Teaching Reading Though Content Area Non-Fiction Books

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There is never enough time to teach everything that your district demands to your students or to your own child. One way to fix this problem is to teach two subjects simultaneously. Doing this also makes the subject matter more meaningful to the student because they get to investigate the topic from a number of different angles instead of just memorizing a few vocabulary words.


Let’s just say, for example, that you are studying the American Revolution in social studies in your fifth grade class. You can extend your work on this topic and cover your language arts standards at the same time. First, you would decide what topic you want to work on… in this case, the American Revolution.


paulrevere_Thumb.jpg Now, find some trade books on your topic. Try to find both fiction and non fiction books. Your reading series may even include some stories that might fit the topic, if you’re lucky. For this topic, Iroquois legends, biographies of American Revolution personalities (Mercy Otis Warren, Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, etc.) might be useful. You need to keep in mind what the reading levels of your students are as you select books. Think about dividing your class into 3 or 4 groups. It would be ideal if you could get several copies of each book. Your school’s library may have some book sets available to choose from.


Pick ONE of the books  with an appropriate group in mind to start with.
Consider what you will do on DAY 1. You will want to start by introducing the reading skill you have in mind (i.e. cause and effect). Read a short passage that demonstrates the skill and discuss it. Then, the group can start reading the book in the content area that you have chosen. Groups can be student or teacher lead. Students could read alone, in pairs, or in larger groups.


graphicorganizer_Thumb.jpg Day 2: After the students have finished reading, provide them a task that focuses on the following areas:
-the skill of focus (graphic organizers are especially useful)
-vocabulary from the reading (matching, crossword, etc.)ssess the
– comprehension from the reading.
Using a “response journal” is a good way to determine student comprehension and will incorporate much needed writing practice. Students should summarize the story focusing on the “Who, what, when, where, why and how” – then include their own personal opinion, connection or prediction regarding the story.


litcircle_Thumb.jpg Day 3: Meet in the small groups again to go over and share the work that was completed (vocabulary, skill exercises and comprehension questions). Students can correct their own work with a provided red pen. This will save you some time and give them additional review. Students can volunteer answers and read aloud what they have written. Reading aloud ones own work is a valuable exercise. This helps students see where errors lie as often we know something doesn’t “sound right” although we may not notice it while we are writing. If you have used the response journal option, have students share their responses. Peers should provide feedback.


Since several books are being read in the class and each student will not read every book, it might be a good idea for students to prepare a presentation to communicate the information that they learned in their own story with the rest of the class, who has not read the same book. As I consider the American Revolution, I find that there is a wide variety of biographies available to me, so I might have a student prepare a poster on a Patriot (or Tory) – with a “mug shot” of sorts and all the important stats as well as a summary of what that person did during the revolution.


Perhaps there is an Accelerated Reader test available for some of the books that were read. You could use that score as a reading assessment. Perhaps there is a test or quiz or some other type of assessment available that comes with the textbook series that will assist you in assessing the particular skill of focus. You can also make up your own assessment to test both the skill of focus AND the content area topic. Consider allowing the student to use the book (or copied passages from the book) to refer to when completing skill questions as this is often how they are presented on state tests.

  • Alternatively, use short short trade books “Literature Circle” style. Assign each student a specific job to do on the book (summarizer, word wizard, illustrator, connector, discussion director) and give them some time in school to complete their job. Come together later in the week to share the jobs. You will still need to come up with some kind of end-of-book and reading skill assessment. For Lit. Circles, I usually give the kids comprehension questions in addition to their job.

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