MEAGAN K. SHEDD
A child asks,“What do I do with this yogurt cup?” Later that day, children huddle over a book about recycling. They discuss plans for constructing a recycling center in the dramatic play area. They wonder how to create a conveyor belt, so one young builder decides to consult a book. After finding a page with the needed information, his teacher reads aloud a text box and a photo caption. Another child offers a pamphlet from the local recycling facility. The pamphlet has photos of a conveyor belt. Together, the children review the photos to see what new information the brochure provides.
For nearly 14 weeks, this question inspires and guides activities in a project-based classroom.
The children study recycling, reusing, and reducing waste. Their study evolves as a result of a question about whether a container children saw every day went in the trash can or the recycling bin.
The importance of multiple texts
Researchers say it is important to have multiple types of texts in early childhood education settings (Duke 2007). Children need to understand and write many different kinds of text. These include not only storybooks and nonfiction books, but also letters, newspapers, magazines, recipes and other kinds of instructions, and print on developmentally appropriate websites and apps.
Ms. Pattengill and Mrs. Elm, the teachers in this classroom, thoughtfully consider what kinds of texts to share with the children and what techniques to use when reading aloud. When reading a poem, for example, they emphasize the lyrical rhythms by reading with expression. They pause at the end of lines to emphasize when two words rhyme.
When helping children look for information in a nonfiction book, the teachers model how to flip through the pages, looking for photos and captions, text boxes, and diagrams. This lets the children learn about, use, and enjoy each type of text. During the recycling project, the children explored their interests by looking up facts in informational texts, such as Recycle That!, by Fay Robinson. Listening to poetry about recycling showed them that poems can be both informative and fun.
Supporting text use
We read and use different types of texts in many ways. Some we read cover to cover; others serve as sources for specific information. Teachers can move about the classroom, noting how children use different kinds of texts. If necessary, a teacher might model how to use a book. For example, Mrs. Elm explained, “We need an informational book to answer that question. The title of this book is Recycle That! Let’s look at the table of contents to see if there is a chapter on conveyor belts. I don’t see one, so now let’s look in the index. Yes, here it is.” She then showed the children a photo with a caption that was just as important as the text on the page. It had the information the children needed to build the conveyor belt.
To introduce an art activity using recycled objects, Ms. Pattengill read the book’s introduction to help the children think about what materials they could use for their creations. Ms. Pattengill said, “Look at the pictures in the book. Can you think of ways to use the objects in front of you?” This helped the children connect the text to the activity. As small groups of children worked on their projects, they came up with other ways to use the items. Ms. Pattengill offered encouraging comments like, “The book says you can do that too” and “You came up with an idea they didn’t have here!”
Teachers do not have to read nonfiction texts like they do stories, which are read from front to back. Recipes, magazines, newspapers, and websites can provide similar, nonlinear reading experiences. Since these texts may be less familiar to some children, teachers should remember to use fingers to point to words or show how to use specific parts of the text. Just as a teacher would model how text or print concepts work in a storybook, it is important to do the same with nonfiction texts. For example, a teacher would explain that the table of contents tells us what is in the book and on which page to find the information.
Stocking the learning centers
To help children understand the purpose of different types of texts, a typical preschool classroom should include 1/3 narrative, 1/3 informational, and 1/3 other kinds of texts (Duke 2007). Place books in the literacy center and in other learning centers. You can take a basket with a variety of books outdoors.
In the literacy center include:
Five to eight books per child. Offer books with diverse characters and topics, and books that match the literacy levels of the children in the classroom (Bennett-Armistead, Duke, & Moses 2005).
Books with vibrant illustrations or photographs in addition to appropriate text.
Other reading materials, such as magazines, newspapers, recorded books, and flannel boards that include characters and text from stories or books. Also provide comfortable seating, storage for the various types of texts, and audioplayers and headphones (Bennett-Armistead, Duke, & Moses 2005).
Here are some ideas for including books and other texts in learning centers:
Blocks: Include informational books about buildings or construction such as Good Night, Good Night Construction Site, by Sherri Dusker Rinker, A Year at a Construction Site, by Nicholas Harris, and Tana Hoban’s Construction Zone. Blueprints and job lists from construction sites are also relevant.
Math and manipulatives: Look for books with counting concepts, such as Rick Walton’s So Many Bunnies and Ten Dots, by Donald Crews. Books with photographs, such as Big and Little, by Samantha Berger, illustrate concepts about size. Chuck Murphy’s Slide ‘n’ Seek Shapes lets children learn about and then create shapes.
Dramatic play: Provide texts that match the themes the children are exploring. For a veterinarian’s office, add storybooks like Mog and the V.E.T., by Judith Kerr, or informational books such as A Day in the Life of a Veterinarian, by Heather Adamson. Add a poetry book such as Gervase Phinn’s Don't Go Pet a Porcupine: Poems about Animals. Include children’s magazines in the waiting room and offer materials children can use to make signs and charts for “patients.”
Discovering science: Add information books, storybooks, and other types of texts about new concepts. During the study of recycling, children enjoyed the storybook Michael Recycle, by Ellie Bethel, and the informational text Recycle, by Gail Gibbons. Anna Alter’s What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe is another option.
Writing center: Include each type of text and favorite storybooks read aloud at group time, along with mail, brochures, and phone books to provide informational text. As children learn about poetry, add books like Here’s a Little Poem, by Jane Yolen.
During the recycling project, Mrs. Elm and Ms. Pattengill continued to add new and different texts to the classroom. When the children completed the recycling center, it included not only a conveyor belt, but also several sorting boxes, a fork truck to “drive” the sorting boxes from one end of the center to the other, and bright orange vests (like those worn by recycling center employees) made by the children from construction paper. Three types of texts had allowed the children to address their inquiry in a meaningful way.
Bennett-Armistead, V.S., N.K. Duke, & A.M. Moses. 2005. Literacy and the Youngest Learner. New York: Scholastic.
Duke, N.K. 2007. Let’s Look in a Book: Using Nonfiction Texts for Reference with Young Children. Young Children 62 (3): 12–16.