There are so many ways to teach informational text in the upper grades. One way that worked well for me was to teach the different reading strategies students should use before, during, and after reading a nonfiction text. Organizing a nonfiction unit this way works well not only for reading focus mini-lessons, but also for guided reading groups, too.
Why the before-during-after strategy? I really wanted my students to learn that their brains are working on comprehension not just while they read, but also before they start and after they finish. Let’s dig into the strategies!
Nonfiction Strategies to Use BEFORE Reading Nonfiction
Set a purpose for reading.
As adults, we do this without even thinking. Students should recognize whether they are reading a nonfiction text to answer a specific question, learn about a historical figure’s contributions, follow a set of directions, etc. This helps them to know if they got what they needed from the text when they finish reading.
Think about background knowledge.
Thinking about what they already know about a topic helps students activate their schema. It gets their brains primed for new learning by thinking about some of the content and vocabulary they might see on the page.
Preview the text.
It’s helpful to teach students to skim the text to notice headings, key words, and text features before actually reading. This helps them anticipate what they’ll be reading on the page. It can also give them an idea of whether the text they’re previewing has the information they need.
Before reading a nonfiction book, it’s a great strategy for students to think about any questions they have about the topic. Of course as teachers, we may also be asking students specific questions we want them to be able to answer as they read.
Nonfiction Strategies to Use WHILE Reading Nonfiction
Just like with fiction, we want our students to make predictions as they read informational text. This means using headings and subheadings, bold words, and nonfiction text features to predict what they’ll read about.
Make inferences/draw conclusions.
Strong readers constantly infer and draw conclusions. This active engagement means combining what they’re reading with what they already know to make sense of their learning.
We also want students to make connections as they read. In the upper elementary grades, this goes way beyond text-to-self connections. Students can make connections to other topics or content areas as well as identify cause-and-effect relationships within the text.
Use nonfiction text features.
So many students skip reading the text features! It can be helpful to do a minilesson on how text features often provide information that supplements or extends what’s in the text so that the reader can better understand,
Check for understanding.
Of course, we want students to constantly monitor their understanding and identify new learning. Here are a few related strategies your students may need mini-lessons on:
- using word analysis strategies to determine unfamiliar word meanings
- identifying facts vs. opinions
- identifying what’s important vs. what’s interesting
While reading nonfiction, students can continue to ask questions. They should also be looking for answers to their initial questions.
Nonfiction Strategies to Use AFTER Reading Nonfiction
Summarize/Identify the main idea of the text.
It’s an important real-life skill to be able to read a nonfiction text and know what the big takeaways are. If students struggle with this strategy, it helps to have them chunk the text and explain the key points for just a paragraph, page, or section.
Check if you met your purpose.
This is not a step to skip! Students should always check whether they met their purpose for reading. (A simple checkbox is a good way to remind them to do this.) If not, they should reflect on what the next steps are.
Yes, ask more questions! After reading, I encourage students to consider what questions they still have about the topic. In addition, especially in terms of research, we want them thinking about how they can find more information to get those questions answered.
Before-During-After Reading Strategies Worksheets
If you want to save time, I’ve created “before, during, after” strategies worksheets that students can use to review these skills with any nonfiction book.
There are tons of reading strategies you can incorporate into an informational text unit, but these are the big ones I’ve focused on with my students. Teaching 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders these before, during, and after reading strategies helps them develop their nonfiction reading comprehension skills from start to finish. What other strategies do you like to use to teach a nonfiction unit?