How to make reading nonfiction easier

Here is a pattern I have taught second graders, but  children of all ages can benefit.  It works especially well for reading nonfiction which is usually harder than reading fiction.

boy reading on the floor

First, before reading the text,

  • Read the title and think about what it means. Then look at all the photos, drawings, charts, cartoons, maps and tables.  Try to figure out what they mean.  From all them, try to figure out what you will be reading about.
  • If there are subheadings, read them. Go through the whole article and read them.  If you are reading a book, read chapter headings.  Ask yourself, what is this about?  Try to predict what you’ll be reading about.
  • If there are vocabulary words in the margins or highlighted in the text, read them and their definitions. Say them out loud, and if you can’t, ask an adult how to pronounce them.

Now you are ready to read the text.

  • The most important thing to figure out is the main idea. Often in nonfiction, the main idea is stated at the end of the first paragraph.  But sometimes the first paragraph is a hook, so the main idea comes later.  Reread the title and find words in one of the first paragraphs which say the same thing.  If you own the book, underline or highlight the main idea and in the margin write “main idea.”  If the book cannot be written in, start a mindweb on a separate paper with the main idea in the center.  Or write “main idea” on a sticky note and paste it over the main idea in the text.
  • The next most important thing to figure out is shich details are important. Underline them or add those ideas to your mind web.  It’s easier to study a mindweb than it is to study a whole lot of paragraphs.
  • Highlight or write down the words you don’t understand. Then write down their meanings.  Sometimes there are clues in the nearby words, or the book contains a glossary.  Or you can ask someone.  Or you can use a dictionary.
  • If some idea is difficult to understand, ask someone to explain it.  If you can find a young child’s version of the information, that is a good place to start.  Online sources might say what you need to know in an easier way.

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