Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Improve Content-Area Literacy with Low-Level Big Books

By Paula Dugger, M. Ed., Guest Blogger

Big books for shared reading are excellent tools to appeal to young children as you model reading skills kids can use with each page. Using narrative texts and nonfiction books for kids during this time is a great way to improve reading comprehension strategies across multiple content areas. In today's post, I'll describe how you can easily incorporate low-level big books into your guided reading activities to provide a strong foundation for content-area literacy among your students.

Informational texts are part of the larger category of nonfiction. They make it easy to introduce and reinforce nonfiction text features and print concepts. Some features in the books that I'll discuss today include table of contents, bolded words, labeled images, glossary, and index. To help students understand the difference between fiction and nonfiction, place a narrative text, such as The Dove King , next to an informational text, such as Doves . Engage kids in a discussion about the differences they notice about the cover and the pages inside each leveled reader.

This is a simple way you can use big books to help kids compare and contrast text types. If kids struggle to identify differences between the paired texts, you can direct their attention to the nonfiction text features in  Doves . The labeled images, bolded words, and glossary can be helpful to show kids so that they understand how to improve vocabulary while reading.

To help kids understand the relationship between bolded terminology and the glossary, have kids search for bolded words before reading the book. Then have kids read the text on the page to see if they can make meaning of the bolded word. If they run into difficulty, this is a teachable moment that you can use to highlight the helpfulness of the glossary at the end of the book. Additionally, the large size of this nonfiction book serves as an advantage to reinforce science concepts if you're planning a lesson about how animals use parts of their bodies to survive and take care of their baby animals.

Planets is a level C guided reading book that also has fantastic nonfiction text features to engage young kids about the topic of planets. Images of planets, simple sentence structure, and a helpful illustration at the end of the book provide great opportunities to encourage students to make inferences about each planet's proximity to the sun. While reading this big book with your students, ask questions that encourage students to review the information presented on each page: Which planet is closest to the sun? Which planet has rings around it?

Another low-level big book from the  Kaleidoscope Collection that would be helpful for enriching a science lesson about animals is  Butterfly . You can use the simple sentence structure in this guided reading level A informational text to teach one-to-one matching. With two words on each page, you can also improve vocabulary by prompting students to find meaning in pictures.

Titles of low-level narrative texts within the same collection, such as What Is a Friend? , can easily help you activate students' prior knowledge for a social studies lesson about friendships and helping others. This level C big book is also useful for demonstrating one-to-one matching and having students take turns to model their reading skills. While reading the title and looking at photographs in the books, you should think aloud by modeling the following questions: What is this story about? What do I know about being a friend that will help me read the book?

Whether you choose fiction or nonfiction big books for future lesson planning, allocate enough time to allow students to voice what they are thinking before, during, and after reading. This ensures oral language development and allows kids with limited background knowledge to learn from their peers in a guided reading group. It's important for you to validate all feedback from your students by using positive phrases, such as Good thinking or That’s a good start, let’s continue reading .

Empowering young learners to ask questions is also a very important reading comprehension strategy that is relevant across all content areas. There are many more low-level big books  that are highly motivational for kids who are learning to read, which are valuable tools that you can leverage to improve content-area literacy.

Be on the look-out because the Hameray team will be offering more narrative and informational big books in 2019. Don't forget to visit our blog soon for more tips to help your students!

Paula is an educational consultant who has previously served as a Reading Recovery Teacher/Teacher Leader, first grade teacher, Title I and high school reading teacher, and a Reading Coordinator. If you like what you read here, you can enjoy  more from Paula on our blog .