5 Tips for Comprehending Nonfiction Text


When I am working with my older students on comprehension I find that non-fiction comprehension can often be the trickiest. I’ve spent so much time and energy just working with them on decoding, reading fluently and getting them to a point where they feel successful at reading, that asking them to read a dense text and pull specific information from it can be daunting. Despite this, I find that many dyslexics end up preferring non-fiction text over fiction simply because they view reading as a means to an end and the end is learning something or gathering information. Fiction text is great in an audiobook format but often not worth the time and struggle to personally decode. As a quick aside, for me, reading is not at all enjoyable or relaxing, in fact it is quite the opposite, it is taxing, exhausting and downright dreadful. This is not the case for every dyslexic, but I never tell kids that I want them to love to read or even enjoy reading, I want them to be able to read and feel empowered by their ability to read and comprehend.

At first, the majority of authentic literature I bring into a session is fiction. Fiction is often more engaging and it is easier to create a movie or picture in your mind. When I bring non-fiction reading into a session I tend to use shorter articles and 3-4 paragraph passages. However, reading in the classroom often requires more than 3-4 paragraphs. For my older students, I need to help them transition to using strategies in order to successfully comprehend their social studies and science text. We don’t always have a fun relatable character like Katniss Evergreen or Percy Jackson surrounded by rich visual text that helps us create a movie in our mind. This non-fiction text is dense and can be overwhelming for middle school and high school dyslexics, but with concrete techniques, they can become confident and competent comprehenders.

Okay, that said let’s move on to concrete strategies to help our students with nonfiction comprehension. For the most part, I want my students to recognize that with nonfiction text there are 5 things to keep in mind:

  1. You are reading to learn

  2. This text will inform you or teach you a how-to

  3. The information is given to you directly

  4. The text is based on real events and information

  5. Use the text features such as charts, graphs, lists, and diagrams

This may seem like the definition of nonfiction, but it is always important to directly instruct our students on what it is they are doing with the text in front of them. If students understand that they are not looking for a character, a story line, or most importantly they don’t need to be making abstract connections this helps them prepare themselves for what they are about to read. In the blog: 6 Tips for Teaching Reading Comprehension I mention the importance of reading the title to prepare your mind for what you are about to read and see if, in fact, you have any background knowledge of the subject. This is similar in that you are setting your student up for success by having them focus on these points. It allows them to have clarity on what they are about to read. These 5 points are how I frame non-fiction text, but then I make the gathering of information and actual comprehending of the text concrete with the use of graphic organizers and note taking tips.

Keep your eyes peeled for our Members Only bimonthly email, in it, you will find our comprehension resources including 5 nonfiction graphic organizers and our KWL chart. These are all really helpful ways to concretely pull information out of dense nonfiction text.

Becky Newell