Nonfiction reading comprehension strategies vary substantially from the strategies used with fictional books. Children with special needs usually need explicit instruction in how to understand the material presented in nonfiction books. Children need to be taught about the structure of nonfiction text and how items such as bolded print and graphs can help them better understand the text. They also need to learn to check for a vocabulary list while they are skimming, prior to actually reading the text. Finally, they need to learn the importance of having a way to record questions, connections and/or comments. Once I have taught my students the procedures they tend to have significantly higher comprehension of nonfiction text.
The function of nonfiction text is usually to teach something or explain something to the reader. Children need to be taught to look for special structural items often found in nonfiction text. These items are bold text, titles or headlines, pictures with captions, maps, graphs and questions at the end of the chapter. Before a child starts reading, they should look through the text to see how the text is structured and take note of these items within the text. They should also be taught not to skip over looking at them and referring to them while reading, as they tend to be very helpful in gaining a better understanding of the concepts being presented.
The next strategy goes hand-in-hand with previewing the structure of the text. Before reading the text, the child should skim over the text and look for a vocabulary list. Many times important vocabulary words are in bold text. If there are words that the child does not know the child should take the time, before reading, to look them up in the index, online or in a dictionary. Understanding the key concepts that will be discussed is critical to better comprehension.
The final strategy is utilized during the actual reading of the text. The child should have a way to write down questions, connections, confusing information and interesting information as he/she reads. I have found the best way for kids to do this that does not ruin the text by marking it up with highlighting, is by using small sticky notes. Also, most kids and teens like to use sticky notes. I teach the children to use the following four codes. When a child has a question about a particular item, they should put the question word and the topic, such as "what bass", "who Columbus" or "where Japan" on a sticky note and place in directly on the associated text. When a child has a connection to something, they should put a plus mark on the sticky note. When a child is confused about something they should put a question mark on the sticky note. When they find something interesting, they should put a check mark on the sticky note. When they have finished reading a chapter or a section, they can then ask the teacher or a parent about the items they put on their sticky notes.
Many children do not want to take the time to do the first two steps prior to reading and if you can get your child to do this regularly, they will experience a much higher level of success. Creating a format with a code for discussing the text can be fun and can engage the child more, especially when you allow them to choose the code. Nonfiction is best comprehended in chunks so this also helps the child take a break to process all of the new information.