Reading Strategies for Nonfiction
Nonfiction connects us to reality—our world and all of the wonderful people, places, things, and ideas in it. Nonfiction also reaches beyond, soaring into space and peering back at the oldest, most distant galaxies.
Reading nonfiction is your superpower! It helps you learn all about your universe. Read in science, social studies, and math class. Read in the news and on the Web! Read! Read! Read!
When you read nonfiction, you should always preview the text first. Previewing gives you a general idea of what an article or a book is about. It gets your mind ready for the new information you’ll be learning.
Tips for Previewing
1. Review the basic parts of the text.
That means looking at the beginning, middle, and ending. The beginning introduces the topic; the middle gives more information about it; and the ending repeats or summarizes the main idea about the topic.
2. Predict what the text is about.
To make an accurate prediction, you need to look at the title and first paragraph. You should also look at the headings, graphs, illustrations, and other cues. (See the sample cue chart below for the article starting on page 326.) Also look over any questions at the end of each chapter.
This article is about Superman. Cool!
It talks about comic book superheroes.
The article talks a lot about “comic books” and “superheroes.”
The main point is that Superman was and still is a superhero!
3. Brainstorm what you already know about the topic.
Make a list, freewrite, or cluster your ideas about the topic.
Superman helps people. He is strong and brave. Everyone has heard of this guy. His clothes stand out: a blue and red cape with a huge “S” on his chest. And Superman is an alien from Krypton! He’s a two-in-one character: Superman, the superhero; and Clark Kent, the reporter.
As you read your text, read with a purpose. Find the most important information, take notes, and ask, “Do I understand this?”
Tips for Reading
1. Pick out the key sentences in each paragraph.
This sentence gives the topic of the paragraph: Superman’s secret identity. Like other heroes of the period, Superman came with a secret identity. When not leaping over tall buildings, Superman is a timid newspaper reporter named Clark Kent. Clark’s character was drawn from the author’s own experiences. “The concept came to me that Superman could have a dual identity.” He would be a superhero in one identity. But in the other, he would “be meek and mild as I was, and wear glasses, the way I do.”
2. Identify the most important facts and details.
Most key facts and details are set off in some way. Look for these clues:
Typestyle 🟪 Pay attention to print size, italics, bold, and color. Also notice ideas set off by bullets (•, ■, *) or numbers.
Illustrations and photographs 🟪 Look at visual details closely. They can help you understand information in a whole new way.
Graphics 🟪 Review any diagrams, cutaways, cross sections, overlays, maps, word bubbles, tables, graphs, and charts.
Captions or labels 🟪 Read the words that appear under images and that label parts of images.
Parts of a book 🟪 Look at each part of a nonfiction book. An appendix gives extra information, an index lists every topic, a glossary defines special words, and so on.
Organization 🟪 Learn about the patterns of organization—cause/effect, question/answer, compare/contrast, and problem/solution. You will understand ideas best when you know how they are arranged.
3. Take notes.
Look at your preview predictions. 🟪 Read the text, and jot down ideas and details. Do your notes match your predictions?
Mark the text with these symbols 🟪 (if it’s allowed).
* I knew this.
? I wonder, or I don’t understand.
+ This is new information.
! This is very interesting.
+Finally, Superman made his debut in Action Comics #1 in 1938. In that first issue, Superman comes from an unnamed distant planet. He shows extraordinary powers. He can leap* great distances, and he has super strength. His eyes give him heat vision, X-ray vision, and telescopic vision. ?
Create an outline. 🟪 Write down main points and supporting details.
“Superman Takes Off”
I. A Superhero Is Born
A. Jerry Siegel is a high school kid.
B. He wants to be a reporter and do something special.
C. He discusses a new character with Joe Shuster.
Check your comprehension. 🟪 Read a passage. Then stop and ask, “What does this mean?” Use your own words to write or say aloud the main idea of the passage. If you cannot figure out what the passage means, try one of these four fix-up strategies.
I don’t know the meaning of these words.
Check the context of the words to figure out their meaning. If necessary, use a dictionary or ask for help from someone.
I can’t figure out how this text is organized.
Look for signal words that tell you how the ideas are related.
The author seems to have left something out here. I can’t follow this.
Try to infer what the author means. Use your own knowledge and experience to understand what the author is saying. If you still can’t figure things out, talk about the text with others.
I don’t know much about this topic.
Find out more about the topic—read about it in a reference book or on the Internet, or ask someone for help.
Model Nonfiction Article
This article is about Superman. Superman Takes Off
by Stephen Krensky
American comic books became popular in the 1930s. One type of character especially—the superhero—struck a chord with comic book readers. Superheroes are characters who often use special powers or extraordinary abilities to fight injustice and defend the weak.
