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The Joys of Sharing Expository Nonfiction Mentor Texts with Students + a Giveaway

I remember my dad watching “This Old House” on PBS when I was a kid. I used to roll my eyes whenever I walked into the room and saw it playing. Boring, I would say aloud. Fast forward to my early 30’s: I consumed more hours of shows like”House Hunters” than I should admit to publicly. Nearly a decade has passed since we moved into our house and I watch HGTV infrequently. When I do, I enjoy shows like “Rehab Addict” and “Fixer Upper.” I enjoy those shows because I get to learn something new about construction and remodeling. (Give us another decade in this house and I’ll need that knowledge!) Coming to shows these a few years ago made me realize that sometimes we may discover something new to enjoy when we dabble in something outside of our comfort zone.

Despite preferring narrative nonfiction books, I’ve come to enjoy reading expository nonfiction. Of course, that only happened after Melissa Stewart, author of more than 180 science books for children, invited me to be on a panel she chaired at NCTE called “Give Fact-Loving Kids a Voice: Using ExpositoryNonfiction as Mentor Texts.” Seeing as there was no way I would turn down the opportunity to present with Melissa Stewart, I began immersing myself in as many expository nonfiction picture books as I could get my hands on in advance of the presentation. 

According to Stewart, I’m not alone with my love of narrative nonfiction. She polled 1,000 librarians and literacy educators about the kind of writing style (i.e., expository, narrative, or both) they preferred. The results didn’t surprise me. 6% of respondents preferred expository texts, 54% of respondents preferred narrative texts, while34% of respondents liked both kinds of writing.

Did you know many elementary school students enjoy reading expository nonfiction? Stewart cited a variety of research in a recent blog post, “Expository Nonfiction: Some Students Prefer It,” which asserts that 42% of students prefer expository texts, 25% of students prefer narrative texts, while 33% of students enjoy both kinds of writing.

Even though many educators do not prefer expository texts, it’s important to provide lots of high-interest, well-written expository nonfiction books to students since doing so can provide an important entry point for students. In addition, much of the informational writing we teach students to do in writing workshop is expository in nature. Therefore, we can strengthen young writers by providing them with access to high-quality, expository nonfiction picture books. 

After Melissa made the case for providing students with expository nonfiction at NCTE, Alyson Beecher, Mary Ann Cappiello, Erika Thulin Dawes, Terrell Young, and I shared expository nonfiction mentor texts for fact-loving kids. Melissa shared the book list from the presentation on her blog. (She will be sharing the PowerPoint from our NCTE presentation on her website soon.) Here are three of the recently-published picturebooks I talked about plus three more expository titles I think are worthy of adding to your classroom library. (And speaking of classroom libraries, one lucky reader will have the chance to win all of the books below for their classroom/school library by leaving a comment on this post.) Rather than telling you about all of the craft moves you can teach with each one (and each one has MANY possibilities), I’m highlighting just one aspect of the book that makes it an exemplary mentor text for using with young writers.  

A Seed is the Start by Melissa Stewart (National Geographic Kids, 2018)

Leads are the first few lines or pages of a book that hook readers and make them want to read on. Endings are the final lines or pages of a book that conclude a piece and stay with readers. As a result, writing effective leads and endings are tricky business. In A Seed is the Start, Stewart beings with a definition lead, which is where she defines what is a seed is and how it leads to the growth of new plant life. Opposite of the definition is a page that shows how a corn seat grows from the time the seed coat splits open until the time it spreads its first leaves. The ending of Stewart’s book feels like a wraparound, which acts as a bookend to the lead, in that she states that “[I]fa seed lands in a good spot, it sprouts. Then it grows into a plant that makes more seeds” (30-31). There are several images of an apple seed going through the process of sprouting, developing into a young tree, becoming a big enough tree to produce flowers, and then becoming a tree that yields fruit with new seeds inside of each fruit.

If you’re tired of reading the same formulaic leads and endings in your students’ informational pieces, then this is an excellent text to show them since it’s an excellent way to define and show a concept (in the beginning) and how to harken back to it (in the ending).

