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How nonfiction reading helps students learn

WEDNESDAY, JULY 01, 2015 15:31 PM

Fiction and nonfiction are both important genres when it comes to learning, but a 2011 study published in Reading Research Quarterly discovered that first grade classrooms only spent 3.6 minutes a day on informational texts during written language activities. To remedy this lack of nonfiction material, Common Core State Standards have called for an increase in this type of text. Many people fear this change will cut into the time spent reading literary classics, but what they don't realize is that nonfiction reading can have many benefits for student learning. 

Supplementing fiction
Fictional stories often include historical and news references that kids are not aware of when reading. It's easy for the reader to assume that the whole book is a product of the author's imagination when there is no context or background. By aligning nonfiction material with fictional narratives, kids can gain a broader understanding of their assigned stories. For example, if students were reading "The Scarlet Letter," they could also read a historical piece of work explaining Puritan beliefs and customs to accommodate the section. 

Improving vocabulary
Nonfiction work has the potential to expose children to examples of uncommon terminology. Reading this genre from a young age can potentially help increase students' understanding of academic vocabulary for future testing. In this regard, it's worth noting that standardized tests usually reference nonfiction materials more often than they do fiction pieces.

Mixing up the school reading list is also a way to integrate topics that impact student lives. When children can relate to the information being taught, they'll be more likely to join in on group discussions and share their opinions.

Enhancing reading skills
Reading, in general, can help improve a student's vocabulary and reading comprehension, but a study found that nonfiction texts can have a bigger impact on education. The study tested second graders on their reading comprehension and found that the students whose curriculum emphasized nonfiction work scored significantly higher on reading comprehension tests, The New York Times reported. The study also found the students scored higher on social studies and science knowledge.

Another benefit of diversifying genre types in class is the broadened scope of knowledge and experience kids receive from their readings. For kids who have never been big fans of fiction reading, delving into a memoir or historical article may spark an interest in reading they didn't know they possessed.