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Ecosystems #1: Non-Fiction Texts, Part 1

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Lesson Overview:

In the next two lessons, students work on understanding non-fiction texts.  Book design is non-standard.  That means that our students must navigate various forms, layouts, and designs to find and use information.  In these lessons, students learn the elements or components of non-fiction texts in the hopes that they will be able to use printed information resources more confidently.

Lesson Plan:

Suggested Grades:



To successfully identify both textual and non-textual elements of non-fiction texts.

Suggested Time:

40-45 minutes over two separate lessons

Success Criteria:

Each student will be able to independently identify and explain textual and non-textual elements of a non-fiction text.

Lesson Outline:

1. Introduction:

Not all books are the same!  Some contain stories, others information.  If we looked only at information books, what do you think that we would find?  How are they organized?  What do authors and publishers do to organize and present the information?  What should we know to find and use the information?  In the next few lessons, we’ll be looking very closely at non-fiction (information) books and trying to work out how they are built.  You may be surprised at what you find!

2. Main:

Teach elements of the non-fiction text, one element at a time.  Be sure to have students record their findings on their assignment sheet.

In this lesson, concentrate on textual elements.  That is, teach students the parts of the book that relate to the writing.  These are usually:

Textual Elements:

  1. Table of Contents
  2. Glossary
  3. Index
  4. Headings
  5. Subheadings
  6. Key Words
  7. Text

When working on this lesson, be sure that the students are seated at tables so that they can open and use their books comfortably.

Ask students to find “the part of the book that tells you how it is organized.”  For the table of contents, students should understand that:

  • It shows the names of the chapters
  • It shows the pages where the chapters begin
  • It helps you know what the chapter will be about

Ask students how the table of contents is organized.  (Answer: Numerically.)  Ask students how you would best use the table of contents.  (Answer: To go directly to specific parts of the book.)  Ask students to check their table of contents to make sure that the chapter headings and page numbers match.  Then, ask students to pass their books to the student on their right.  Once books have changed hands, teach the next element.

I find that most students have a hard time understanding the index.  Be sure that students know that the index is organized alphabetically!  There should never be any reason to randomly flip pages through books if they know how to use an index!  Give them time to practice, show a neighbor, then pass their books to the student on their right.

Headings and subheadings are also tricky for the children.   They think of “words”, not headings and subheadings.  However, if they understand chapters, heading, and subheadings, they are close to being able to make an outline.  I usually teach that the name of the chapter is the heading and sections of the chapter are subheadings.  Again, have the children practice and show their findings to a teacher or partner.

Keywords and text are a bit easier – they should be the remaining material that is printed in paragraph form.  Keywords are usually in bold.  Remember that keywords should link to the glossary.  Have the kids check to make sure that any bolded keywords are found in the glossary.

In PYP programs, it is often the case that teachers write their own curriculum and do not rely on textbooks.  If this occurs in your school, then children are almost certainly expected to get information from non-fiction library books.  These lessons are essential for students to be able to work with confidence in non-fiction books.

3. Conclusion:

Ask the children to quickly run their eyes down their assignment sheets to make sure that they have found everything they were looking for today.  Tell the kids that they will continue next week by looking for the non-textual elements of non-fiction books!  Challenge them to begin to pay more attention to the table of contents and index, especially!

Finally, ask the children to gather the books and return them to a central location in the library or return them to the classrooms for further Unit of Inquiry study.

  1. A good supply of non-fiction books on the unit subject. You need at least one for every child, but I prefer as many books as children in the class plus five or six more, just in case one of the books does not have all the features.
  2. Copies of Student Handout (attached).

The next lesson will look at non-textual elements of non-fiction books.  The same student handout is used for both lessons, so be sure to keep or ask the teacher to keep the students’ working papers.

The “Elements of Non-Fiction Texts” lessons are full-on!  There is a lot of energy and learning going on.  Often, I find that these lessons get really noisy.  The kids get so excited about what they are finding that there is a lot of talking and sharing.  You may wish to have a little bell or another signal to get the kids to quiet down and pass their books on to their neighbor.

Recommended books for this lesson:

A selection of Unit of Inquiry books from the library or the classroom.

Key Terms:

Fiction, Non-Fiction, Table of Contents, Index, Glossary, Headings, Subheadings, Keywords, Text

Student Handout, Non-Fiction Texts

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