If Polar Bears Disappeared by Lily Williams (Roaring Brook Press, 2018)

Writers create a mood in their writing by making conscious decisions about the kind of punctuation to use. When writers make purposeful choices about their punctuation, their writing sounds the way they intend. In this book, Williams uses ellipses points to help readers slow down in certain parts or to help them think deeply in other parts of the book. Williams uses ellipses points in the lead, as a repeated line, “If too much of the sea ice melted…” throughout the book to transition readers from part-to-part, and near the end of the book to indicate a longer pause before continuing the thought.

Ellipses points are a unique way to transition readers from page to page or paragraph to paragraph. As Williams shows us, ellipses points AND a repeated line, can work together to create a desired effect, such as holding a book together and/or slowing down readers to consider something that pertains to the big idea of their writing.

Look at Me! How to Attract Attention in the Animal World by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018)

Headings are the name of a category that tells readers what a section of writing (and illustrations)will be about. In this book, the headings encourage readers to look at the feature that makes the animal unique. For instance, on the page spread that beings with “Watch me grow – and grow!” readers learn how animals make themselves look bigger and scarier when they feel intimidated.  “A brilliant warning” is a page spread talks about the ways different animals change their colors to encourage predators to leave them alone. “Got a light?” informs readers about animals that lure animals towards them through the use of light.  

Kids often need help spicing up their headings. Jenkins and Page’s book shows kids how to get creative, while still previewing what’s to come for readers in a meaningful way.

Now You Know How It Works: Picturesand Answers for the Curious Mind by Valorie Fisher (Orchard Books, 2018)

Diagrams are simplified drawings or visuals that show how something works or operates. Fisher’s book explains how items like a light bulb, a whistle, a toaster, a zipper, and even how a toilet works. While there is plenty of prose in this book, one of the most interesting features are the diagrams, which are expertly labeled so that young readers can get an understanding of how items work. Often times, Fisher added dotted lines, solid lines, or short arrows to show the flow, direction, or path of something that was pictured.

This is the perfect text to use if you’re looking for a book to help your students create effective and clear diagrams to teach readers something in a succinct way.  

Red Alert! Endangered Animals Around the World by Catherine Barr and Anne Wilson (Charlesbridge, 2018)

Print layout is the way text and illustrations are presented on the page. (NOTE: This book is a bit of a hybrid, but it’s mostly expository. However, there’s a story-like intro to each animal on each page.)

Red Alert is a choose-your-own adventure of sorts. You pick a place, choose a creature, and then learn about the animal, and find out how to help. Once you’ve made a selection, each page spread includes:

  • A circle at the top corner of the page that encourages you to meet the animal.
  • Readers are treated to a short story about the animal, be it a large-tooth sawfish, a red-headed vulture, or a giant panda.
  • Three to four facts follow.
  • There’s a box that explains the danger to the animal based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, Red List.
  • A corresponding page to link to the back of the book to learn how to help a given creature.

Kids can get creative when they’re writing informational texts of their own. You can encourage students to think deeply about how to convey a variety of information to their readers by varying the layout of information on the page.

Water Land: Land and Water Forms Around the World by Christy Hale (Neal Porter, 2018)

Back matter is the text that comes after the last page of the main text. Examples of back matter may include author/illustrator notes, fact pages, historical notes, and source lists.

Water Land shows kids, rather than merely tells them, what land and water forms look like by switching between bodies of water and land masses when one turns the page. (Click here to get a sense of how Hale does that in her book.) As a result, the majority of the text in this book is found in the back matter. Some of the items in the back matter of Water Land are a visual and written glossary of the water and land forms, examples of each of the forms around the world, and a map of where on earth one can find each form.

Encourage students to create sections of back matter than help readers by showing them how Hale only included information that would extend her readers’ knowledge about land and water forms.

NOTE: The terminology of craft moves in this post come from the glossary of my 2016 book, Craft Moves: Lesson Sets for Teaching Writing with Mentor Texts.

GIVEAWAY INFORMATION

  • This giveaway is for a copy of each of the following books: A Seed is the Start, If Polar Bears Disappeared, Look at Me!, Now You Know How It Works, Red Alert, and Water Land. Many thanks to Charlesbridge, HMH, MacMillan, National Geographic Kids, and Scholastic for donating a copy of each of these books for one lucky reader.

  • For a chance to win these six books, please leave a comment about this post by Monday, Decemberc10th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Wednesday, December 12th.

  • NOTE: You must have a U.S. mailing address to enter this giveaway.

