For the last several years the
number of children's literature trade books with direct curriculum applications
has increased. Teachers are finding ways of using these trade books
across the curriculum. This paper represents an attempt to justify
the use of trade books in the classroom, describes the types of trade books
available, and suggests ways that trade books can facilitate skill instruction
in the language arts arena. For the purpose of this paper, reading,
writing, listening, and speaking will comprise the scope of language arts.
Much emphasis will be placed on books that focus on the skills that relate
to reading and writing. The terms "nonfiction" and "information books"
are generally accepted to mean the same thing (Bamford, Kristo, 1988) and
will be used interchangeably throughout this paper.
Justification of Trade Books in the Classroom
"Trade books" refer to commercially published books written by independent authors for sale to the general public, compared to textbooks which are written for the express purpose of instruction in a classroom environment. Moss, Leone, and Dipillo (1997) indicate that many textbooks are burdened by unclear writing and confusing organization, whereas, "Information trade books can help to fill the need for clearly written exposition that even the youngest readers can understand" (p. 420).
Most students receive a steady diet of exposure to fiction throughout elementary school. Basal readers and literature-based reading instruction focus mainly on reading stories with characters, plots, settings, and other traditional story elements. It is only recently that educators are becoming aware of the benefits of nonfiction in the classroom. Harvey (1998) suggests that, "Teachers need to expose students to a variety of expository text to familiarize them with the genre and teach different strategies for comprehending it" (p. 71).
Traditionally, nonfiction has been used in the form of encyclopedias and reference books in the pursuit of some sort of research project or report. Students use nonfiction books to acquire new information, satisfy curiosity, understand the world, gain new concepts, expand vocabulary, as a model for their own nonfiction writing, and for pleasure (Harvey, 1998). "Books of nonfiction," suggests Norton (1995), "encourage children to look at the world in new ways, to discover laws of nature and society, and to identify with people different from themselves" (p. 646).
In 1996, it was reported that over half of the new children's books published each year are classified as nonfiction (Hepler, 1998). It is recommended that up-to-date information trade books constitute one-fourth to one-half of the classroom library collection at every grade level (Moss, Leone, Dipillo, 1997). With the field of nonfiction trade books expanding quickly to include science, social studies, math, multicultural studies, and virtually all language arts aspects (Vardell, 1998) teachers are faced with new issues of incorporating those types of books into their respective curriculums. The obvious answer would seem to be to integrate the learning across subject areas, using trade books as the springboard for study. "Integrating the curriculum," says Harvey (1998), "allows you to make better use of the time you have, and nonfiction inquiry is particularly well suited to it" (p. 192). With that said, what are the implications for teachers? Is simply having information books in the classroom enough or does how the books are used effect their potential to facilitate learning? Moore (1998), a proponent of emergent readers being frequently exposed to nonfiction, provides her own answer to this question, "The secret is in how teachers use the books to foster changes in children's knowledge, understanding, and strategies for reading informational texts" (p. 88).
In regard to an integrated language arts curriculum, Thames and Reeves (1994) report that their study indicates support for improving students' attitudes toward reading and listening when using high-interest trade books. Freeman (1995) concurs when she adds:
Types of Nonfiction Trade Books
Nonfiction books come in a variety of shapes, sizes, layouts, and styles. For the purpose of this paper, the focus will be on informational picture storybooks. Informational picture storybooks have a structured narrative with traditional story elements, but have expository structures for the purpose of conveying information (Leal, 1993). Harvey (1998) states, "The nonfiction picture book is well suited to reporting the fruits of an inquiry" (p. 168). Students may be able to pattern their own nonfiction picture book after a trade book. Many of these picture books incorporate things that students enjoy in books: elaborate illustrations, humor, animal characters, cleverness in presentation of information, and narrative (Avery, 1998). The combination of humor and fact allows interaction between logic and creative expression making informational picture storybooks educational, as well as enjoyable (Dowd, 1992).
