4 Ways to Build Student Excitement for Reading Nonfiction

Nonfiction is an essential and motivational component of reading instruction


Whether it’s massive black holes or bursting volcanoes, the best way to get children excited about reading is to read with them, and let them see you reading too! Counter to what some readers think, nonfiction is not dry facts and information.


In fact, librarian Neal Wyatt refers to the genre as the “extravagantly rich world of nonfiction.” Connect with your students as they discover the countless treasures within the wonderful world of nonfiction.

  1. Children are thrilled to learn that nonfiction includes sports, jokes, and pets. Inspire young readers by sharing a few of your favorite nonfiction titles and topics. Other children’s nonfiction subjects that elementary students like include:
  • Ghosts
  • Holidays
  • Fairy tales
  • Dinosaurs
  • Animals
  • Drawing
  • Space
  • Poetry
  • Biographies
  1. Incorporate “draw-to-learn.” Prior to reading nonfiction, have students use graphic organizers or mind maps. It helps learners develop ideas or “aha” moments. For example, prior to reading about an animal, students map ideas or topics they want to investigate, such as food, habitat, behavior, predators, etc. They also write questions they wanted answered about each idea or topic.

Students start with the animal name in the center of the map, then they draw or write ideas that come to them. Once they have many ideas, they can be grouped. Mind maps can also be done collaboratively as a class too. Students brainstorm ideas as a group, then write individual questions they want answered based on the collaborative ideas.

  1. Nonfiction includes spectacular illustrations and photographs. Titles, headings, captions, and bold print highlight the photos and guide young readers as they learn more about their favorite animals or athletes. Ask students to write new captions for their favorite photos within the books. Extend the learning by having them write catchy captions and titles for their own illustrations or photographs.  
  1. After reading a biography, children love to share their knowledge about the person with others. These “top five” prompts can be used as a choice menu for children. Have them select their favorite prompt to identify, summarize, and highlight the person’s significance and life experiences.  

Nonfiction is an essential and motivational component of reading instruction. It is invaluable in teaching the following reading strategies and helps students demonstrate meaning from text.

  • Background Knowledge
  • Visualizing
  • Questioning
  • Inferring
  • Determining Importance

If you’re looking for recommended children’s nonfiction authors, a few of my favorites are Sandra Markle, Kathleen Krull, and any children’s book illustrated by Kadir Nelson.  Another excellent source is the ALSC Notable Children's Book List (nonfiction titles).  


Do you have a favorite children’s nonfiction author or book? There are so many, it’s hard to choose a favorite!

July at If Then Creativity

Hello everyone. Whether you’re reading If Then Creativity to augment your teacher toolbox or to cultivate self-care routines, thank you for joining us this past month.


July’s messages explored ways to assess and analyze our teaching approaches, while taking care to avoid burnout. Experimenting with new teaching tools and techniques helps us grow as teachers, as does finding positive ways to handle challenges and stress. Staying motivated and challenged isn’t about following someone else’s advice, it’s about finding what works best for you. With the right “tools”, we are better equipped to inspire and teach others.  


Assess your teaching practices and outlook with the following posts:  

Improve, organize and prepare with these posts:


If you're looking for new ways to develop professionally and connect with colleagues, download our Book Study Tool Kit. Professional development does not have to be a formal, dry exercise- it can be a lot of fun and our Book Study Tool Kit provides a great framework to both have fun and learn new teaching approaches at the same time.  A collaborative book discussion is an important way to engage in critical conversation, enhance classroom repertoire, and increase student learning. 


Download our Reading Guide and Bookmarks for Thinking, Discussion, and Reflection.


Professional Learning: The Book Study Tool Kit
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Here are 6 articles about teaching/education/learning I read in July.  

5 Books to Energize Your Teaching You Must Read This Summe

Reading is relaxing

What’s on your teacher reading list? As I mentioned in a previous post, reading is a great way to relax – especially in the summer.


If you’re looking to relax and learn at the same time, recharge with the following 5 books that will enliven your teaching this fall.


Dear Data by Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec

One of the defining features of 21st century life is the prevalence of data. Whether it is the complexity of Google algorithms or the simplicity of a Fitbit’s measurements, data is everywhere. Visual information designers Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec see data as a creative material like paint or paper. Their engaging book depicts how they became friends by revealing details of their daily lives. Every week, for a year, they sent each other postcards describing the details of their lives. But they didn’t write about their lives, they drew it on postcards!


Use this book as inspiration for project-based learning. Finding and visually displaying data is an excellent project for students of all ages, from elementary students to graduate students. Critical and creative thinking skills combine as they explore the world around them, consider the best way to visually represent their information, and learn more about themselves.


