Common Core Standards have required that English courses for older students have a heavy emphasis on informational texts. The problem with this mandate? Informational texts aren’t always enticing to reluctant readers, nor are nonfiction reading response activities.
Yet, comprehending, analyzing, and reflecting on nonfiction is an important life skill. When approached intentionally, lessons can be enjoyable, meaningful, and memorable for teens. The key to success is finding ways to get students to dig deep while engaging them and scaffolding learning.
In this post, you’ll find specific nonfiction reading response activities to use with junior high or high school classes.
Setting the Stage
Before asking students to analyze nonfiction, I’ve found it helpful to teach them about the reading skills I’ll be asking them to use, and I give them an introduction to informational texts.
During reading strategies units, I try to incorporate as many high-interest nonfiction articles as possible. My favorite sources are Common Lit, Newsela, New York Times Upfront, Scope, TED Talks, and any recent and relevant news article I can find. I want my students to understand how to navigate and utilize the text features, to be equipped with the tools they need to summarize and analyze them confidently, and to know how to think critically and evaluate them rather than passively accepting everything they read.
Introducing students to reading strategies and informational texts at the beginning of the year gives me a picture of their current strengths and weaknesses as readers. It also sets the stage for my expectations for them being active readers throughout the year.
Many of my favorite nonfiction reading response lessons from this unit follow a similar structure. They include all or most of these elements, depending on the time we have available and the complexity of the text:
Activate Background Knowledge
In order to engage students in a meaningful reading of a nonfiction text, they need to care about the topic. One of my favorite approaches for gaining students’ interest is through a video clip. I like to show them how the topic is relevant either to their life or in today’s world (their world!).
For instance, before reading about the triangle factory fire, watch this CBS video clip and discuss the responsibility the United States has to be aware of the working conditions of their suppliers. Ask, Should the United States refuse to purchase clothing from countries that do not ensure safety of their workers? How might this decision impact us on a daily basis? When students realize they are talking about some of the very clothes they are wearing, many will have a vested interest in the topic.
Close Reading and Annotation
With complex nonfiction, lead students through the process of previewing text features in order to make an educated prediction. Then, read the text out loud with students the first time through. Pause and summarize, and model for students how to ask questions or offer comments. As you read, work on monitoring predictions, adding to them and altering them as necessary.
After the initial read, ask students to comb back through a second time with a purpose. As they do, they . should annotate the text with specific questions in mind. For example, they might look for new vocabulary words they would like clarified, jot notes about what surprised them, and question the validity of the information. This first step of responding to the text is personal, and it helps students focus on basic comprehension.
Don’t let the annotation process to drag on. Students become bored quickly. If there are any reading strategies we don’t get to cover thoroughly during the first round of our close reading, incorporate them into a second activity, which students can complete in small groups or with a partner.
With nonfiction, try using a dice board full of questions that span a variety of depth of knowledge levels. Students roll the dice, discuss the answer with their peers, and ask questions if they need clarification. During this time, the teacher is able to walk around the room, carefully listening for misunderstandings and skills that are tough for my students. We can turn those into follow-up mini-lessons – bonus!
After thinking through the meaning of the text, ask students to develop an opinion. Getting students up and moving has obvious benefits. One approach is to write a question on the board. Then, draw a continuum. Have students place a sticky note on the continuum to indicate their opinion on an issue or agreement/disagreement with a statement. Ask for volunteers to discuss their thoughts.
I’ve also asked students to complete carousel activities. Basically, that means you place large Post-It easel pad sheets around the room. On each sheet, write a question, or students generate the questions in small groups. They they circulate around the room with their several others. They discuss the question, and then one person writes a response. After all groups have answered all questions, review the responses as a class.
I’ve used a variety of methods to ask students to respond to nonfiction texts both verbally and in writing. One of my favorites is to use task cards as writing and discussion prompts. I’ll ask students questions that require them to think critically, like:
- What information would you include in an Insta story or Facebook live video about this article?
- What symbol would best represent the ideas presented in this text?
- How would you best capture the meaning of this text in exactly six words?
You can also ask students to take the information from a factual text and create an infographic, a one-pager, or a creative combination of the two. Students often love tasks like this because they can be completed artistically on paper, on the computer, or with a different medium. Plus, they can pull from information they have discussed during the previous exercises when completing this extension activity.
When I first began incorporating more nonfiction, I was less than enthused. (Major snooze fest.) Now, I look forward to finding new nonfiction articles and informational texts. When I’m watching the news or reading a magazine, I’m always on the lookout for fresh material to pique students’ interest. Nonfiction reading response can be rewarding and meaningful. Students have a hard time disliking a lesson when their teacher is passionate about it.
If you’re looking for more guidance regarding incorporating nonfiction texts, check out Language Arts Classroom. While I do this, she does that.
- Summarizing Nonfiction: A Lesson Plan
- Teaching Students to Read Visual Texts
- Comprehension Strategies for Struggling Readers
Here are three nonfiction activities to use with any nonfiction article. They are scaffolded to move students from basic comprehension to a more analytical thought process.