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Teaching Students How to Preview Nonfiction Text

December 13, 2023 No Comments

Many of us skim nonfiction books before we read them. We do it without really thinking about it. So before we plan how to teach elementary students how to preview nonfiction text, it helps to think about how we do this and why. Let’s get into some things to consider when you teach this nonfiction reading strategy.

Why Preview Nonfiction Text?

When I pick a nonfiction book off the shelf at the library, I never start by reading the first word. I always flip through the book instead. And you probably do, too.

Here are a few reasons why we might preview a nonfiction text:

  • to get an idea of what the text is about
  • to check if the text will meet our purpose for reading (i.e., does it look like it contains the information I need?)
  • to see if we want to read it (i.e., do I like the format?)
  • to check if the text is on our reading level (i.e., will I understand this?)
  • to locate a particular section of the text that we need
  • to check if the information looks credible and up-to-date

Previewing a nonfiction text gets our brains ready for reading and it helps us use our time wisely as readers. It’s one of the strategies that we want students to use before they actually read the text. It’s especially useful when they’re not the ones who chose it – for example, a cold read like a nonfiction passage in a standardized reading test.

But we don’t want students to just glance at the page(s) and call it done. So how do we teach students to use this previewing strategy?

Elementary students should learn to preview nonfiction text features before reading.

Using Nonfiction Text Features to Preview a Nonfiction Text

Here’s a chance to show students how they can use all the nonfiction text features they’ve learned about!

Using Headings and Subheadings

Since headings and subheadings tell the reader the topic(s) of the text, they’re a time-saving way to figure out what the text is about and whether it will meet your purpose or needs.

When they read a heading, students can practice identifying the topic of that section and predicting what information might be included. One way to do this is by turning the heading into a question. You can also pose a question and have them hunt for the heading/subheading that the answer would likely be found under.

Looking at Bold Words

Students know that any word that is bolded, underlined, larger, or colorful is an important one. Students should practice reading important vocabulary words to learn what they’ll read about. This is a great way to activate schema and check if you need to pre-teach some words.

Checking Visuals

We all know that a picture is worth a thousand words. Looking at visual aids like photographs, illustrations, diagrams, charts, timelines, etc., is fast, easier than hunting through the text, and often helps get students excited for what they’ll be reading.

I especially like this strategy if the text is dense and lacks headings and/or bold words.

Reading the Table of Contents

When it comes to previewing a nonfiction book, the table of contents is super helpful. On just one page, students can look at the headings to determine what information will be included in the book. This is super useful when working on research skills.

Skimming nonfiction text is another important reading strategy for 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders to learn.

Skimming vs. Previewing the Text

In guided reading groups, we usually have students take their time when they preview nonfiction text. We might have them do a picture walk or a chapter walk, where we go page by page. We can point out specific text features, pre-teach vocabulary words, discuss background knowledge, and look at the text structure. I like to also have students share questions they thought of as they looked over the passage.

When students are reading independently, though, they’ll likely skim or scan the text, rather than take several minutes to look through it. It’s a good idea to model this strategy so students are being efficient but still gaining a real sense of what’s covered in the text.

After previewing the reading, they should be able to:

  • identify the topic and/or subtopic (i.e., bees)
  • have an idea of some specifics they’ll learn about (i.e., how bees make their hives)
  • know where they may need to look to answer a specific question

Teaching elementary students how to properly preview nonfiction text, rather than diving right into the reading, makes them stronger readers. It helps them to quickly check what they’ll read about and whether the text likely has the information they need. I hope this overview gave you an idea of some strategies to include when teaching this nonfiction reading skill!

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