Bamford and Kristo (1998) suggest different classifications for nonfiction books. Concept books, photographic essays, identification books, life cycle books, activity books, journals and diaries, survey books, and information picture storybooks comprise the list of categories that will fit most nonfiction books (Bamford, Kristo). Tompkins and McGee (1993) categorize informational books as so: concept books, biographies and autobiographies, and alphabet books. These authors go on to indicate that many concept books cater to younger children, but "others focus on language concepts - opposites, homographs, nouns, prepositions - and are more appropriate for middle and upper grade students" (p. 67).
Trade books as Facilitators of Skill Instruction
Harvey (1998) states, "Nonfiction reading, research, and writing stoke
the inquiry engine as it chugs toward solutions to big questions" (p. 12).
Using inquiry methods of posing questions and guiding students to find
information suggests possible applications of nonfiction trade books in
the classroom. As students locate desired information, Harvey further
suggests using a method of organizing the data. "The nonfiction writer's
notebook is perhaps the most important tool for young researchers engaged
in inquiry" (Harvey, p. 16). The writer's notebook indicates one
way teachers can incorporate a curricular area such as science with a "real-world"
justification for writing.
Reading aloud of fiction in elementary school classrooms is commonplace and characterized by Vardell (1998) as being, "the most basic and fundamental approach to sharing literature" (p. 153). Typically, nonfiction does not receive the same balance of read aloud time as does fiction. Vardell further suggests that for teachers to increase and improve their use of nonfiction we must, "expand our own knowledge base of the kinds of nonfiction available for children, and we must learn a variety of ways of sharing nonfiction orally with children" (p. 153). One method would be to use a high- quality informational picture storybook as a "stand alone" and read it aloud to the class as a whole. Another idea would be to share an informational picture storybook in conjunction with a particular unit of study or theme. "Children need to develop an ear for the language of well-crafted nonfiction by hearing many different kinds read aloud" (Siu-Runyan, 1998, p. 173). Vardell warns that the "picture book" format should not only suggest suitability for primary students, but because the information included is not linked to any particular grade level it may be appropriate for sharing across several grade levels.
Duthie (1996) suggests using "literature bags" to promote the reading of nonfiction. She sends two trade books in a canvas bag home with students to read. Also included in the bag is a response journal and a letter to parents suggesting read aloud activities and literacy projects based on the books. Book talks serve as "commercials" for nonfiction books in Duthie's classroom and provide yet another way to introduce students to quality nonfiction books.
Moss, Leone, and Dipillo (1997) report teachers involving students with trade books in three methods. First, they suggest having students read and write about information trade books. Basically, this refers to students responding to the books in a literature journal divided into two columns. In the left column students record factual information or data gathered from a particular information book. In the right column students make personal responses in the form of what they "think" about the information. Personal responses are linked to increased comprehension and more active involvement in the text.
Secondly, the authors recommend prompting students to identify the pattern in a particular concept book and to replicate the pattern in a book they write themselves. "This allows them [students] to explore new structures in their writing in a secure, non- threatening way," (Moss, Leone, and Dipillo, 1997, p. 425) suggest the authors. Teachers generally present the book as a read aloud and then prompt for discussion to identify a pattern in the book. A nice link to using the curricular textbook is then made when students are assigned a page or two in the text to read and "convert" into the same type pattern as the trade book. An example would be taking Jerry Pallotta's informational "ABC" books and creating new versions incorporating key vocabulary and concepts from a certain curricular area.
Lastly, the authors suggest written retellings of expository text. First, students are provided with a title for the expository text about to be read and asked to make written predictions about its content. Students listen as the text is read aloud and are then allowed to read the text themselves as many times as they wish. They may take notes and draw diagrams or figures to represent the information gathered from the reading. Then students do a written recap or retelling of all they have learned. Moss, Leone, and Dipillo (1997) tell us that, "Written retellings can also provide teachers with valuable information about children's development in understanding expository text" (p. 427). This method encourages students to be actively engaged with the reading and should, therefore, increase comprehension of the text. Students are encouraged to share their retellings with other students and compare their writing, updating their retellings to include information and details they may have missed.
