No one would dispute that there’s a lot of current research outlining ways to target struggling male readers. And although there may be more struggling boys than girls, that doesn’t mean teachers aren’t facing issues with their female readers. One of the most common challenges teachers voice is how to entice female readers to read informational text with the same fervor many dive into literature. Unfortunately, there’s just not much research on this topic or strategies to combat it. However, after much reading and research, a theme emerged… Girls like people! Girls like talking. Girls like relationships. Girls like talking to people about their relationships!
Most females (adult, adolescent, or elementary) prefer historical fiction to historical textbooks. Girls prefer biographies about famous inventors rather than the facts and uses of the invention itself. They’d rather visit a time-period museum with dressed up actors role-playing than visit a museum with archived documents and dusty objects. Girls remember things because of the people behind the things. So, consider making nonfiction less about facts and events and more about the people affected by those facts and events.
Breathing life into nonfiction
Reveal the people behind different concepts or content-area subjects. Explain what it was like, how it felt to live in that historical time period, endure that medical illness, or be a kid (the same age they are) in that country. Offer anecdotes in between the information. Give students someone they can directly/indirectly relate to. Students can empathize with a real person’s struggles or difficulties. This breathes life into what many females might claim as “boring” informational text.
For example, when teaching conservation, don’t just talk about the importance of it and what it means. Introduce students to Julia Butterfly Hill who climbed a tree and lived there for 738 days because she believed so passionately in the cause. This helps students to see the bigger picture, the significance behind the concepts.
Vary the way students are introduced to significant people in each unit.
- Share photographs and explain their connection orally.
- Read a short picture book about characters or a newspaper article about a real person in a similar situation.
- Collect realia about important players (e.g., brochures, magazine profiles, diary entries, museum plaques, video clips, Facebook pages, etc.).
Find someone or a group of “someones” who can be tied to a facet of the nonfiction concept. To engage female readers with the facts, put a face behind the information.