Books: Fact or Fiction?


Story time. Kids are hardwired to enjoy it, right?

Um, apparently not. When I first taught in an urban, dual-immersion kindergarten, I was surprised at how hard it was to hold the attention of my English learners. A great majority of them, already wiggly bundles of 5-year-old energy, didn’t have any sense of my expectations for story time etiquette – sitting with their hands clasped, eyes shining, waiting patiently to see the pictures until I was done reading the words, following the plot from the beginning, through the middle, to the end. The language of instruction didn’t seem to matter. It was a stark contrast to the mostly well-behaved Montessori students of my previous classroom, who had probably been read to, by dutiful parents, from their womb days.

Nonfictional texts were, in fact, much easier for the urban group of students to work with. Based in reality and curiosity-quenching, texts on dinosaurs, knights, even pumpkins and their growth cycle, were far more captivating.

There are probably numerous, interwoven reasons (not limited to: culture, home language practices, sibling order, socioeconomic status, and mother’s level of education) for this contrast between fiction and non-fiction texts in my classroom. But imagine my surprise to learn that students traditionally “slump” in fourth grade, when non-fictional texts take on a bigger role in the classroom. Kristina Robertson, of Colorin Colorado, wrote about scaffolding ELs with expository texts citing explicit instruction, modeling, practice, and peer interaction as key factors in helping ELs develop comfort with non-fiction texts.

The good news, judging by my kindergarteners’ enthusiasm, is that students are naturally inquisitive and imaginative, captivated by how the world works, so working with expository texts may not be such a struggle, after all!

What is your experience with fiction vs. non-fiction texts? Do your students favor one over the other? How do you develop literacy in both genres?

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