How to Read Nonfiction

Read with Intention

A. Ask yourself, ‘Why am I reading this?”

1. To gain an appreciation for the topic?

2. To find specific facts?

3. To gather evidence for an idea?

4. To increase general knowledge? 

B. Begin…

1. check the outside of the book or journal

What on the cover or the flyleaf gives you clues about what is inside?

2. check for reliability

What are the author’s qualifications? Who is the publisher? When was the book or article published? Does the date affect the reliability of the information?

3. scan the page of contents if you are reading a book

What are some of the topics included in the book?

4. scan the page layout

Are there subheadings that give clues? Are there words in different sizes to indicate importance? Is there an introduction for each section? What size is the font?  How far apart are the lines on the page?  How large are the margins? Is this a book for skimming or is it important you read every word in order?

5. look at the illustrations and diagrams

Do they include captions? Are they essential for your understanding of the topic? Or do they provide extra information?

6. think about what you already know about the topic

Stop and think about your background knowledge. How might this book or article add to your knowledge? How might it change your opinion about a topic? What would you be interested in learning?

7. predict what is coming

Think about what you might discover as you read.

8. skim ahead to see what is coming

Read rapidly to get an idea about the topic. You can read the introduction and conclusion. Or perhaps read the first and last sentence of each paragraph.

9. plan how to take notes

Should you use a graphic organizer? What type?

C. Read further…

1. Notice words that are in bold-face or italics. They are important to the meaning of the text.

2. Slow down if there are difficult words or complex sentences.

3. Use the context to figure out the meaning of new words.

Is the word a verb or a noun? 

Is it essential to understanding the main idea or is it a supporting detail?

Is it a name that you need to remember?

Is there a definition in an appositive after the word?

Is the definition in the margin? 

Is there an illustration?

Is an example given which makes the meaning clear?

Can you just skip the word and still get the main idea?

4. Make mental pictures of what you are reading.

5. Notice the transition words that show how ideas are related.

6. Go back and reread if something does not make sense.

7. Think about what is most important to remember. Think about what is less important. Regularly stop and remind your self of what is important by taking notes or reciting to yourself.

8. As you finish, reread the introduction and conclusion to make sure you understand the main ideas.

D. Think about what you have read…

1. Stop occasionally and mentally recite what you can remember about the text.

2. Decide what is most important.

3. Try to recall the supporting evidence. Go back and reread to check. 

4. Recall anything that was interesting even if it was not part of the main idea.

5. Think about how the main idea relates to what you already knew.

Does it agree or disagree with your prior knowledge?

Does it add more evidence for an opinion you already had?

Does it disagree with your opinion? What is the evidence?

Go back and check the credentials of the author.  Should you trust the author?

6. Is it time to change your mind about an opinion?

7. Is it time to change your habits or behaviour?

D. Respond

1. If you have questions to answer, analyze them.

Will the answers be on the lines, right there in the text?

Will the answers be between the lines, so that you have to figure them out from clues in the text?

Will the answers be beyond the lines, so that you have to use your background knowledge to make connections?

2. Make connections to the text.

“This reminds me of…”

“I already knew that…”

“This is different than…”

“This is similar to…”

“I think that…”

3. Review.

What is the author’s message?

What is the evidence?

Do you have reason to trust or mistrust the evidence?

What new questions do you have about the topic?

How does your new knowledge affect your view of the world?

How might that knowledge affect your behaviour?

 [This page may be copied for use with students if the following credit is provided: ©2012 Sophie Rosen.]

___ appreciation
___ specific facts
___ evidence
___ general knowledge
___ book cover
___ reliability
___ page of contents
___ introductions
___ subheadings
___ font sizes
___ bold face/ italic
___ margins
___ skim or slow
___ transition words
___ illustrations
___ captions
Keep going
___ use background knowledge
___ predict
___ skim ahead
___ slow down
___ use context of words
___ make mental pictures
___ reread
___ stop and think
___ mentally recite
___ decide what is important
___ recall important ideas
___ recall supporting details
___ take notes
___ compare to prior knowledge
___ assess value
©2012 Sophie Rosen

A Lesson Plan

Required: a class set of strategy bookmarks and various nonfiction books at various reading levels on a specific topic


1. Explain the purpose: e.g. expand your general knowledge of current events; learn basic facts about elements on the periodic table; gain an appreciation for historical figures who have made a positive difference in our world

2. Assign partners and books, carefully choosing books at an appropriate level for each pair of students

3. Outline the task:

When – due at end of class period

Where – at your desks

What – make detailed notes on ‘Strategies for Reading Nonfiction’

How – read the book together, stopping regularly to take notes or make diagrams. This is a difficult task because you must keep a sense of the outline in your head while you are reading the book

Why – at the end, I will ask you what new new knowledge you have acquired both about the topic and about how you acquire meaning from a book


Print Friendly, PDF & Email