Why Blog

I’m passionate about finding ways to simplify comprehension instruction and learning. I’m concerned that we are defining comprehension too narrowly as an accumulation of five or six meta-cognitive strategies when cultivating comprehension involves so much more than that. We need to help children acquire accurate fluent reading skills and strategies; build background knowledge; develop their oral language and vocabulary; make reading-writing connections, and acquire a repertoire of meta-cognitive strategies to use as and if needed.

So I invite you to join me in blogging about this ever-so-important topic. I look forward to hearing your ideas, teaching strategies, book recommendations, classroom stories, etc., basically anything that will inspire a healthy conversation among colleagues.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Branching Out—Our Nonfiction Collection Needs to Address More Than “Animals”

My interest in informational texts and the importance of bringing them into classrooms and children’s hands has made me rethink a whole lot of things. In fact when I went into my basement to check out the nonfiction books I own, I was alarmed to find that so many are about animals. And when you consider all there is about the world for children to learn, it would seem that the books in our private and classroom collection should include titles for a wide variety of nonfiction subtopics—weather, transportation, astronomy, biology, history, etc.—you get the picture.

I’m happy to say that I’ve recently added three new titles to my nonfiction collection:
The Digestive System: What Makes Me Burp? by Sue Barraclough is an fine example of an expository text written with primary-grade students in mind. Each chapter title is written as a question, which prompts kids to find the answer as they read. In addition, it’s jam packed with gorgeous photographs and text features to held kids access and recall information, e.g. table of contents, labels, captions, close-ups, index, glossary. There are other books in this “Body Systems” series: The Circulatory System, The Respiratory System, The Sensory System, and The Skeletal and Muscular Systems.

A Is for Astronaut: Exploring Space from A to Z by Traci N. Todd and Sara Gillingham is, you guessed it, an alphabet book about space. Instead of lengthy paragraphs for each letter, there are several key words for each letter and a simple phrase to describe each word. For example, the word “cockpit” on the “C” page says that it is “the part of a spacecraft where the pilot sits.” The illustrations (a combination of gorgeous photos and vintage illustrations) are sure to pique children’s interest and the information is easily assessable to primary-grade readers.
The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps by Jeannette Winter a beautifully written biography about this world-renowned animal researcher and activist. In addition to learning about Jane Goodall’s life-long passion for learning about these primates (which seemed to begin with a toy chimpanzee given to her by her father), children also learn how important it is to “observe” what’s around them and follow their passion.

I’m excited about these books. What’s more…these three titles span three distinct nonfiction subgenres: expository text (digestive system), sequential texts (space from A to Z), and biography (Jane Goodall). We need to branch out on so many levels.


  1. I have my nonfiction books organized by subject and the animal books fill two tubs while the other ones don't even fill one each. I know I need to stock up on some more varied titles. What topics do you recommend for sorting? Mine worked out this way: animals; plants and earth science; space; weather and seasons; human body; physical science. I'm not wild about the "physical science" name, but it's all I could come up with. (BTW, I switched from Firefox to Safari to read your blog and, taaaadaaaaaa, I can comment now!)

  2. hey wendi-so glad you can now comment. dialogue is good! regarding how to sort your books: i'd consider my content area curriculum for starters. and then, based on your categories which are all science related, i'd try to branch out even further to social studies. what about transportation, geography, communities past and present, communities around the world, inventors and inventions, "curious minds" (edison, franklin, goodall, "snowflake bentley," etc.?

    good to hear from you. are you just about finished with your school year? YAY!!

  3. Hi Sharon,
    My 2nd graders leave me tomorrow (june 10). I almost cried today watching our end-of-year video. My own child, Benjy, is in my class this year, so I'm doubly torn. However, I LOVE summer vaca.!!!!! I'll keep your suggestions for later summer when I'm putting my room and book bins back together. I know I can make use of more nonfiction groupings. Thank you for the suggestions.
    Keep blogging - I'll be finishing your book this summer!

  4. hi wendi...yay summer! another book you'll want to have is "Me...Jane" by Patrick McDonnell. (i may post this one.) it's a simple delightful story about jane goodall and how her passion for animals started at a very young age and carried her throughout her life. it's really quite moving and one that might be used to explain to students the importance of finding things they care deeply about. the ending gave me goosebumps. stay in touch.