Many education professionals are grappling with the process of implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). It’s both exciting and daunting. We’ve seen the standards documents and the ballooning number of books and websites devoted to “doing it.” Now what? How to begin? What resources should we use? What strategies will support our students? How will we integrate our current curriculum? It’s enough to make your head spin.
So, let’s slow down and think about how even small steps can have large consequences. In this article, I want to discuss how nonfiction series—those books kids love to both linger over and browse—can help move us ahead. Why use nonfiction collections? Because the very features that they are known for can easily be helpful to teachers and librarians as they put the CCSS into practice. Remember, the new standards place an emphasis on reading, writing, and discussing nonfiction.
From Simple to Complex
A brief look at recent reviews of recommended nonfiction sets reminded me of their useful components: fascinating information, introductions and conclusions, engaging formats, interesting visuals, glossaries, indexes, and recommended books and websites, among other elements. These features are precisely what we need when focusing young readers on the big ideas inherent in the CCSS.
But let’s get specific. What simple steps can we take to use nonfiction series to reach Common Core goals? First, we can capitalize on the predictable structure of nonfiction sets. We can show students how chapter organization, time lines, charts, etc. are used in similar ways across different books. Second, we can combine nonfiction collections with stand alone titles and related materials, illustrating out how different authors approach the same topics. In each case, we purposefully utilize these volumes to meet the standards.
Capitalizing on Predictability
To make use of predictable formats, closely examine several titles in a strong series in order to:
Emphasize key ideas and details. The best nonfiction series are clearly written and contain key ideas and supporting details. Find the big concept in each book and have children point out the details that support it.
Find examples of craft and structure. Pay attention to features such as tables of content, headings, subheadings, captions, illustrations, diagrams, and end matter. Make a list of elements that occur across the set. Encourage students to use similar features in their own report writing.
Focus on integration of knowledge and ideas. Many collections have excellent photographs and diagrams that support the texts. Ask students to examine how illustrations and words work together. Do the images extend the text information? If so, how?
Look at text structure. How is each title in a series organized? Is there a main subject and several subtopics? This is a very common approach. Or, is the book arranged according to chronological order? Cause and effect? Problem and solution? A well-constructed volume contains much more than a haphazard collection of facts.
Seeing how nonfiction works across volumes will help children understand how information can be conveyed with clarity and style.
Combining Series Books with Other Nonfiction Materials
Beginning in kindergarten, the new standards suggest that we engage students in comparing texts on the same topic to one another—an essential exercise to help students understand that authors have unique points of view and offer different interpretations of facts. One of the simplest ways to do this is to make groupings of material for children to examine. Here are some ways to begin to incorporate nonfiction series volumes into book clusters.
Make your own book clusters. Find two, three, or four titles on the same subject. Science and social studies topics are natural choices. One volume should come from a nonfiction series. Look for similarities and differences among the books.
Develop collections of books on themes. Incorporate series nonfiction titles into larger collections used for thematic studies. The Common Core supports staying on a topic to build content knowledge. Use these collections to support rigorous reading, writing, speaking, and listening activities.
Fostering an Appreciation of Nonfiction
Above all, the CCSS promote reading nonfiction for in-depth knowledge and enjoyment. Since the standards are about the process of learning, we have a new justification for selecting the best, most interesting, most useful titles we can.