Teacher To Parent- Reading Nonfiction Books with your Children.

Currently, we are talking about text structure, i.e., how information is organized in books. We learned about text features and types of expository text structures in the past two weeks. Today, we will share some tips on developing your child’s understanding of expository text structures.

Now that you’ve heard about expository text structure, you want to help your child understand it. What should you do?

Firstly, keep in mind that your child will learn this at school. What you do at home is to supplement their learning. It shouldn’t overburden either of you.

A working knowledge of these structures enables you to guide your child when doing homework or exam prep.

What can you do at home?

Here are a few suggestions on what you can do with young children:

  1. Introduce your child to nonfiction or informational books. Informational books expose children to concepts that they won’t get from storybooks. The vocabulary, the organization, and the content lay the foundation for future academic learning. Listening to informational books exposes children to expository text structures. We make the mistake of assuming that all children prefer stories. On the contrary, many children prefer nonfiction books. An adult or older siblings can read these books to young children.
  2. When you read the books, point out the text features. Let’s suppose you are reading a beginning chapter book about tigers. Don’t just open the book to the chapter you want. Instead, say, “Let’s find out on what page the book talks about the tiger’s food. I’ll look in the table of contents.” When you find the correct title, point with your finger and draw a line to the page number. “Oh, tiger’s food is on page 6. Let’s turn to page six.” You are modeling how to use the table of contents. Similarly, point to the map of where the tiger reserves are and say, “Hey, look! The map shows us where we could go to see a tiger. We are here in Nagpur, and we can go up to Rajasthan (or whichever reserve is on the map).” Once again, you are modeling the use of the map. Your child understands that the map is there for a purpose—to give you some additional information about places related to the topic.
  3. Give children the necessary vocabulary by using the clue words of different text structures in your everyday interactions with your child. For instance, when you give your child a two-step direction, use ordinals to indicate the sequence. “I want you to do two things—first, throw the rubbish in the bin and then put your cup in the sink.” Or, in a three-step direction, use the words’ first, second, and last.’ When they pick out their clothes, point out their features. “These two shirts are alike because they both have buttons. But they are also different because the blue shirt has a pocket, but the red one doesn’t.”
  4. Draw children’s attention to different text structures as you read. Say the book you read is about elephants, ask them, “Are the African elephants the same as Asian elephants, or are they different? What does the author say?” When you mention the author, your listeners realize they must look for specific information in the book.
  5. Let your children share what they learned from the book with the other family members. It allows them to think about the important details—a skill they will need later to identify the main idea and supporting details.

These may seem like such simple steps, and that’s precisely the point. When we use language purposefully in play while giving directions and reading, we develop important literacy skills in our children.

Here are suggestions for children who are five, six and seven years:

 You can do all the above and more because kids at this age are beginning to read.

  1. Before children start to read, prompt them to look at the photographs, diagrams, maps, and other text features on the page.
  2. Explore different events in your everyday lives. Discuss how one action made other things happen i.e., cause and effect; or how some things have both same and different features i.e., compare and contrast. Talk about the order of their routines (wake up, brush teeth, drink milk, shower, breakfast, i.e., sequence, or ask them if they encountered a problem that day and how they solved it.
  3. Connect children’s experiences to the concepts in the book. Linking personal experiences to the content enables them to recognize the text structure used to give information as they begin to read more independently. Is the text describing how something looks, feels, tastes or moves? Does the text talk about when something happens? Did something go wrong, and did the text say how it was fixed? Did something happen that made other things happen? Or is the book about how things are the same and different?

These prompts help children prepare for what they must do while they read. You can print out anchor charts on nonfiction text structure from the internet if you like. Kids can use these as a reference while reading.

Here are some suggestions for children seven years and older:

  1. Highlight clue words while reading. Point out that these words show how the author organized the information. “See, the author is comparing and contrasting these two places. That means some things are the same between these two places, and some are different. Let’s find those!”
  2. Introduce your children to simple graphic organizers. Use them to explore everyday occurrences at home before analyzing the text structure in books. For instance, you can make a timeline of important events in your family or use the Venn diagram to compare and contrast favorite sweets like laddoo and gulab jamun. Create a simple flow chart to show cause and effect—Take a common occurrence: your child forgets her homework, which is the ’cause,’ and what happens at school? This is the effect. Another common scenario at home is when grandpa forgets his hearing aid and watches TV by turning up the volume. As they become familiar with graphic organizers, guide them to use these to understand the information given in the texts.

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