As you may all know, I write a column for Writers’ Forum on the types of research authors do for their books. I was also a primary school teacher for seventeen long years and now write children's illustrated non-fiction and teacher resources for primary school. So children, using non-fiction books for their own research and writing is something that fascinates me.
Margaret Mallett has written extensively about children using non-fiction for researching their own writing. She has written such books as:
- Choosing and Using Fiction and Non-Fiction 3-11: A Comprehensive Guide for Teachers and Student Teachers
- Early Years Non-fiction: A Guide to Helping Young Researchers Use and Enjoy Information Texts
- Young Researchers: Informational Reading and Writing in the Early and Primary Years
These books are aimed at primary school teachers with an aim of teaching children how to use non-fiction books and list suitable non-fiction books to meet the requirements of the National Curriculum and Literacy Strategy.
It is true there are new, fun interactive ways to find information via the Internet and CDRoms. These interactive models work and provide variation. But, in my experience, children do still enjoy looking at non-fiction books to satisfy their curiosity and thirst for knowledge. Non-fiction books need to be widely available in the classroom to support other things they are doing.
Making non-fiction reading and writing exciting and relevant helps advance children's thinking and understanding. Young children require literacy activities that are embedded in practical activities, drama, role-play and outings. These connect children's experiences in school with wider society and provide opportunities to use and talk about texts.
Time should be made during the school day (OK! Don’t laugh – I’ve been there!) for the children to talk about specifically non-fiction books. As writers and teachers we ultimately want children to learn to be independent readers by looking at both fiction and non-fiction books. Listening to others and their interpretations of the books helps with internal reasoning and encourages a quest to find out more. The children’s hypothesis can be supported and reinforced by looking at more books.
Teachers should also read non-fiction books to the class and show the illustrations. Seeing the pictures and hearing the text triggers reflection and help the children by giving knowledge. Using illustrated non-fiction in the classroom is a highly successful way to engage children's interest, helping them to establish a personal foothold and provide a reference against which to check what they have found from other information sources.
Story sacks don’t have to be confined to KS1 they can be for any age and contain non-fiction books. Drama does not have to be solely linked to fiction but can be used to support what is happening in non-fiction texts too.
In my opinion, to foster a love of children’s non-fiction books we need to think about the way it is being used with the children in the classroom and at home.