Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

The Role of Informational Text in Early Literacy Instruction

The following post is an excerpt from the teacher's guide by Libby Larrabee for the   Zoozoo Into the Wild   series of leveled readers . To find out more information about the series, which contains not only informational text, but also fiction and wordless books, click on the image at the bottom of this page to download a series highlights sheet with key features.

The Role of Informational Text in Early Literacy Instruction

Until recently informational text has played little or no part in early literacy instruction.  Yet informational text is routinely used by children and their families on a daily basis.  Think about the billboards, advertising, lists, magazines, internet, signs, logos and packaging features for favorite foods that surround young children every day.  Opportunities to use informational text need to be an integral part of life in the classroom as well.

Nell Duke’s important research on the use of informational text in classrooms identifies some good reasons to include informational text in our instruction ( Reading & Writing Informational Texts in the Primary Grades: Research-Based Practices.   Nell K. Duke and V. Susan Bennett-Armistead, Scholastic, 2003).

  • Children bring life experiences to these real-world, high-interest texts.
  • Photographs are real, representing a world children know and recognize.
  • Some children prefer reading informational text.
  • The combination of factual information and photographs enables all children to draw on their personal knowledge and experience to raise questions, make comments, and contribute to discussions.
  • Informational text is a key to success in later schooling because it builds knowledge of the natural and social world.  A higher level of background knowledge supports a higher level of comprehension.

Children must encounter more informational text in the primary grades!

Duke and others also suggest that we need to diversify the genres young children read, write, and listen on a daily basis to include:

  • One-third informational genres
  • One-third narrative genres
  • One-third other text such as poetry and procedural text

Research has shown that even very young children are sensitive to the differences in genre.  Research also shows that the more experience students have in listening to and reading different genres, the more successful they will be in writing in different genres in their later schooling ("Informational Text? The Research Says, 'Yes!'" Nell K. Duke in Exploring Informational Texts: From Theory to Practice,   ed. Linda Hoyt, Margaret Mooney, Brenda Parkes. Heinemann, 2003).

Using the Zoozoo Into the Wild Informational Texts

Into the Wild nonfiction books are a wonderful way to provide initial reading experiences in the informational text genre. These beautifully photographed books provide multiple opportunities for discovering new information about each of the eight Into the Wild animals.  Each story teaches simple animal facts that focus on lifestyle, habitat, and special characteristics.  

A unique feature is the Talking Points page found at the end of each nonfiction book.  These talking points provide additional facts for each page that will support your discussions about the animal and extend students’ learning.  Revisiting these texts several times will provide additional opportunities to add information to the RAN chart you began when introducing the animal with the poster.

Designed for use in a small group, guided reading setting, these books provide simple text with clear pictures to support the emergent reader.

Before Reading

It will be important to provide an appropriate book introduction before having the students read the text.  Consider what they already know about the animal.  Read the title and have them predict what kind of information they might learn based on the cover.  Talk about the pictures as you preview the book with them.  Choose one or two new and important vocabulary words to have the students locate in the text.

Keep the introduction as simple and focused as possible.  This is not the time to introduce the additional information found on the talking points page.  Emergent readers need to focus on the pictures and print on each page and may become confused by the insertion of additional information. 

Book Introduction

Teacher:   Today we are going to look at a book that will help us learn more about hippos.    (Teacher passes out Hippo nonfiction book to children).   It’s a book that tells us facts about Hippos.  The title of this book is Hippo.  Let’s look at the cover and talk about what we notice.

Child:    ‘Hey, this hippo has hairs by his nose like my cat, Freddy.’

Teacher:   Yes, those hairs are called whiskers and many animals have them. Whiskers help animals feel what’s around them. Let’s say that word together…whiskers.  Should we add that information to our Hippo chart?    (Teacher writes on post-it and adds to chart under New Information).    We also notice this hippo is in the water.  That’s some information we already have on our chart.  We can move that post-it to ‘Yes, We Were Right.’

OK, now back to the book.  Let’s open the book and look at the first page.  This page tells us that the hippo is heavy.  That means it weighs a lot.  What letter would you expect to see at the beginning of the word ‘heavy?’

Child:    ‘H’

Teacher:   Great, ‘heavy’ does begin with an ‘h.’ Can everyone put your finger under the word heavy? Good, see how the word ‘heavy’ starts with an ‘h’ just like ‘hippo.’  The hippo says, ‘I am a heavy hippo’.  Can you point to the words and read it with me? Let’s look at the next page.

Child:    The hippo’s in the water.

Teacher: The hippo swims in the water. Let’s turn the page and see what else the hippo does in the water.

Child:    They’re playing in the water.

Teacher:   Yes, they are playing in the water.  Let’s look at the next page.

Child:   Wow!  That hippo has a big mouth. What’s he doing?

Teacher:   The hippo is yawning.  We yawn when we’re sleepy.  Do you think the hippo is going to sleep?  Let’s turn the page and see.  Yes, the hippo is sleeping in the water. Let’s look at the picture on the last page.  Talk about what you see.

Child:    It’s a mother and her baby and they’re kissing.

Teacher:   Yes, it is a mother hippo and her baby.  A baby hippo is called a calf.  Say that word with me. On this page she says, ‘Here is my baby calf.’  Let’s say that together. Now I’d like you to turn back to the beginning of the book so you can read.  Remember to point to the words as you read them.  

During Reading:

Students may need to point in order to match text and spoken words. Encourage them to use the pictures to support their efforts to decode unfamiliar words.  When appropriate, encourage them to reread to self-correct and maintain story meaning.

After Reading :

This might be a good time to begin a group chart using the RAN strategy developed by Tony Stead. ( Reality Checks: Teaching Reading Comprehension with Nonfiction K-5, Stenhouse Publishers, 2006 ).  It is based on the KWL strategy but was designed to meet the needs of studying nonfiction text.

Lead the children in a discussion to verify information that was put under the ‘What We Think We Know’ column.  Help them move those post-its to ‘Yes, We Were Right.’  Then ask them what new information they learned about the hippo.  Write this new information on post-its and add them to the RAN chart.  At this time you may wish to add some information from the talking points page.  Provide many opportunities for revisiting the text at other times to add additional information from the talking points page.

Discussion After Reading the Text

Teacher:   Wasn’t that book interesting?  You all did a good job reading.  I liked how you checked the pictures when you got a little stuck.  Checking the pictures can help us figure out words we’re not sure of.  I saw Cate put her finger under the ‘h’ in heavy and looked carefully before she said the word.  Looking at the first letter of a word also helps us.

Who can show me a page that tells us about information we already knew about the hippo? 

Child:    The first page where the hippo is heavy. We said the hippo is fat.

Teacher:   Good noticing. Will you move that post-it to “Yes, We Were Right?’

Discussion continues and the teacher helps the students identify new information that is added to the RAN chart. At the close of group time, the teacher reviews the information gathered on the chart so far,

Nonreaders and Children with Low Language Skills

Students who are not ready to read can still benefit from small-group instruction with these books.  You might choose to discuss each picture and then invite them to practice repeating new vocabulary and language structures.  Then read the whole text for them so they can hear the flow of the language as it unfolds in the text.

Extension Activities

These activities can be used with any of the nonfiction books. They provide children with opportunities to independently explore informational text features and engage in conversations that support the development of vocabulary.

  • Provide opportunities for children to explore other informational texts about the hippo in your literacy center. 
  • Provide post-its so children can add new information to the RAN chart.  They may need your assistance with this activity.

For more information on the Zoozoo Into the Wild series of leveled readers, click here to visit our website   or click the image below to download an information sheet.