Friday, August 6, 2021

Professional Reads Series - 5 Kinds of Nonfiction - 8.06.21

When I think back over my teaching the past five years, the area I have grown the most in is my knowledge of nonfiction.  I owe so much of that to author Melissa Stewart.  Through her blog, her books, her social media posts, and luckily enough, through in-person conversations, my understanding of nonfiction, the structures of it, how it fits into my everyday teaching, how I teach it, has all been impacted by her.  I'm so glad that this new book, specifically meant for educators, exists in the world!

5 Kinds of Nonfiction: 
Enriching Reading and Writing Instruction With Children's Books
written by Melissa Stewart and Marlene Correia
published by Stenhouse Publishers

This really is a book teachers will want to take the time and read.  It's a quick read, I love the way it's organized with separate boxes for activities and teaching ideas.  The full-color photographs brighten up the look and the many, many, many book covers will give you loads of ideas of nonfiction picture books you'll want to add to your collections or know what to get at the library (and full disclosure, I had the pleasure of taking many of the photographs - it has been so fun seeing past students in the pages of this book).  While the nonfiction standards have given some direction in teaching nonfiction, I know there is more work to be done to really teach readers how to approach, read, and understand nonfiction.  We spend so much time with fiction, but don't always give the same amount of time to nonfiction.  Maybe it's because of our own biases.  This book will break down nonfiction picture books and it will lead to some great enthusiasm to get into classrooms and share what you've learned with your learners!

Here are just a few reasons you'll want to add this book to your professional library:
  • included in the book are description cards of the 5 kinds of nonfiction.  They can be printed up and used as a quick thumbnail or blown up and put on posters for all students to refer to.  They are easy to understand and have book covers to help associate titles with the nonfiction type.
  • it has direct correlations to so many parts of your curriculum.  I love the ideas about how this helps students understand what types of books to choose when getting ready to research.  I love the chapter about text structure.  It is so vitally important for readers to be able to note text structure.  It helps readers understand the point the author is trying to get across to readers, and since authors choose their text structure very specifically, it helps organize their writing.  There is a dedicated chapter just for this information!
  • lots of great ideas about noticing how authors craft their sentences that gives readers really important information about the topic.  I know teachers talk about craft moves with writing and Melissa Stewart has picked out some great lessons to go along with this!
  • loads of activity ideas in every chapter.  Step by step directions are given that make perfect lessons.  There are activities that correspond across the curriculum!  This alone should convince you to check out the book!  A favorite one gives some questions (broken down to k-1, then grade 2, grade 3, etc) that can be asked after reading a nonfiction picture book to readers that really gets into the content and the author's craft/decisions.

I am honored that Melissa stopped by the blog to talk a little more about her book!  I'll let the expert tell you even more about her work.

Five Kinds of Nonfiction: A Q&A with Author Melissa Stewart


MK: Can you tell us a little bit about the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction?

MS: We’re used to subdividing fiction into categories like mystery, science fiction, realistic fiction, and historical fiction, but in the past, we’ve just lumped all nonfiction together. The 5 Kinds of Nonfiction classification system brings clarity to the wide world of nonfiction by breaking it down into groups with specific traits.

Once students understand the characteristics of the five categories—active, browsable, traditional, expository literature, and narrative, they can quickly and easily determine the kind of information they’ll find in a book, predict how the information will be presented, and identify the kind(s) of nonfiction they enjoy reading most.



MK: What made you want to create this classification system for nonfiction?

MS: I developed this system for myself, so that I could better understand the nonfiction market and determine what kinds of manuscripts publishers would be most likely to acquire. 


I began thinking about ways to classify books in 2012, but it wasn’t until 2017 that I came up with the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction. I posted it on my blog to see if it resonated with anyone else, and the response was incredible. To date, that original blog post has received more than 500,000 hits. 


Because so many people find the system useful, highly-regarded literacy educator Marlene Correia and I wrote the recently-published book
5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing Instruction with Children’s Books.

MK: Why is categorizing nonfiction important?


MS: It helps teachers and students identify the best books for a particular purpose. 


Active nonfiction is ideal for makerspaces. 


Traditional nonfiction is the best choice for early in the research process when students are “reading around” a topic. 


Once students have focused their topic, they should begin looking at browsable nonfiction. It’s full of text features that allow students to easily find specific information. It’s also bursting with fun facts that can enrich student writing. 

Expository literature makes the best mentor texts for informational writing because it typically features a strong voice and rich language. 



MK: What types of nonfiction texts are most valuable for teachers and students? 


MS: All 5 Kinds of Nonfiction are valuable in the classroom because different students are naturally drawn to different kinds of nonfiction books. Here are some examples:

“I like browseable books because you have a lot of choices about how you read. It’s  like the potluck dinners at my church. ” —Matthew, fourth grader


“I like narrative nonfiction because it has  characters and a story that’s a real situation.”—Miles, second grader


“My favorite category is active nonfiction because you get to do things while you
read. That makes me feel calmer.” —Jack, fourth grader


“I like expository literature because it has facts plus it can make you think about
something in a new way.” —Rowan, fourth grader


Students need to be exposed to a broad range of nonfiction as read alouds and in instruction. Teaching with text sets offers every child something they can sink their teeth into. Ideally, these set will include radio interviews, podcasts, and documentaries as well as all 5 kinds of nonfiction—and fiction too. The book Text Sets in Action by Mary Ann Cappiello and Erica Dawes is a great resource for creating these kinds of lessons.



MK: In your article "The Five Kinds of Nonfiction for Kids" you cite the fact that up to 75% of students "enjoy expository nonfiction as much as or more than narratives." I think this may surprise some adults. Why do you think kids enjoy expository text so much? 


MS: People of all ages love facts, stats, ideas, and information! That’s why the TV show Jeopardy! so popular, and it’s the reason the Guinness Book of World Records is a best-seller year after year. 

In the adult publishing world, nonfiction sales are strong because when readers have the power to select their own books, they often choose nonfiction. Why should children’s reading preferences be any different? 

MK: If a child is new to reading nonfiction, where do you suggest they start?


MS: With a topic that fascinates them. All children are naturally curious. It’s so important to offer them a steady diet of nonfiction titles that can fuel their passion for learning about the world and their place in it.



MK: What resources do you suggest for educators who would like to learn more about the Five Kinds of Nonfiction and diversifying their collection?

MS: To get started, there are some useful resources on my website. For a more complete overview that includes dozens of easy-to-implement instructional ideas, I recommend reading 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing Instruction with Children’s Books.


Melissa Stewart
has written more than 180 science books for children. She co-wrote 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing Instruction with Children’s Books and edited the anthology Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep: 50 Award-winning Authors Share the Secret of Engaging Writing. Melissa maintains the award-winning blog Info-licious Inspiration and is available for school visits and professional development workshops.

I know this is a book you'll want.  I'd like to share a copy with you and your school (US addresses only).  If this is a book you would like to read and share with colleagues, be sure to enter the giveaway by Aug. 12th.

1 comment:

  1. This is such a fascinating post about a fascinating book! I'm not a teacher, so I hadn't particularly thought about much of this, but these 5 categories of nonfiction are really smart—just glancing at the criteria and the book covers, they seem to encapsulate the different kinds of nonfiction books really well! I'm planning to blog about a few nonfiction picture books in some number of weeks, and it was interesting to realize that what I thought was a pretty varied set of books actually falls pretty solidly under just narrative nonfiction—which is of course fine for a blog where I'm recommending books for fun, but might be a pretty big oversight if I was utilizing these books as some kind of teaching tool. I really enjoyed reading about this book and seeing the interview, so thanks for sharing!