Students need to constantly build schema, or background knowledge, that will help them connect to new topics and ideas about the world. Reading nonfiction is one of the best ways to help students do this. It is important to note however, that informational texts can often be one of the most difficult genres for students to comprehend. Because of this young readers need to spend a lot of time processing informational texts. One way to immerse students in nonfiction texts is to invite them to participate in information circles.
An information circle is an instructional tool, much like book clubs or literature circles.
To set one up in your own classroom, first choose 4 to 5 informational texts related to a central topic or idea. You will want to pick texts that peak students' interests. Give your class a brief introduction of each text and then have students vote for their top two choices to read. The next day, put students into groups of 3 to 5 and reveal to the class who is in each informational text circle. Have students meet to discuss background knowledge and formulate questions to answer before reading.
Our favorite tools to utilize in this situation is the RAN chart. RAN stands for "read and analyze nonfiction." Click here to download the RAN chart. We suggest putting each heading on a sheet of 8-1/2" x 11" paper and having students write on sticky notes. The goal of the study is to "confirm" what you think you know by finding textual evidence. Students will also identify misconceptions in their background knowledge. At the end of the informational circle, students get together to discuss what was confirmed, the misconceptions they had, new information learned, and the questions they answered.
Each week students join a new informational circle. This will provide students with opportunities to read a variety of informational texts, actively participate in discussions about reading, and use metacognitive strategies on their own.
Teaching Tip: Each week have a different theme of informational texts. i.e.
Week 1: Animals
Week 2: Biographies of Famous Athletes
Week 3: Famous Places
Week 4: Current Events