A critical literacy piece in every grade and across all curricula, non-fiction text can be a powerful tool to motivate reluctant readers, to engage students in the inquiry process and to help students to develop a sense of curiosity about the world around them. Happily, the list of well written and illustrated Canadian non-fiction titles continues to grow.
Of the five recognized categories of non-fiction text I noticed that biography was the one least represented in my classroom book collection and in my students’ independent reading choices. Why? Our history is filled with stories of courage, hope and determination that can serve as a source of inspiration to our students. For this reason I have chosen to highlight the biography of Terry Fox as a vehicle for teaching students a strategy for making important connections when reading a piece of non-fiction text.
Categories of Non-Fiction Text
Biographical: to give an account of the events in a person’s life, written by another
Instructional: to give directions for making or doing something in a particular order
Descriptive: to describe something in detail (fish, animal, building, car, etc.)
Persuasive: to present a reasoned opinion about a topic
Explanatory: to make something understandable (how something works or happens)
A Story of Hope
by Maxine Trottier
Scholastic Canada, 2010
ISBN 978-1-4431-0240-6 (pbk)
$9.99, 40 pp, ages 7-12
“Anything is possible if you try. Dreams are made if people try.”
As a young boy growing up, Terry Fox loved sports and excelled in his schoolwork. He approached each new challenge with determination and strength. When, at the age of 18, he lost his right leg to cancer, Terry worked hard to recover so that he could achieve his goal of running across Canada to raise money for cancer research.
This book was written in co-operation with Terry’s family and the Terry Fox Foundation. It is the first authorized biography written for younger readers. In this second edition new photographs have been added as well as some current information about his legacy. The book was released in 2010 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Marathon of Hope. Dozens of photographs (from the Fox family archives), pictures of artifacts, a map and the easy to read text make the story accessible to a wide range of readers. With most schools across the country participating in the Terry Fox Run each September, this book is a great resource for teachers to use when generating a discussion about one of Canada’s best-known heroes.
Terry Fox Run
September 16, 2012
National School Run Day
Thursday, September 27, 2012
For more information go to www.terryfox.org
Non-Fiction Reading Strategies
Identifying Non-Fiction Text
The first skill that young students must learn is the ability to recognize non-fiction text in the variety of titles that they encounter in the classroom. For a series of lessons that contain ideas for teaching this skill please go to online to one of my previous articles: “The Power of Non-fiction Text,” available at CanadianTeacherMagazine.com – Back Issues – Winter 2008 – page 14.
Recognizing and Using Non-Fiction Text Features
Once your students can distinguish between fiction and non-fiction text, they are ready to learn about the purpose of common non-fiction text features. For a game that will help your students with this skill, please go online to another previous Canadian Teacher Magazine article: “The Power of Non-fiction Text,” at CanadianTeacherMagazine.com – Back Issues – Spring 2008 – page 22.
The following lesson is adapted from Adrienne Gear’s book, Nonfiction Reading Power. I have used it with Primary and Intermediate students. It works well with all five categories of non-fiction text.
Readers connect to a story when something in that story evokes a memory. When talking to students about making connections it is important to emphasize that:
- The reader makes a connection to a story when a memory surfaces.
- Readers can make connections to the text, the characters, the events, and even the illustrations.
- The reader can make connections between the text and his own life, the text and other reading material, and the text and the world around him.
Lesson: Knew/New Connections (Teacher Modelling)
Note: This lesson may be spread out over a number of days depending on the age and ability of the students.
To connect to what is already known about a topic in order to be open to learning new facts
- one copy of Terry Fox: A Story of Hope
- chalkboard or whiteboard
1. Explain to the students that sometimes when we are reading new information about a topic we make connections to what we already know about it. This is called connecting to background knowledge.
2. Print the words Knew and New at the top of the board. Discuss their meanings.
3. Show the cover of the book to the class and read the title.
4. Have each student turn to a pre-determined partner and share their background knowledge about Terry Fox.
5. Model sharing your own background knowledge about Terry Fox.
6. Explain that you will be reading the book one page at a time. At the end of each page you will decide if the information you read was something that you knew before, or if it was new to you.
7. Read the first page. Talk about the content. Record your findings on the board under the headings Knew or New.
8. Continue reading and talking. Continue to record the information on the board.
1. Summarize the lesson by reminding the students that you have been modelling how to add new information to your memory bank by connecting to information that was already stored there.
2. Have each student turn to their same partner and talk about what they think will happen to the new information that you have gathered.
3. Have some of the students report out their ideas to the whole class.
4. Summarize the reflections by commenting to the students that the new information will now be added to your memory bank of facts about Terry Fox.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brenda has 35 years of classroom experience. She has presented workshops on literature based themes and literacy strategies, and has written a number of resources for teachers. She remains passionate about matching up kids with books.
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Sept/Oct 2012 issue.