When I first started teaching nonfiction, I wanted to model a lesson for my students that would be fun. That week, we brainstormed for topics they like reading about. I asked them to give me topics and not specific genre. Before I knew it, my board was covered with topics I never knew interested them. Some listed hobbies, others listed sports, and games they enjoy, but the topic that won, when we voted, was animals.
I think back to when I was in school and my all time favorite topic was horses. I lived, breathed and dreamed about black stallions, prancing pintos and buttermilk colored mares with dark manes. I was sure that if I asked the girls what specific animals they loved, it would be horses.
This was the perfect time to write TOPIC on the board and under it, the word SUBTOPIC. I then asked for a volunteer to give me the name of a specific animal.
One of my eager girls was oooo'ing and almost fell off her chair as she waved her hand wildly.
"Call on me, call on me!" she moaned. I was sure she was going to say "HORSE" so when she yelled "CAPYBARA" I was stunned. Capybara are in the rodent family and are, from what I've read, the largest rodents in the world. They live in South America and are quite vocal! From her response, I realized that times sure have changed. I wondered what the rest of the kids would say....
Here's a little video of a capybara being petted at the Explorarama Lodge on the Napo River in the Amazon. Listen to the chitter chatter of this cute critter!
I showed this video to the kids and they were all crying out "I WANT ONE! I WANT ONE! I told them I wasn't sure if their parents would really like it if they brought one home and told them my two dachshunds would definitely NOT like it at all.
Capybara - YouTube
Back to Nonfiction....
I told my capybara girl that I didn't think we could think of a lot of details about the capybara, so we had to select another animal on the board. I praised her for knowing about capybara and she beamed.
The kids added many subtopic animals to our list on the board. Some were giraffes, dolphins, lions, tigers, hamsters, guinea pigs, hippos and more. I found it strange that most were wild animals instead of domesticated pets like kittens, puppies, canaries and HORSES!
At that point, I had them vote for one so I could continue my lesson, which by this time, had the kids really interested and on task. They selected dolphins. I kidded with them and told them dolphins would be too big for their home aquariums. Immediately, I had one boy blurt out that he'd build a HUGE aquarium for it. I grinned and told him I'd like to be in on that project.
We then listed details about dolphins... mammals, live in water, eat other fish, intelligent, etc. Right after that I handed them one of my worksheets that I created and broke them into small groups. They were to do some research about other animals and had to have all the same answers on their worksheets which means they'd have to agree about what was important and what wasn't.
I recently put this Nonfiction Find It, Check It packet together to share with everyone. You'll find worksheets that can be used with any Nonfiction text, a poster, bookmarks with NonFiction features and more.
I also included a detailed animal lesson with excellent kid friendly websites. The Smithsonian National Zoo has animal cams the kids can watch. There's a NASA site with facts about the sun. The National Geographic animal site is another excellent website I included.
This is a great packet that teaches kids the features of nonfiction and motivates them to find the features in any nonfiction text.
I'm still wondering why kids don't like black stallions or pinto ponies. Times sure have changed...