The genre of information books specifically designed to encourage language development is steadily increasing. Teachers and classroom instruction are directly targeted as the audience and market for this particular breed of information books. These books include narrative, humor, clever display of information, and unique ways of "catching" students' attention to introduce or further clarify a particular concept relating to language. Several suggestions regarding how teachers can use these books have been made. These activities involve reading, writing, listening, and speaking in response to the books. Certainly these books provide interest, excitement, and serve as a vehicle for language concept development, but how are most teachers using these books in their everyday teaching? What types of staff development and support do teachers need to be able to take advantage of the learning opportunities these books present? Careful synthesis of the information contained in these books is needed before teachers can see where they can be used most effectively in their curriculum. Options for integration of these books include: 1) use as a teacher read-aloud for pleasure; 2) classroom sets to accommodate individual reading; 3) books displayed in centers focusing on particular language arts skills; 4) use as reference books to provide information for group or individual reports; 5) read-aloud by teacher tied to a mini- lesson; 6) used to replace traditional language arts textbooks. Much research is needed to inform teachers of the many uses of these informational picture storybooks focusing directly on language arts concepts.
Avery, Carol. Nonfiction books: Naturals for the primary level. In R. A. Bamford, J. V. Kristo (Ed.), Making facts come alive: Choosing quality nonfiction literature K-8 (pp. 193-203). Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon.
Bamford, Rosemary A. and Janice V. Kristo. (1998) Making facts come alive: choosing quality nonfiction literature K-8. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon.
Dowd, Frances Smardo. (1992) Trends and evaluative criteria of informational books. In E. B. Freeman, D. G. Person (Ed.), Using nonfiction trade books in the elementary classroom: From ants to zeppelins (Report No. 18119-0015). Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 346 468)
Duthie, Christine. (1996) True stories: Nonfiction literacy in the primary classroom. York, ME: Stenhouse.
Freeman, Evelyn B. (1995) Supporting children's learning: Informational books across the curriculum. In M. R. Sorensen, B. A. Lehman (Ed.), Teaching with children's books: Paths to literature-based instruction (Report No. 52929- 0015). Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 379 687)
Harvey, Stephanie. (1998) Nonfiction matters: Reading, writing, and research in grades 3-8. York, ME: Stenhouse.
Hepler, Susan. (1998) Nonfiction books for children: New directions, new challenges. In R. A. Bamford, J. V. Kristo (Ed.), Making facts come alive: Choosing quality nonfiction literature K-8 (pp. 3-17). Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon.
Leal, D. (1993) Storybook, information books and informational storybooks: An explication of an ambiguous grey genre. The New Advocate, 6, 61-70.
Moore, Paula. (1998) Choosing quality nonfiction literature: Aspects of selection for emergent readers. In R. A. Bamford, J. V. Kristo (Ed.), Making facts come alive: Choosing quality nonfiction literature K-8 (pp. 75-89). Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon.
Moss, Barbara, Susan Leone, & Mary Lou Dipillo. (1997) Exploring the literature of fact: Linking reading and writing through information trade books. Language Arts, 74, 6, 418-429.
Siu-Runyan, Yvonne. Writing nonfiction: Helping students teach others what they know. In R. A. Bamford, J. V. Kristo (Ed.), Making facts come alive: Choosing quality nonfiction literature K-8 (pp. 169-178). Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon.
Thames, Dana G. and Carolyn K. Reeves. (1994) Poor readers' attitudes: Effects of using interests and trade books in an integrated language arts approach. Reading Research and Instruction, 33, 4, 293-308.
Tompkins, Gail E. and Lea M. McGee. (1993) Teaching reading with literature: Case studies to action plans. New York: Merrill.
Vardell, Sylvia M. (1998) Using read-aloud to explore the layers of nonfiction. In R. A. Bamford, J. V. Kristo (Ed.), Making facts come alive: Choosing quality nonfiction literature K-8 (pp. 150-167). Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon.
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