Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Best of Series: Improve Vocabulary with Nonfiction Text Features, Part 2

Editor's Note: This blog was previously published, we're re-sharing it as part of our 'Best of' series, a look back at some of our most popular blogs.


By Dr. Geraldine Haggard, Reading Recovery Teacher Leader, Guest Blogger

This is the second blog post in a two-part series about helping your students use nonfiction text features to improve vocabulary and practice comprehension strategies that boost their content-area literacy. In today's post, I'll describe how you can optimize informational texts at levels F and I. If you missed the first part, which provides steps you can use with a level C guided reading book, you should read Improve Vocabulary with Nonfiction Text Features, Part 1.

                                                                 Did you know the pupils of the ibex are horizontal, and the horns of a male ibex can grow to be up to five feet long? You can introduce Ibex using fun facts like this before diving into the book's content during your guided reading lesson. Try the following steps while using this engaging leveled reader:

  • Pages 2–3: Activate prior knowledge about mountains and allow students to share what they know in a group discussion. Write their responses on the board. Ask them to look at the pictures on pages 2 and 3. After reading the text, ask kids the following questions: Do you think it's hot or cold high in the mountains? Do the mountains look grassy or rocky? How do you think this affects an ibex that lives in the mountains?
  • Pages 4–6: These pages present details about herds and physical characteristics of the ibex. You can use the following questions to encourage students to think critically about the ibex by comparing and contrasting: Why do you think the ibex travel in herds? Do humans travel in herds? How do you think hooves help the ibex? What do you think the ibex uses its horns for? Where are the eyes of the ibex? Is this the same as or different from the place that our eyes are found?
  • Page 7: This page presents a fact that you can use to engage students in a discussion about animals and insects that eat plants. Encourage kids to feel their upper and lower jaws and ask them to make inferences about how an ibex uses its jaws to eat plants.
  • Page 8: This page offers a great way to review new vocabulary presented in Ibex. When you point to each of the images on this page, have students take turns sharing a fact that they learned about each corresponding vocabulary word. If you'd like to provide a way to improve writing, you can have kids make their own illustrations of the parts of an ibex and write a sentence for each fact that they learned from reading the nonfiction book.

                                                                                                                         Through the Eyes of a Fly is a level I book rich with nonfiction text features, such as labeled photographs, bolded words, and a glossary, which you can use to improve vocabulary content-area literacy. This leveled book is a helpful tool for students to make real-world connections about organisms they may see on a frequent basis, such as flies. It's also a useful way to excite students about investigating physical traits, movements, and living organisms' foods. Use the following steps as you read each page of this book with students:

  • Table of Contents: Introduce the themes presented in Through the Eyes of a Fly  by reviewing the sections in the table of contents. Ask students if they have any questions or any background knowledge about each section.
  • Pages 2–5: After kids read about parts of a fly and what happens when they look for food, ask them the following: Why would a fly need to smell? When do you use your sense of smell? How do you feel objects? How does a fly feel things? Do humans need antennae?
  • Pages 6–7: These pages give details about how flies see, which gives you an opportunity to help students make predictions, as well as compare and contrast, by asking the following questions: What would happen to a fly if it could not see? How are the eyes of a fly different from a person's eyes? Do you know anyone who cannot see with their eyes? How do you think that person is able to move? How do you think a fly knows where to move besides using its eyes? Then ask kids to close their eyes and try to move around without seeing to see which sense they need to use.
  • Pages 8–11: These pages provide strong visual and textual support for students to understand how a fly eats in contrast to how humans eat food. Before reading these pages, you can ask the following questions: How do you chew your food? Can a baby chew its food? Why are our teeth important? Then ask the following questions after reading these pages to incorporate a discussion about living and nonliving things: What do you think would happen if the fly didn't have a tongue? Do nonliving things need a tongue to eat? Why?
  • Pages 12–16: These pages explain how flies reproduce and give some details about how flies aren't as gross as they may seem. After reading these pages, you should encourage students to review the information from the book with a writing activity.

I hope these tips help your students improve vocabulary and achieve science standards that are at their grade level. Lesson planning for language arts and science while incorporating fascinating nonfiction books for kids is a great way to boost content-area literacy. Don't forget the value of improving vocabulary and encouraging kids to practice new words, whether they're reading, writing, listening, or asking questions.

Be sure to visit our blog again for more instructional support for your classroom!


Dr. Geraldine Haggard is a retired teacher, Reading Recovery teacher leader, author, and university teacher. She spent thirty-seven years in the Plano, TX school system. She currently tutors, chairs a committee that gifts books to low-income students, and serves as a facilitator in a program for grieving children. If you like what you read here, you can enjoy more from Dr. Haggard elsewhere on our blog.