How we learned about nonfiction by “traveling” to Ancient Egypt
I have a small group of Tier 3 fifth grade students. They’re all at different places and each one of them is a struggling reader for different reasons. One thing they had in common was not being able to articulate the differences between fiction and nonfiction. They couldn’t tell me what made something non-fiction. They could tell me fiction is “not real” and non-fiction is “real,” but if I dug any deeper, they sat silently or just shrugged their shoulders.
My first activity consisted of a book sort of fiction and nonfiction books. I had a T-Chart where I simply wanted them to list things they noticed about the two different genres. They really had trouble describing anything related to non-fiction: table of contents, headings, subheadings, pictures, captions, charts, graphics, index, glossary, etc. I realized that, as basic as I thought this was, this was too high for these students.
There is no doubt in my mind that teachers have taught students how to read non-fiction. I believe these particular students just never made necessary connections. I realized that I had to teach students about WHY we read nonfiction and to help them identify nonfiction text features that would help them read more analytically.
I had to spark their curiosity! I had to get kids hooked on something where they would have questions and such an interest in answering them that it would naturally lead to the pursuit of informational text. I surfed around a bit and remembered about Nearpod. I logged in to their site and noticed they had a free lesson on Ancient Egypt. Part of the lesson provided a 360-degree image of a tomb filled with hieroglyphics. Coincidentally, I had just gone to Target and found a non-name brand set of VR glasses for $7.00. I was able to view that 360-degree image through those VR glasses. That was actually MY first time experiencing that! Naturally, I thought, “WHOA! The kids will LOVE this!” That was my hook, and how I would engage students to develop questions.
To open my lesson, I started off with just showing them that one image. I provided dry erase boards and markers. Students had the image open on Chromebooks and we passed around the VR glasses. They each wrote their questions down on the dry erase boards. I had a couple of students fill two dry erase boards with questions! They were very interested!
The types of questions students ask are always interesting to me. These students are economically disadvantaged, the majority English learners, struggling readers, and have had few, if any, experiences traveling globally. So, they had very basic questions like, why is there so much sand? They didn’t know it was a desert. What happened to Egypt? They didn’t know that it’s a country that still exists. Why do they have pictures on the wall? They didn’t know about hieroglyphics. The questions went on… I wasn’t so much concerned with the types of questions because I was more interested in them making the connection to using nonfiction to answer their questions, the process they were experiencing. I created a Google Doc for students to type in their questions and shared it to our Google Classroom. They were able to easily access the document and type their questions into a table that I created for them. The document basically had three columns: Questions, Answers, Works Cited. Students typed in their questions from the dry erase boards.
After this, I began our Nearpod lesson. I loved using Nearpod! It was easy for the kids to log in and I loved that I could control the slide progression. The reason I say this is because it was important for me to watch my small group, be able to ask them questions and clarify things as we went along. In addition to the information, images, and videos provided in the lesson, there were short formative assessments provided and I could see how students answered in real time. Students had questions to check for their understanding embedded in the lesson, they had the ability to type or draw their answers, and were even able to mark hieroglyphics that represented the letters of their names. They loved the interaction! Additionally, I provided several videos about Ancient Egypt to build more background.
The next thing I did was collaborate with our school librarian. I let her know what I was doing and she pulled any books that were related to Ancient Egypt. Along the way, I kept explicitly making the connections for students: let’s use non-fiction books to answer our questions. Which non-fiction books will best answer your questions? No, you do not need to read the WHOLE book. What can you use to help you find which PART of the book will provide you with the information you need?
This was the part where facilitating the learning for each student was most critical because they all had different questions and interests. Some students were more interested in the Sphinx and why and how the nose came off. Others wanted to know the size of the pyramids and how they were built, and a couple of others were wanting to know more about mummification. Not every book had the answer to students’ questions so I had them do online searches. This was another learning point for them and me. They had to learn what sorts of words to put in the address bar. (We’re still working on this!) With my assistance, the kids found the remaining answers off of online searches. As students discovered their answers, they typed them into their Google Doc in Google Classroom.
Finally, I gave each student a poster board to think about the sequence of their learning. Basically, each student created a poster board with four quadrants. Quadrant 1 was how we got started; how they developed their questions after “traveling to Egypt”. Quadrant 2 was a list of their questions. Quadrant 3 explained their research and cited the non-fiction books along with the non-fiction features that helped them identify their answers. Quadrant 4 listed the answers that students found.
I told my students that they were going to present our poster boards to each other, but then I remembered about the Seesaw App. I showed students how to use it and they LOVED it. Students recorded themselves explaining their posters and gave me feedback on what they thought about the lesson. I also asked them if they would like me to do anything differently. They loved recording themselves and they actually improved the lesson on their own! Students asked if they could take pictures of their favorite pictures or parts of the books they’d used. They also commented on each other’s posts. It was a great way to wrap up their learning about nonfiction AND Ancient Egypt!
And, now, we can move on to text structures…