Academic journal article Journal of Children's Literature

Calling Ms. Frizzle: Sharing Informational Texts in the Elementary Classroom

Academic journal article Journal of Children's Literature

Calling Ms. Frizzle: Sharing Informational Texts in the Elementary Classroom

Article excerpt

THE CHILDREN IN Jessica's classroom eagerly put their books and pencils down to listen as their teacher introduces the special guest in the room, Pinky the cornsnake.1 The children look closely as Jessica points to Pinky, who resides in a clear glass case filled with a heat lamp, a bowl of water, a piece of driftwood, and bedding. Next to the case is a display of informational books on snakes that Jessica previews for the children. As Jessica features each book, including Snakes by Seymour Simon (2007) and Snakes by Gail Gibbons (2010), she points to diagrams of snakes' bodies and shares interesting content about snakes. She suggests that because they have Pinky as a guest in their classroom, the class should learn more about him by reading these books.

Upon finishing her book talks, Jessica tentatively, but willingly, picks up Pinky and brings him closer to each table so every child can see him more closely. As she does, she thinks aloud by noticing what the snake is doing, and shares her wonderings: "Do you notice his tongue is going in and out? Why do you think that's happening? He feels very smooth. [She looks at one student.] I see you are observing his eyes. What do you notice?" After walking around the room with Pinky, Jessica explains, "You know who I'm trying to be right now? Calm and like I do this all the time? I'm trying to be Ms. Frizzle2 from Magic School Bus" (field notes, October 16, 2013).

As we share texts designed to provide information, we hope to elicit from children the kinds of curiosities and questions that will later drive them back into those very same texts, and we try, as Jessica did, to become Ms. Frizzle, genuinely interested and seemingly unafraid to dig a bit deeper to understand new phenomena. As teachers approach the work of sharing informational texts with young children, what other considerations do they keep in mind? Drawing from a study of how young children learn to read and write informational texts, we contend that there are implications for how we select, share, and support informational text reading in young children's classrooms. In this article, we specifically lift from the informational text selections, the curriculum, and the experiences of three third-grade teachers and their students in the context of a classroom study of the solar system. Based on that work, we present two facets that are important for teachers to consider as they plan for the most engaging and fruitful informational text experiences for young children: informational text selection and authentic instruction. Below, we provide a brief description of relevant work in this area to set the stage for what we learned in these classrooms.

Informational Texts in the Elementary Classroom

Teaching and learning about informational texts has become an area of much interest to researchers and educators in recent years. Numerous educators have revealed the scarcity of informational texts in primary classrooms and advocated for their use while noting numerous benefits (Duke, 2000; Jeong, Gaffney, & Choi, 2010; Pappas, 1991). More recently, the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and other state language arts standards, which include notable shifts toward nonfiction texts, opens us all to discussions of what we mean by nonfiction, how we share nonfiction texts in the classroom, and how to best support children's navigation of these texts.

What kinds of texts are we talking about? A number of researchers, but not all, use nonfiction as an umbrella term to include all texts that present factual information (e.g., Duke & Tower, 2004; Moss, 2008). Researchers have worked to clarify differences in nonfiction texts. Duke and Tower, for example, divide nonfiction into five categories of texts: informational texts, concept books, procedural texts, biographies, and reference materials. Colman (2007) argues that the distinctions between informational text-related labels and the way they are negotiated in classroom settings do indeed matter because they carry tacit meanings that can either foster or clarify misconceptions about these subgenres. …

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