Nonfiction Literacy in Kindergarten: Young Students Incorporate Text Features into Their Science Notebooks

By Novakowski, Janice | Science and Children, November 2010 | Go to article overview
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Nonfiction Literacy in Kindergarten: Young Students Incorporate Text Features into Their Science Notebooks

Novakowski, Janice, Science and Children


As my kindergarteners walked among the large trees near our school field on a delightful fall day, students commented on the size, shape, color, and texture of the leaves they collected. They compared their leaves to their classmates' and considered what made their leaves interesting and unique. Each student was given a magnifying glass to "zoom in" on the details of their leaves and many felt transformed into scientists at that moment.

We returned to the classroom, each child holding a "special leaf," and they opened their science notebooks to a blank page. I asked the students to capture the leaf on the page and to consider the many details they had noticed outside. The students used their crayons and blended colors to get just the right color for the leaf. They paid attention to the size of the leaf and compared the actual leaves to their drawings, making adjustments as necessary. The kindergarten students noticed details like holes, tears, and veining in their leaves (Figure 1). I reminded them to zoom-in with their magnifying glasses, a technique that we had used when looking for specific features in the text of nonfiction or informational books. During nonfiction literacy lessons, the students had been exposed to different text features in informational books and learned that with nonfiction, you often needed to zoom-in to notice the details held in diagrams, photographs, and captions. This "capturing a leaf task" was a typical exercise in a school year spent introducing students to nonfiction text features and science notebooks. The overall focus of the notebooks was for students to capture what we did in science and record this in some way so that what they did and what they learned or wondered about could be communicated.


Borrowing Reading Strategies

At the beginning of the school year, the class enjoyed doing "treasure hunts" for nonfiction text features. I would read the students an informational book and point out a specific text feature such as a table of contents, a labeled diagram, a text box, or a graph. I would then ask students to go on a treasure hunt and find that text feature in another book in the classroom. With a variety of informational texts in the classroom, this usually only took a few minutes and students who were successful quickly were encouraged to help others or find another book. We then returned to the carpet and shared our finds. Although many of the students were not yet fully reading, they were able to identify and locate these text features in books. We discussed why an author might use a specific text feature and what information can be "read" by looking at them. For example, by looking at color photographs of a tree, a student might infer what season it is and share something with the group like, "I found this photograph of a tree and it looks like it is spring because I can see green leaves starting to open." In looking at labeled diagrams, a student might notice that an insect has many parts and comment, "This diagram of an ant has lots of lines and words on it. I didn't know an ant had so many parts." As students gained knowledge about text features, I wanted them to use the text features themselves in a meaningful way.

The use of science notebooks was a natural way for students to use nonfiction text features in different ways as they recorded scientific observations throughout the school year. The students' science notebooks kept a record of our scientific explorations and investigations and included the students' observations, notes, and questions. The notebooks we used contained blank pages so that students could make decisions about how to organize their own pages--where to write, label, or draw. In general, students were asked to record or document something we had observed or a task or investigation we had done. It was up to them how to document it. Sometimes, if students were stuck or I felt they could add some more detail to their documentation, I would suggest they add a title or label to their drawings.

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Nonfiction Literacy in Kindergarten: Young Students Incorporate Text Features into Their Science Notebooks


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