Inquiry and Nonfiction | On Common Core

Inquiry and nonfiction are closely related and books that explore the work of scientists can be ideal mentor texts as students develop skills that are essential for learning.
nquiry—the process of satisfying our curiosity—and nonfiction are closely related. Readers turn to nonfiction for those how-to lessons as well as informational needs. In titles such as Bradley Hague’s Alien Deep: Revealing the Mysterious World at the Bottom of the Ocean (National Geographic, 2012), Sandra Markle’s The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frogs: A Scientific Mystery (Millbrook, 2012), or Loree Griffin Burns’s The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe (Houghton, 2010), students witness scientists observing, inferring, and formulating new questions as they refine their understanding of the natural world. In effect, these titles provide readers with a window onto inquiry as it is unfolding. What kind of life exists deep within the ocean, why the Panamanian golden frogs are dying, and the cause of honey bee colony collapse disorder are real, perplexing questions requiring creative scientific problem solving. We refer to the books mentioned above as the literature of inquiry because they explore both the processes of investigation and the results. Reading these titles can also be an act of inquiry for students. Like the scientists, they will want to know how these problems can be addressed and if real solutions can be found. Here are some questions we have found helpful to use when discussing books dealing with scientific inquiry:  

Reading with an Inquiry-Minded Stance


         Focus of the Question                                              Question
Perplexing Problem What is the problem scientists want to solve?
Observation and Inference What evidence have the scientists gathered? How? How have they interpreted this evidence?
False Assumptions or False Starts Did the scientists “toss out” any false assumptions? Did they have any false starts?
Answers/Solutions What did the scientists learn?
Remaining Questions What else do the scientists want to know?
  Teachers have reported that when students closely follow an unfolding inquiry, they feel as if they are accompanying the scientists on their journey. They feel connected to the experience. This connection is based on how scientists think and learn; it’s grounded in disciplinary literacy because the discussion questions keep the focus on scientific problem solving. Reading from an inquiry-minded position is closely aligned to Common Core State Standards. From the early elementary years, CCSS emphasizes such skills as understanding scientific ideas and concepts, describing steps in a technical procedure, comprehending and using academic and domain-specific words and phrases, and using evidence to support ideas in a text. These skills, which are needed to understand and discuss scientific inquiry, can be taught and practiced by reading and responding to nonfiction science books that highlight inquiry. Nurturing curiosity is an essential part of teaching and learning. When librarians and teachers share nonfiction that deals with inquiry, they establish that asking questions, making observations and inferences, developing creative ideas, testing ideas and coming to conclusions, and considering the additional questions that arise are essential to scientific thinking. At the same time, this thinking is also central to the Common Core. It’s a match! For more information about the literature of inquiry, see: Zarnowski, M., & Turkel, S. (2011). Nonfiction literature that highlights inquiry: How real people solve real problems. Journal of Children’s Literature, 37(1), 30-37. Zarnowski, M., & Turkel, S. (2012). Creating new knowledge: Books that demystify the process. Journal of Children’s Literature, 38(1) 28-34. School Library Journal's webcast series on the Common Core continues on March 14, 2013. For more information and to register, visit our dedicated webpage.
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Thomas Shaw

I would add `Longitude" by Dava Sobel. The story of how clock-maker John Harrison solved the problem of accurate ocean navigation in the 18th century. The problem of calculating longitude engaged the attention of the top scientific minds of the European world including Issac Newton. The Board pf Navigation offered an enormous cash prize. A practical mechanic cracked the problem by developing the most accurate clock every produced. The book examines several of scientific attempts to solve the problem and chronicles Harrison's development of several versions of his marine chronometer. These remarkable clocks still run at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich.

Posted : Mar 19, 2013 08:30

Rebecca Hill

Great article! If you are interested in a reading list of narrative non fiction STEM reading for middle and high school level students, check out my article in February 2013 issue of Teacher Librarian or check my website.

Posted : Mar 08, 2013 12:22


Rebecca, Can you share a link to your website?

Posted : Apr 02, 2013 04:15

John Bennett

May I suggest these suggestions are great and should definitely be considered in planning efforts. They are often enhanced for those students (including myself back "when dirt was clear - so long ago, it wasn't dirty yet, when I was that age) who find science, inquiry, etc. more interesting than other more general non-fiction assignments.

Posted : Mar 07, 2013 11:50



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