Originals:  How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant

If you want to make our world a better place, read this book by Adam Grant. Through intriguing studies and personal stories, Grant shares practical actions to generate ideas for change. Grant also includes specific recommendations for teachers and parents to help children learn about making a creative and/or moral stand.  


Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

In her thoughtful book, Susan Cain devotes a chapter to “How to Cultivate Quiet Kids in a World That Can’t Hear Them.” Using both research and personal examples, she explains how parents and teachers can nurture a quiet child (whose talents are often overlooked). There is also a version for and about kids entitled Quiet Power the Secret Strengths of Introverts.  


The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley

"How do other countries create smarter kids?" That question is Amanda Ripley's basic premise throughout the book. While she has many useful ideas about how to educate children, it is Ripley’s decision to follow "three Americans (high school students) embedded in these countries for one year" that make it a must-read. Their perceptions are enlightening and enable the reader to experience what works and what does not work within our education system.


The Upside of Stress:  Why Stress is Good for You and How to Get Good at It by Kelly McGonigal

Shift your perception of stress because, as Kelly McGonigal asserts, it isn’t always bad for us. It’s our beliefs about stress that matter. McGonigal shares strategies to change the way we think about stress and ways to cultivate a mindset to embrace it. Many of the studies she shares are from the new field of mindset science. (Mindsets are beliefs that shape your reality.) “Seeing the upside of stress is not about deciding whether stress is either all good or all bad. It’s about how choosing to see the good in stress can help you meet the challenges in your life.”

What books are on your summer reading list?  What is the last great book you read?

Quotes in the Classroom

Quotes in the Classroom

Inspirational quotes are abundant on social media. As we scroll though our lives, they offer wisdom and motivation.  Recently, a “quote activity” caught my attention with its ability to create and maintain online conversation.  Engaged participants were thinking about, discussing, and interpreting various quotes.  It was introduced as follows:

“Post a movie quote that gives away the film without saying the title.”

For example, “To infinity . . . and beyond!” is a quote from the movie Toy Story. “There’s no place like home.” is from The Wizard of Oz.  “You’re going to need a bigger boat” is from . . . 

Like a great classroom prompt, friends eagerly responded and began challenging each other.  They posted movie quotes, debated the quality of the movies, and enlivened the conversation with obscure movie facts. 

Their online conversations made me wonder how and why certain movie quotes become memorable.  Do only classic movies have memorable quotes?  Are some quotes more significant to those of certain generations?  Doesn’t everyone agree with Ferris Bueller’s quote, “Life moves pretty fast.  If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”?

My friend’s movie post could be adapted for the classroom as a device for a lively literature activity and discussion.  Working in groups, students compile and/or ask others for their favorite book quotes.  After the quotes have been compiled and shared, each group selects their top ten quotations to share with the other students.  Can students name the titles of the books based on the quotes? Extend and enrich the activity by discussing the following: 

  • Do any of the quotes inspire you to read (or reread) the book?  Why? 
  • Explain what the quote tells us about the character or the situation. 
  • How do these quotes connect to our own lives? 
  • Is there a particular quote that resonates with you?  Why? 

Encourage the students to use their creativity to create a collaborative quote journal/collage, or an inspirational bulletin board.  The quote journal/bulletin board can be used for future activities that promote engaging conversation, personal reflection, and a love of literature. 


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Using Visual Data to Engage and Inspire

Visual Data Postcard of Email Usage

McDaniel College student's data postcard

One of the defining features of 21st century life is the prevalence of data.  Whether it is the complexity of Google algorithms or the simplicity of a Fitbit’s measurements, data is everywhere.  Standing at the center of this data vortex is . . . you.  The activities that comprise our daily lives are what give meaning to the data.

Visual information designers Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec see data as a creative material like paint or paper. Their engaging book, Dear Data, depicts how they became friends by revealing to one another details of their daily lives. Every week, for a year, they sent each other postcards describing the details of their lives. But they didn’t write about their lives, they drew it.  “Every Monday we chose a particular subject on which to collect data about ourselves for the whole week:  how often we complained, or the times when we felt envious; when we came into physical contact and with whom; the sounds we heard around us.  We then created a drawing representing this data on a postcard-sized sheet of paper, and dropped the postcard into an English post box (Stefanie) or an American mail box (Giorgia). 

Dear Data:  A Friendship in 52 weeks of Postcards

Inspired by the book, students at McDaniel College collected and visually presented data associated with their “ordinary” lives and created a visual data timeline.  Like the book, their depicted activities capture patterns and creativity in even “the smallest details of our lives.” 


