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Should I introduce a new comprehension skill with fiction or nonfiction?

December 28, 2021

Teaching students how to infer is a key part of reading comprehension. Ultimately, students need to be able to collect relevant details from a text and put them in order to infer the author’s message.

When planning how to teach this skill, it’s important to choose a good balance of fiction and nonfiction texts.

Begin with one easier text

When a new reading comprehension skill is taught, start with a text that lends itself easily to inferring. At the beginning, the actual collection of details is new and difficult for students. That’s why it makes sense to introduce this skill with a text that is easier, such as a below grade-level piece of literature.

We want it to be obvious as to what the clues are so students learn the process of collecting details and organizing them together to formulate an inference.

Change the text type

As the instructional cycle continues and students become more comfortable with how to collect clues, plan to increase the rigor and variety of the text. If you began the cycle with literature, switch to informational text while the learning is still fresh. Or if nonfiction was the first text, switch to fiction. Likewise, if you start with paper-based text, plan to integrate digital texts as well.

The notion of mastering a skill means applying that thinking to all text types. Don’t devote the first semester to fiction and then second semester to nonfiction. That means the instruction is about the text instead of the skill. The goal is to intermix fiction and nonfiction, paper and digital, print and visual.

Introduce multiple texts

As the weeks progress, begin to include more than one text. At some point during the school year, review reading comprehension skills, but give students a variety of texts at the same time. Utilize two, three, or four texts to compare main ideas, text structure, etc.

Introducing the skill of inferring with one text is a great start. However, the end goal is to keep growing that skill until different types of texts and multiple texts are mastered.

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