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Teaching Nonfiction Reading Skills in the Science Classroom [ACTIVITY]

I don't have a ton of time to write today -- I've spent the past week teaching and learning alongside of some really progressive thinkers in Australia -- so I figured I'd share a few handouts that I've been using in class this year to teach nonfiction reading skills in my sixth grade science classroom.

Each lesson is tied directly to a standard in the Common Core Literacy in History, Science and Technical Subjects curriculum -- and each lesson is designed to be used in tandem with a current event connected to the concepts that our students study.  If you like the lessons, all you'll need to do is find a current event to teach them with!

Hope they help someone:

Active Reading Behaviors

Handout, Active Reading Behaviors

One of the reading strategies that we will introduce to students is the notion of making "active reading comments" while reading. We will ask students to make 4 comments for each current event that they explore.  These comments are designed to focus students and to get them to pay more attention while reading.  They also serve as good small group conversation starters for students once reading is over.

This handout introduces four types of active reading comments to students, includes sample language for making a good active reading comment, and includes a rubric so that students can self-score their active reading comments.

The key point to get across in this lesson is that readers are ALWAYS thinking while reading.

The comment types that are introduced in this lesson are the kinds of things that good readers are thinking about.  Introducing those patterns of thinking will make them more efficient readers of nonfiction text.

Common Core Literacy Standard Addressed: By the end of grade 8, read and comprehend science/technical texts in the grades 6-8 text complexity band independently and proficiently.

How Quotes Influence Your Thinking


To be literate when reading nonfiction, students need to learn to recognize when an expert quoted in an article is worth trusting.  This connects nicely to the idea that interpreting scientific texts, forming opinions and drawing conclusions requires critically thinking about the sources of information that a reader is studying.

To teach this skill, we will have our students use this handout to collect all the direct quotes from a current event and pair them up with the person being quoted.  Students will then rate the overall reliability of the information based on what they can learn about the source that is being quoted.

The key point to get across in this lesson is that experts can have agendas too -- and until you know more about who an expert is, you can't effectively decide whether or not they are worth believing. 

This is particularly important for readers of nonfiction because bias and agendas DO play a role in what experts say about controversial topics.  A question every reader should ask when they come across a quote from an expert is, "Who is this person and why should I believe them?"

Common Core Literacy Standard Addressed: Distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text.


Using Statistics, Star Statements and Stories to Persuade


Another skill that students need to learn when reading nonfiction text is that authors use different kinds of evidence to both inform and persuade readers.  We will use this handout to introduce students to the different kinds of evidence that they are likely to find in nonfiction text.

It asks readers to (1). find examples of different kinds of evidence in a current event, (2). think about the kind of evidence that seems to be the most influential and (3). think about why authors include specific pieces of evidence in a text.

The key point to get across in this lesson is that authors of nonfiction text use several different types of evidence to make their case -- and those different types of evidence have a different impact on readers.

Learning to first RECOGNIZE the types of evidence being used to make a case and then to determine the impact of each bit of evidence on readers will help students to think critically about the texts they read.

Common Core Literacy Standard Addressed: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.

Reading Nonfiction with a Skeptical Eye


Many students believe that nonfiction reading pieces are ALWAYS true simply because nonfiction reading pieces are supposed to be full of facts.  The truth is that nonfiction reading pieces – particularly current events connected to controversial science topics – can be biased because they rely on people giving their own personal opinions and/or interpretations of the same set of facts.  That means good readers are always on the lookout for potentially biased statements when they are reading nonfiction.

We will use this handout to help our students practice reading with a skeptical eye.

It asks students to identify statements in a science current event that they aren't ready to automatically trust.  Then, it asks students to (1). explain why they are skeptical about those statements and (2). what they would do in order to gather more information about the statement that they are skeptical about.

The key point to get across in this lesson is that all of the evidence in a nonfiction piece isn't automatically true -- and that good readers are always reading like critics, trying to spot evidence that may be biased.

Common Core Literacy Standard Addressed: Distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text.



Anonymous commented on May 21, 2013 at 9:14pm:

I enjoy seeing what my

I enjoy seeing what my colleagues are doing in the variety of teaching areas. I particularly enjoyed this blog.

Chris Pollet commented on January 3, 2014 at 11:26am:

Passed it on

You may not have had much to write about this day but this is so useful.  Thank you

Chris Pollet commented on January 3, 2014 at 11:26am:

Passed it on

You may not have had much to write about this day but this is so useful.  Thank you

Deborah Burke commented on May 22, 2013 at 6:41am:


These are good materials.  Students need direct instruction for these skills and then many opportunities to practice.  Thanks for sharing.

Shanta Lightfoot commented on May 22, 2013 at 2:08pm:

Great Stuff

Thanks for sharing your wealth of expertise and your useful handouts!

Salina Patton commented on May 27, 2013 at 6:44pm:

Good tools

Direct instruction and practice, those are key to developing these skills. Thanks for the materials!

Rod Powell commented on June 2, 2013 at 12:10pm:

Great Ideas!

I particularly like the use of current events.  So often, current events in a social studies class end up as regurgitations of often biased articles.  A great idea for a social studies current event might be differing views on a historial event...say Custer's Last Stand.  Students could read account from mainstream newspapers of the time and compare them to discussions of recent discoveries of the battle in the media today.

Ira Bickoff commented on August 24, 2013 at 9:10am:

Nonfiction literature in Google Earth

Thank you for the informative article.  I am a high school science teacher and use Google Earth chapter tours and activities to engage students in reading nonfiction literature.  One of the books I use is Charles Darwin's, Voyage of the Beagle.  I have found its a nice multidisciplinary way to introduce history, culture and science.  The site is:


Ira Bickoff


O'Shea commented on October 21, 2013 at 12:10pm:

Earth Science 6-8

This is full of awesome resources. Thanks so much for sharing with us.

DL Johnson commented on January 5, 2014 at 11:42pm:


I found this link to your blog through the October 2013 issue of NSTA reports, which, sadly, I am just getting around to reading! I'm finding many of our teachers are a bit stumped as to how to teach/reinforce CCSS literacy skills in science and felt your info and handout templates might just help jumpstart some of them into action. Thank you!

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