  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, my contacts at each of the above-mentioned publishers will ship your books out to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITINGTEACHERS – JOYFUL EXPOSITORY BOOKS. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

Comments are now closed.

Congratulations to Kim Norgaard whose commenter number was selected to win these books!

Stacey Shubitz View All

Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.

99 thoughts on “The Joys of Sharing Expository Nonfiction Mentor Texts with Students + a Giveaway Leave a comment

  1. All of these books would be great for my school library. There has not been any money in the budget to purchase new books for years. First grade studies seeds in science and other grades study the environment. They all sound interesting and I really enjoy your descriptions. Thanks so much for the information.

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  2. I love how you explain the teaching point that accompanies each text. And what great books! I’m working on strengthening my teaching in nonfiction writing and reading. Thank you!

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  3. These books present an opportunity for students to identify text features and text structure in nonfiction text. Students could write new captions for photos. There is a never-ending list of how this books could be incorporated in a rela classroom.

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  4. This is such a helpful post. Thank you! My students recently enjoyed hearing me read aloud from ‘A Rock is Lively’ by Dianna Hutts Aston. Gorgeous illustrations and her ‘subtitles’ are very creative.

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  5. I have seen informational reading and expository writing scores on summutive assessments increase as I provide engaging ways to connect with nonfiction texts. I purchased a handful of new narrative nonfiction and informational texts for my third graders to devour on Black Friday. I would love to integrate these giveaway titles, as well! Thank you for the research to support readers and writers who love facts!

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  6. Love this post! I serve students on the Autism Spectrum as a special education teacher. My students tend to gravitate towards expository texts and love when they get to learn something new AND when they get to inform others on a topic they love through their writing. Thank you!

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  7. We just started a non-fiction reading and writing unit and these books would make a great addition to our collection. They are going on my Christmas list! I found your descriptions and suggestions for using them as mentor texts very helpful. Thank you!

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  8. This is the second year I’ve done “classroom book a day” in which i read a picture book every single day. Sometimes it’s just for fun, but usually the books serve as a springboard for discussions or mini lessons ranging from theme to kindness to author’s craft. I’d love to add these to my collection.

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  9. What a generous giveaway! I love that Iearned that creating a mood takes more than word choice, but also punctuation placement. I can’t wait to incorporate this into my next ela lesson on mood and tone.

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  10. Thanks so much for sharing these non-fiction mentor texts! I really enjoyed how these books include text features to include information- the students will learn a lot about writing expository texts from looking at these books.

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  11. Thank you for showing me these titles. We’ve just begun our nonfiction unit of study, and I personally favor narrative nonfiction too. Like another person mentioned- “Her Left Foot” by Dave Eggers is great! Upon reading this I also learned what back matter is 🙂

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  12. I can’t wait to read these books! It is so wonderful to hear details about engaging informational books that can be used as mentor texts!

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  13. Great article. Amazing mentor texts as well. These titles would make for amazing additions to read aloud and share with students of all ages.

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  14. Yes! Any time we can use picture books, including these gorgeous non-fiction books as mentor texts, we can achieve so much interest and success in our writers!

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  15. Thanks so much for these exciting mentor texts. Our students really enjoy nonfiction writing and I’m glad to share these titles with teachers.

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  16. I used to dread reading nonfiction… there was little appeal in the multitude of facts thrust on me… then I discovered narrative nonfiction, and have developed a passion for expository nonfiction as a result of loving narrative nonfiction. I’ve just read “Her Left Foot” by Dave Eggars to a 4th grade class and the students ate that book up! Now we are primed for reading expository texts!

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  17. Great article! We continue to have conversations about the importance of reading these types of texts aloud and using them to guide students as mentors in both writing and reading. Continued exposure to this structure is so important in building engagement.

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  18. I work with 5th and 6th Grade English Learners who would love any of these books. The illustrations are great and help the students understand the text. At this age, they are curious about everything and love non fiction. They are studying landforms and animals this semester.
    Thanks for this wonderful give away.

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  19. I NEED these titles to start my collection of expository read-alouds! As a Literacy Coach, I am constantly guiding teachers to read this genre aloud to help the students learn to love it! Teachers tend to shy away from it because “it’s not as fun,” but this mentality is EXACTLY why kids feel negatively about this genre. Thanks for the article!!

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  20. I so look forward to these posts. Your descriptions of mentor texts help me to find my own teaching language around text. And I’ll be adding these titles to my wishlist.

