1.11 Reading Aloud and Nonfiction

When most people think about reading aloud, they think about reading stories; they think about fiction. Fortunately, reading aloud is also great with non-fiction, such as books about science, or famous people, or music and art. Any book on any topic is good for reading aloud, as long as the children we read with are interested in the topic and as long as the book is understandable to the children, with our help.

In fact, non-fiction has advantages compared to fiction. The main advantage is that most of the reading children do in school is non-fiction, such as their textbooks in biology class or mathematics class. Also, in the work world, people usually read non-fiction. Even at home, people read non-fiction when they read the news online or they shop online.

Another advantage of non-fiction compared to fiction for reading aloud is that some children have more interest in non-fiction. In many countries, girls seem to read more than boys. Maybe that is because most books for children are fiction, but some boys prefer non-fiction. For example, when I was a boy, I used to love to read about sports and history, and I still do.

Children are often very curious about the world. Yes, knowing about the fictional world, such as the world of Star Wars or Marvel Superheroes, is useful, and fiction often contains information about the real world, such as Jodi Picoult’s book that combine in-depth information with fascinating plots, for example, I learned a lot about Asperger’s Syndrome by reading Picoult’s House Rules, about a teenager with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Nonetheless, non-fiction is the most direct source of information. And, just as we want to dialog with children while we read aloud fiction, dialog is also a must while reading aloud non-fiction. One way to encourage dialog during the reading aloud of non-fiction is a strategy called K-W-L-S. Here are the four steps in K-W-L-S.

(1) K – what I Know  :
The purpose of the K step is to bring up and to build up children’s background knowledge about the topic of the non-fiction book.

Introduce the topic of the book and, before you begin to read aloud the book, ask the children what they already know about the topic, and write this down. If children know nothing about the topic, make your question more general. For example, if you are going to read aloud a book about manatees, and children know nothing about manatees (a kind of mammal who live in water), ask what the children know about mammals who live in the water (for example, dolphins), and if the children do not know what mammals are, ask them what they know about any animals who live in the water, such as fishes). Also, ask how they learned the information. This how question helps children learn about sources of information, and which information sources may be more or less reliable.

(2) W – what I Want to know :
The purpose of the W step is to increase children’s interest in the topic of the book that you are going to read about together.

Ask children what they want to know about the topic. Write this down in a separate place from where you wrote what they already know on the topic. For instance, you can create a K-W-L-S table that looks like this.

(3) L – what I Learned :
The purpose of the L step in K-W-L-S is to encourage children to review some of what they learned from the book and the dialog.

Use the L section in the K-W-L-S table to record what the children learned during the read aloud, whether or not it was in their W row. For example, in the “what I Learned” row of K-W-L-S table above, the information that manatees are similar to dugong is not connected to any of the questions in the “what I Want to know” row of the table.

(4) S – what I Still want to know :
The purpose of the second S step is to encourage more reading, as children, and adults too, will want to answer new questions or questions from the W row that the book did not answer.


K-W-L-S Table for a Book about Manatees

what I Know Manatees are large mammals who live in the water. They move slowly
what I Want to know What do manatees eat? Can manatees live in fresh water and salt water? How fast can manatees swim?
what I Learned Manatees eat mostly plants, not animals. Some manatees live in fresh water, and some live in salt water. Manatees are similar to another animal called dugong.
what I Still want to know How fast can manatees swim? Are manatees endangered? If so, how can people help manatees?

Summary – Non-fiction books are also good for reading aloud with children, especially when dialog is included.