Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Encouraging Active Reading Habits with Biographies [Grades 2–4]

by Paula Dugger, M.Ed.

Young children benefit from having an assortment of fiction and nonfiction books to read. However, many studies conclude that young readers in PreK-1st most often prefer reading fiction. This is likely the result of parents, like me, always reaching for familiar fairy tales at bedtime to read to little ones. Fairy tales and make-believe stories, such as The Three Bears and The Three Little Pigs are fantastic fiction that have consistently captivated young children.

By the time students reach fourth grade, though, they are expected to read and learn from informational texts and content area books. Research and my own experience as a reading specialist indicate an overall decline in reading scores (Chall, Jacobs, & Baldwin, 1990). This is often referred to as the “fourth-grade slump.” Most elementary-aged readers even have two very different reading levels, and fiction books almost always score higher than the nonfiction books. Findings suggest that greater exposure to informational texts, especially in first and second grade, could help minimize these effects in reading achievement.

This blog explores how to introduce informational texts into a children’s repertoire of reading.  We will also look at how these texts, at or above kids’ reading levels, are appropriate for lessons and can propel readers into avoiding the “fourth-grade slump.”


Motivate Readers with Low-Level Nonfiction Books


I remember when I was a first and second-grade student, reading one biography after another. Because I had access to my school, church, and public libraries in our small town, I was able to read books throughout the year.  I can still see those orange covered, hardback, chapter books with the black and white photos and illustrations that grabbed my attention.  These were also my first chapter books, and I was so excited to have graduated to reading chapters.  It was only later I realized that not only did I learn about famous people in history, but I also learned a great deal about places and things in history. To this day, I still love reading about people in the context of the world that surrounds them, which is often very different from my world.

While I primarily read biographies, I didn’t have other books that might give me more information or explore themes about the people I was reading about.  Hameray Publishing, though has created a new series called Inspire! It contains 40 informational text chapter books that pairs books from a diverse group of extraordinary people with books containing a key theme related to each person’s life. For example, Abraham Lincoln: Standing Tall is a biography and is paired with an informational book, For Our Country, For Our People , that explores crucial information about 13 U.S. Presidents, including Abraham Lincoln.  The series is geared for grades 2 and 3 with a guided reading level range of M–Q, making them low level, high-interest books.  


                                                             Provide a Selection of Books Related to Units or Themes Taught in the Classroom                                                                                       Many of the books found in the Inspire! series are about fascinating people in history such as Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks , Michael Jordan , and Neil Armstrong .  Since U.S. history, Black History month, and sports are standard units found in classrooms; it would be easy to slot these titles into themes or units being studied or for independent reading. 

This activity that can be incorporated into a unit.

  • Have students select a biography that is of interest to them.
  • Have students read the selected biography and its paired text and write why the person they chose is important and of interest to the reader.
  • Each student will present their books to the class or small group to encourage others to read and learn about others who represent a wide range of interests.


Provide Opportunities for Children to Select Books on Their Own

Research indicates that allowing readers to self-select books to read can make them better readers.  Children can be highly motivated and learn best when their learning experience aligns with some of their interests.  There are also studies suggesting that student choice can translate into more pleasure reading by students, resulting in higher academic achievement in school.  

  • When introducing a topic that will allow students to read books independently, provide a carefully selected pool of books for the students from which to choose.  This allows the teacher to have overall control of the material/subjects presented, but students can choose which book/s might be of interest to them.
  • The Inspire! series gives teachers easy access to a pool of leveled paired nonfiction texts representing a wide variety of people and interests.


Provide Children More Highly Motivating and Complex Texts

Giving students opportunities to read appropriately challenging texts, along with teacher support, will help students learn more.  T eachers who scaffold instruction using challenging books, such as nonfiction, will help students enhance their learning. Most often, we learn best when presented with something a little more complex, but well within our reach with assistance.  Nonfiction can be highly motivating and help the reader develop a curiosity that will lead them on a journey of discovery about places, people, and things in the world!


I hope you will take the time to explore the titles found in the new Inspire! series as a way to engage readers with nonfiction using biographies and chapter books. Remember to continue to check the Hameray blogs for more ideas and tips to use in classrooms too.


Paula Dugger has a B.S., M.Ed., and Reading Specialist Certification from The University of Texas at Austin and Reading Recovery training through Texas Woman’s University. Paula does educational consulting and training through Dugger Educational Consulting, LLC.   Paula and her husband Neil are parents to two wonderful daughters, Alicean and Ashley, two sons-in-law Kevin and Patrick, and grandparents Carter and Blake. She also raises registered Texas Longhorns on the weekends. The longhorn cattle are featured in her first book published by Hameray Publishing Group, titled  Longhorns .