This part explains how Superman got started. A Superhero Is Born
In the early 1930s, young Jerry Siegel was an ordinary high school student. Someday, he thought, he might become a reporter. As he remembered later, he had several crushes on “attractive girls who either didn’t know I existed or didn’t care if I existed.”
What could he do about that? He wasn’t sure. But at least he could use his imagination. “What if I was really terrific?” he wondered. “What if I had something special going for me, like jumping over buildings or throwing cars around or something like that?”
Siegel and his friend Joe Shuster attended high school in Cleveland, Ohio. They were both science-fiction fans. They also loved reading about the jungle man Tarzan, who was already a comic-strip star.
After graduating, the two friends began discussing an idea for a new character. His name was Superman. Siegel even published a story about him called “The Reign of Superman.” However, this Superman was a villain. He used his mental powers to further his own evil purposes. In a 1983 interview, Siegel recalled what happened next. “A couple of months after I published this story, it occurred to me that Superman as a hero rather than as a villain might make a great comic strip character.”
Like other heroes of the period, Superman came with a secret identity. When not leaping over tall buildings, Superman is a timid newspaper reporter named Clark Kent. Clark’s character was drawn from Siegel’s own experiences. “The concept came to me that Superman could have a dual identity.” He would be a superhero in one identity. But in the other, he would “be meek and mild as I was, and wear glasses, the way I do.” Siegel also decided that Clark Kent is in love with another reporter, Lois Lane. But Lois does not return Clark’s feelings. In fact, Lois is madly in love with Superman.
This part talks about the first Superman comic book. Superman Makes His Debut
In the mid-1930s, Siegel and Shuster got jobs at DC Comics (then called DC-National). They worked as a team. Siegel wrote adventure and crime-fighting comic book stories, and Shuster illustrated them. They tried several times, with no success, to convince DC to publish Superman stories. But as their reputations grew, DC took their proposal more seriously.
Finally, Superman made his debut in Action Comics #1 in 1938. In that first issue, Superman comes from an unnamed distant planet. He shows extraordinary powers. He can leap great distances, and he has super strength. His eyes give him heat vision, X-ray vision, and telescopic vision.
After a few months, Superman’s popularity erupted. At that time, one issue of a successful comic book might sell one hundred thousand copies. Superman was soon selling more than one million. As the series continued, readers learned that Superman was the last survivor of the doomed planet Krypton. He was an infant when his planet exploded. But he escaped just in time. How? His parents Jor-El and Lara sent him to Earth in a small spaceship. The spaceship crashed in a field in Smallville, Kansas. Farmers Jonathan and Martha Kent found the ship with the healthy baby inside. They adopted him and named him Clark.
This part explains why Superman became so popular. Why Did Superman Catch On?
Well, first, his many powers were exciting to fantasize about. Who wouldn’t like to fly and see through walls? Second, Superman used those powers to do good deeds and to battle crime. In the 1930s, gangsters roamed the streets of many big cities, and people wished for a hero to save the day. Third, Superman confronted injustice. In Europe and other parts of the world, dictators loomed as a growing menace. The comics overflowed with these dangers. And when society is turning ugly, the idea of Superman is comforting. He gave people a sense of hope about the future.
Superman was immediately popular, the first hero ever to get his own comic book. Soon, he went on to bigger things. He was the subject of a newspaper comic strip and a radio serial. It was the radio program that introduced the famous phrases describing Superman as “faster than a speeding bullet” and “more powerful than a locomotive.” It also included the famous lines: “Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!”
From 1938 to the present, Superman has been one of Earth’s guardians. He remains on the lookout for the next bad guy with evil on his mind.
When you finish reading, you can respond to the text using these strategies.
Tips for Reflecting
1. Keep track of new vocabulary words.
Write down any words that you don’t know. (See page 346 for vocabulary notebook ideas.)
2. Reflect on the text in a learning log.
Write down main points about the topic, interesting supporting details, and any ideas that surprised you. (See pages 121–124 for tips on keeping a learning log.)
Krensky compared the number of comics that Superman sold to the previous best-sellers: 1,000,000 to 100,000. Wow! Ten times as many!
3. Summarize the text.
Review your notes and write a summary of the text.
“Superman Takes Off,” by Stephen Krensky, is a short article about the very beginning of the comic book hero Superman. It also explains how Superman made his debut and why he, literally, took off.
4. Write a blog post to share what you’ve learned.
Create a short review of the reading. It’s a good way to connect with students who care about the same topic.
Review of “Superman Takes Off”
It’s not every day that you learn how a superhero was born. But when you read Stephen Krensky’s “Superman Takes Off,” you sure do! Who would have thought having a crush on someone could lead to a world-famous comic book hero? What’s more, who could imagine that a superhero could soothe a whole country during a war? Did you know that Superman started off as a villain? If these questions interest you, read “Superman Takes Off”!
Talk with your classmates about what you’ve read. Very often, they will have read the same text you did, so you can compare your thoughts and impressions.