Reading Non-Fiction with Power

Beers & Probst NF

I’ve spent some time thinking about how to help students read informational text.  If you’re an educator, you have too.  I’ve gathered a lot of strategies across years to further this effort. This is difficult work because often children want to read for “cool facts” or small but fascinating details. But they can get lost in the forest for all the dense trees of information. What we want them to do is to glean facts. Absolutely. But more importantly, we want them getting the gist, understanding what they’re reading about, learning new content, concepts and information. We want them changed and empowered based on what they have read. We want them considering what the author included in the text and why. We want them to think about what might be left out. This is rich and important work. This takes teaching. Good, focused, targeted teaching. And continued support.

Last week I got to sit in on a presentation by Kyleen Beers and Robert Probst. They were working with teachers on strategies they present in their new book, Reading NonFiction: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies. They presented this strategy which I found incredibly supportive as a reader of informational text. They call it “Sketch to Stretch.” Others have used it too. But I love their take on it.

We read an article that was admittedly a little difficult to comprehend, even as a proficient adult reader. You can find the article here. Thing is – we didn’t have the PICTURE!  Kyleen gave us the naked article. She asked us to put away all our devices – no cell phones to look up the Dyson fan. No Computers. She asked us to read the article and to mark parts we found confusing.

I loved this request.

I loved it because it spoke to exactly what we want students to understand – that when we read we EXPECT there to be confusing parts!  This is such an important message for people to hear. Reading is like that, isn’t it? If you are honest?

Of course it is. There are times you do not understand exactly what you have read.  Kids experience this and then they get scared. They think they aren’t smart. They back off and shrink from the task. We can teach growth mindset and all of that and still.  If we don’t make it highly visible that reading is a complex task and that we have to notice when something is confusing we fail them. And we need to teach into what to do when the confusion hits. Kid need to know to STOP. To THINK.  To REREAD.

Kyleen and Bob presented this strategy – read, mark the parts that are confusing. Now talk with a partner who has read the same thing you just read.  Now go back to the text.  Sketch what you’re seeing.  Label the component parts. In this case, the pedestal, the tube, the 9 asymmetrically aligned blades. My partner and I discussed the meaning of asymetrical. We disagreed on the meaning. He thought it meant symetrical. I didn’t. I cheated. I looked it up on my phone. Still, his drawing was closer to the real deal. He had seen one in a Sharper Image store.

Students would love this strategy. They get to visualize. They get to think. They get to talk. They get to sketch. Kylene asserted that the number one thing that confuses kids in nonfiction is vocabulary.  Does this ring true for you?

The number two thing that confuses kids is that they can’t visualize what they’re reading about.

When Kyleen had us talk about the article she walked the room and listened in as every good teacher does – getting the pulse of her students’ understanding. It didn’t take long. She heard us saing things like, “I couldn’t PICTURE this part.”  or “I don’t know, I can’t see it.”  She knew immediately we needed Sketch to Stretch.

I can’t wait to share this strategy with teachers and with our students. Empowering students to read more deeply helps to make them stronger thinkers and ultimately more engaged people as they face a world all too ready to tell them how and what to think. With some good reading strategies in their toolkits, they more ably navigate our increasingly complex world.


Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for a place to post my thoughts on teaching, writing, reading, students and life.  Thank you for reason.  Slice of Life Challenge 2016 (#SOLC2016).


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About Be Strong. Be Courageous. Be You

Principal at the School at the north end of Los Angeles Harbor where AWESOME happens. Working to make the world a little more wonder-full.
This entry was posted in Child Matters, close reading, Learning, Passion for teaching, SOL2016, Students First, Teaching, thoughts, Truths and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Reading Non-Fiction with Power

  1. franmcveigh says:

    Love, love, love learning with Kylene Beers and Bob Probst. They both have such deep understanding of KIDS! And then they know what it means to understand the content!

    Powerful post about the power of “noticing” what worked in “Sketch to Stretch”!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. elsie says:

    What a treat to learn from two master teachers! I love this book, it is so full of great information for informational text. The power is knowing when to use a strategy to develop better understanding and not just use the strategy because it’s “fun.”

    Liked by 1 person

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