategies they need to comprehend nonfiction text.”

When choosing software for your students, look for programs that teach specific nonfiction strategic thinking. These programs must also provide students with ample practice.

Students need to be taught strategies such as:

How nonfiction text is organized and how to use nonfiction features to sharpen thinking and to navigate text. This would include:

  • How title pages, tables of contents, chapter headings, titles and subheadings, indexes, and glossaries can help students understand information.
  • How to read charts and graphs.
  • How to use print and text features to understand text.

How to think strategically through text. This would include lessons such as:

  • How to infer the meaning of new concepts from context. This includes rereading sentences before and after the confusing text, as well as reviewing text and print features, and graphics.
  • How to figure out new vocabulary meaning from context, as well as how to use prefixes, word roots, and suffixes to understand new words.
  • How to make text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world connections.
  • How to determine importance and discern supporting details.

Students need to be taught reading strategies in context. In other words, choose software that requires students to use strategic thinking to answer questions. After a strategy is explained and modeled, check to see that students are given questions that require that type of strategic thinking.

It is also easy to create simple Google Doc templates that help students practice strategic thinking as they read. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Creating Sensory Images: Have you ever experienced a time when you were so “into” a book you could almost taste, smell, and feel the physical sensations you would have if you were in the situation? To teach students how to visualize when they read, ask them to identify text that helps them form a picture in their minds. Then encourage students to stop and take the time to draw simple pictures of new concepts, terms, or ideas as they read. You may even have them draw a cartoon or graphic version of the assigned nonfiction text. This will also help them summarize the important points of the text. At the conclusion of the lesson, have students share their ideas with each other and with the class. A vocabulary graphic organizer may look like this:

Questioning Text: We may ask question because we wonder about something or because we are confused. Students should be encouraged to ask questions before, while and after they read nonfiction text. One way to get students to think about their questions is to have them complete a Google Doc template such as the one pictured below.

  • Before reading, have students preview the topic by glancing at the title page, table of contents, headings, pictures and captions. Then have them jot down some information and use it to ask a few predictive questions they think the author might answer.
  • During reading, have students explain what they learned so far, which of their previous questions were answered, and what new questions they still have.
  • After reading, have students write the most important things they learned, as well as what questions they still have, and how they might find the answers to these questions. Then have students discuss how the nature of their questions changed over the course of their reading and talk about why some questions weren’t answered.

Another useful activity is to have students create 3-5 evidence based questions for a specific text. Have them make up questions and answer keys, and ask each other questions.

In the next edition, learn how to avoid mistake #2: Provide text without a specific reading focus.

Harriet Isecke is an award-winning author and educator and is the CEO/Founder of Mtelegence dba Readorium, an automatically adaptive science reading comprehension program that is recommended by the National Science Teachers Association. Readorium was a Cool Tool finalist in The EdTech Awards for 2016. The comprehension program also won the 2018 International Reimagine Award for K-12 Education, and the 2016 CODiE Award for Best Reading Solution. Readorium uses the strategies described above. Write to: harriet.isecke@readorium.com or call 201.836,8403.