Finding and visually displaying data is an excellent project for students of all ages, from elementary students to graduate students. Using data to quantify the self will interest students because they can choose which data set to explore and collect.  Critical and creative thinking skills combine as they consider the best way to visually represent the information.  It’s an excellent project-based learning activity because students learn more about themselves as they explore the world around them.  To learn more, visit dear-data.com

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Research in Brief:  Rethinking Stress

Rethinking Stress to Help Young People Excel

Life is filled with stressors big and small.  For example, today I am stressed about my refrigerator.  It has been making strange sounds.  We cannot always predict how life is going to unfold, and incidents beyond our control change our daily lives.  (The fridge just made that strange sound again!) 

Like adults, young people experience stress too.  Making friends, doing well in school, and wearing the “right” clothes are just a few of the pressures young people face. 

Fortunately, new research shows that changing our minds about stress can make us healthier and happier.  In her engaging book, The Upside of Stress:  Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It, Kelly McGonigal, shares information about why our beliefs about stress matter along with strategies to change the way we think about stress.

Many of the studies she shares are from the new field of mindset science.  (Mindsets are beliefs that shape your reality.)  She highlights successful mindset interventions, including one conducted at a low-income high school in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Researcher, David Yeager, wanted to teach freshman a growth mindset – the belief that people can change in significant ways.  He had students read an article that introduced the following ideas: 

“Who you are now is not necessarily who you will be later in life; how people treat you or see you now is not necessarily a sign of who you really are or who you will be in the future; people’s personalities can change meaningfully over time.”

Students also read upperclassmen’s accounts of change and wrote about their own experiences of how people could change. 

This thirty-minute intervention resulted in “students who were more optimistic and less overwhelmed by the problems in their lives. They had fewer health problems and were less likely to become depressed than students who had been randomly assigned to a control group.  A full 81 percent of the students who received the intervention passed their ninth-grade algebra class, compared with only 58 percent of students in the control group.” 

Learning how mindsets can affect student performance helps both parents and teachers provide ways for young people to excel. The Upside of Stress shows how rethinking our beliefs can change aspects of our lives – for the better.  


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Recent Reads

Newbery Medal Winner 2017:  The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Barnhill, Kelly.  The Girl Who Drank the Moon.  Algonquin, 2016. 
Winner of the 2017 Newbery Medal

A witch lives in the forest, and the people of the Protectorate fear her.  They have taken steps to never see her, with terrible consequences.  But the witch in the forest is kind, as is her child, Luna, whose magic is more powerful than anything.
Ages 10+

Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell

Hruby Powell, Patricia. Pictures by Christian Robinson.  Josephine.  Chronicle Books, 2014.  
Coretta Scott King Book Award, Illustrator, Honor
Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award, Honor
Boston Globe–Horn Book Award, Nonfiction Honor

Overcoming racism and poverty, Josephine danced and sang to her own beat.  Audiences clapped and cheered.  In Paris, she became a star!  This incredible woman even became a spy for the French resistance and adopted 12 children – all from different countries. 
Ages 10+

As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds

Reynolds, Jason.  As Brave as You.  Atheneum, 2016. 
Schneider Family Book Award Winner
Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book

Brothers Ernie and Genie must spend a month in rural Virginia with their grandparents.  As they learn more about their family and the new surroundings, it becomes clear “they’re both in for big surprises.” 
Ages 10+

They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel

Wenzel, Brendan.  They All Saw a Cat.  Chronicle Books, 2016.
2017 Caldecott Honor Book

As a cat walks through the world, many sets of eyes see the cat.  Perspective shapes what they see in unique ways.

Ages 3-10

This is the Rope:  A Story From the Great Migration

Woodson, Jacqueline.  Illustrations by James Ransome.  This is the Rope:  A Story from the Great Migration.  Nancy Paulsen Books, 2013.


For three generations, a piece of rope is passed down to serve many purposes –  a jumprope, a clothesline, a means of tying down suitcases, etc.  Linking family memories, the rope retains the past while embracing the future. 
Ages 5-10. 


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For more recent reads, click here. 

The Wonder of Snow on a Forever Stamp

The Wonder of Snow on a Forever Stamp

Ezra Jack Keats’ joyful picture book, The Snowy Day, will be honored on a set of postage stamps later this year.  The U.S. Postal Service will showcase four stamps of “main character Peter exploring and playing in his neighborhood while wearing his iconic red snowsuit.” 

The Snowy Day remains one of the most beloved and influential children’s picture books.  It is a Caldecott Award-winning classic that transports readers into a snowy world of wonder.  Published during the 1960s civil-rights era, the story focuses on Peter and his adventures in the season’s first snowfall.  Although Peter’s race is never directly addressed, his portrayal is recognized as a milestone in racial representation, and he becomes the first African-American protagonist in a full-color children's picture book. 


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Contact Information

Debra Lemieux

If Then Creativity



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