Many teachers in primary grades are teaching in self contained classrooms, generally focusing on literacy and math. I would like to build background knowledge for teachers to feel comfortable teaching about our Earth, its natural disasters and performing experiments to build understanding. Often as primary level teachers, we do not have specific training or knowledge of a specialized content area. My goal with this unit is to bring the excitement and fascination associated with science exploration into classroom reading and writing.
First grade students come to school in the fall ready to learn to read. During their young lives they have heard stories read to them or told to them. This type of literature, fiction, is their first introduction to reading, through modeled story-telling. Comprehension is assessed through the child's ability to retell the story, including plot sequence, characters, setting, personal connections. In contrast to this, children are often less exposed to non-fiction at younger ages. But, what really is nonfiction? Non-fiction, or expository text, provides information with the purpose to explain, inform or persuade. Non-fiction surrounds us in daily life in many forms - newspapers, maps, assembly instructions, recipes, signs. Teaching students to read non-fiction is essential as we teach them to develop as readers.
Learning to read in the content areas begins in the primary grades. Young children can learn through text. Research shows that being able to learn from text takes several exposures and should be coupled with rich experiences to provide children with a firm foundation. This will enable them to be prepared for the more difficult materials they will encounter as they move up through higher education. It has been maintained for some time that children prefer storybooks to other genres, such as information books. In a study of the books first graders chose during recreational time, it was found that many children showed a preference for information books (Donovan, Smolkin, and Lomax, 2000). Consequently, elementary grade classrooms should include a balance of genres. And as young children already have the motivation to read and hear non-fiction, this makes the teacher's task of providing that foundation an easier one. It will help prepare the students for the shift in the materials and content they will read in later grades.
As our students progress through school, more and more of their reading is non-fiction: content area textbooks, reference books, periodicals, articles on the internet. Unlike narrative text, a story, expository text explains facts and concepts, many complex and difficult to understand. Readers are asked to not only comprehend ideas but to extrapolate and remember significant main ideas and integrate with information from prior knowledge. Students must recognize cause and effect, compare, synthesize information, and evaluate proposed solutions to problems as they read. Developing readers are quite challenged with these tasks!
Children love learning in an exciting event-filled environment. Creating this in the classroom can be a challenge for the primary teachers. Allowing students to try things out, test ideas, and have first hand experience with cause and effect enhances the learning experience and gives children a relative understanding of complex information.