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    • Thanks so much for a fantastic post! As an EL teacher, I often tend to gravitate toward nonfiction texts in supporting my students and their language needs. I’m also excited to check out the back matter in Hale’s Water Land: Land and Water Forms Around the World. Thanks again.

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  21. Thanks for sharing these great titles with us. I’m interested in finding more quality narrative nonfiction books for my second graders. They’re super curious about all of the different ways you can teach your reader. (kweller@discovercompass.org)

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  22. I am starting my nonfiction unit soon and was looking for new mentor texts. Thanks for the suggestions. I am also guilty of preferring the narrative style and need to be more mindful of sharing expository.

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  23. I was struck not too long ago by how many students are getting informational books from the library for independent reading. Before doing student conferences I oblivious. Thanks for the post and the giveaway.

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  24. This is an amazing collection of books! Thank you so much for sharing these titles and for the inspiration to once again keep them at the front and center of our classroom libraries.

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  25. Thank you once again for inspiring me to stretch my teaching. I can’t wait to read these texts to my students. We are currently exploring expository texts AND writing an information book. Great timing …

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  26. Our youngest readers are captured by expository nonfiction. Their natural development includes the “why” phase! I love how this article ties in examples of using these mentor texts for teaching leads and endings.

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  27. Thank you for sharing this great list! I am especially planning to use the seeds book in my current 3rd grade unit in informational writing as a mentor text for leads and conclusions. It can be hard to find good mentor texts to demo this. Thank you!

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  28. Stacy, as always thank you for ideas to improve our students’ writing and reading. I’m always on the look out for books that can be used for mentor texts and while I think frequently about the use of format and leads/endings/twin sentences, I tend to forget about the spacing on the page and other tools in use. Timely article as we will be starting our informational writing next week.

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  29. Thank you for the nonfiction list! Water Land book looks like a great addition to my landforms unit in 4th grade. Even though the book appears too young, I think it can really help students to hone their observation skills to notice the shapes of landforms and bodies of water that we can build on with more complicated topographical maps.
    Look at me might be a great addition to our life science unit, focusing on the structures that help living things survive and thrive.
    Thanks for sharing – I look forward to sitting in the library this winter break.

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  30. Our second grade team is embarking on their informational text unit in reading and writing workshop, perfect post to wake up to! Thank you for sharing great library of mentor texts.

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  31. Another post filled with powerful information! I met Melissa Stewart at TC at a mini institute focused on information writing. Our students love her books, and in general, love informtion text. As a K-5 coach, I can never have enough texts in my toolkit. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for offering this generous give-away!

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  32. Wow! I agree so much with this post. When my kids leave the library weekly, and year after year, their arms are filled with books about the world around them (nonfiction). It’s in their nature to pick up these books and engage with them. Our students learn more when they are motivated or intrigued by something too. We need to bring more of these books into our classroom to enjoy and to learn from. We also need to extend our understanding and teaching of writing expository text. It’s more than text features. Thank you for examples of mentor text that I can use with my students to help “up the anti” in what they know and how they write in this genre!

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  33. I am currently teaching an expository writing unit with my 2nd graders. The timing of your post couldn’t have been better! My students are finishing their first ‘All About…’ books. The examples you gave will be perfect for guiding them to the next level. 😊

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  34. I’m excited to hear about these titles! Would love to add them to my collection! I teach middle school and they still love picture books!

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  35. I teach a content area literacy class to juniors. The math and science concentrations are completely unfamiliar with mentor texts/using PB in their classes. This set would be perfect to help them learn and plan instruction from.

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  36. My goodness, there is such a need for more non-fiction! As a literacy coach, I see teachers constantly struggling with teaching this genre. What a wonderful collection of mentor texts!

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  37. What an incredible give away! I am currently teaching my class an informational writing unit. These books seem like a must have to get students crafting leads, endings and creative headings.

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  38. Great post, Stacey! I love how you not only find great books, but also how your teaching voice rings so true when providing recommendations. I’m launching a new nonfiction reading unit with 6th graders this week so this was some great inspiration!

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  39. Thanks for sharing all these great titles and ideas for how to use them with student writers. What a bounty! I’m especially enamored with Christy Hale’s “Water Land” and its ingenious illustrations, but all of these books look like wonderful additions to a classroom library.

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