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Non-Fiction in schools: 10 Ways to support children’s reading

Marcia - Book Collections Manager

"Schools need new non-fiction books by the lorry load"

My sister is a school book monster; she secretly leaves books around the school for children to discover and add to the library. I love this idea, it creates excitement around books and the mysterious gift, clearly left for the children, gives then a feeling of ownership over their library. If I could be a book monster for all schools then I would gift lorry loads of brilliant non-fiction.

This is not because I prefer reading non-fiction to fiction, or because I think it is more educational. I am passionate about children’s fiction and the power that it can have to teach us about our world, ourselves and others. It is because, at a time when school budgets are impossibly tight and when the internet can answer any question (sort of reliably), non-fiction selections are languishing. Some of the sorriest school library shelves I have ever seen have been non-fiction shelves, it is not hard to understand why this has happened but it is impacting on children’s reading.

— Marcia, Book Collections Manager

10 Ways a brilliant non-fiction book selection supports children’s reading

  1. The most significant driver of reading progress is engagement in reading, that reading for pleasure sweet spot where children read by choice in their own free time. Given a suitable selection around half of the books primary school children, regardless of gender, choose to read are non-fiction books.
  2. A good selection of non-fiction allows all children to pursue their own interests through reading and benefit from the boost this gives to their reading skills.
  3. It is well established that non-fiction reading not only increases children’s knowledge of the world but also their vocabulary and comprehension.
  4. The focus required to follow how something works or events in history encourages the development of reading concentration.
  5. Non-fiction exposes readers to a variety of text structures and features like contents page, glossary, index, captions, diagrams and charts not found in fiction.
  6. The contextual information and visual support given in non-fiction texts supports ESL learning.
  7. This visual support, a range of attractive formats and the ability to dip in and out is more enticing to reluctant readers.
  8. Non-fiction offers opportunities to read for a purpose, the excitement of discovering for yourself and the accompanying desire to share it with others.
  9. Non-fiction gives children experience of the language that they will encounter in tests.
  10. Non-fiction prepares children for their reading beyond primary school which will be predominantly the reading of informational texts.

Why use non-fiction books instead of the internet?

The internet may have slain the encyclopaedia but it is no replacement for non-fiction books in school. The internet is fantastic when you know what you want to find out. When I wanted to know how a seed knows which way up to grow or when Boudica led her revolt against the Romans the internet was the perfect tool. However, if I want to deepen or extend my knowledge of plants or the Roman occupation of Britain then a book is the place to start. On the internet, the information is spread over different sites and you are encouraged to jump from link to link, leaving you with a fragmented picture and a confusing trail of sources.

A good book lays information out systematically, a glance at the contents page gives you an overview of the subject covered and navigation of the information is much much clearer. In fact, this navigation of a physical book is thought to be the reason why studies show that people remember more information when they read it in a book than when they read from a screen.

Of course, there are also some very good online/digital topic resources available and, where budget allows, these deserve their place in school. However, in terms of promoting reading engagement and supporting pupils who may be struggling or excelling at reading you cannot beat a brilliant range of non-fiction books.

What does a brilliant non-fiction book selection look like?

Features you want in your school non-fiction bookshelves:

  • Books should earn the right to be on your shelves by being useful and relevant. Information and images should be up-to-date and to either support your school curriculum or appeal to the interests of your pupils. Think about getting rid of books that are neither useful nor relevant as they are unlikely to be read at all and will provide little enjoyment or encouragement to read.
  • Is a relevant spread of children’s interests represented? This is all about engagement with reading, the most important indicator of reading progress.
  • Consider if you have an appropriate spread of text levels for both KS1 and KS2 in your school. Banded non-fiction selections can help you ensure that every reader in your school has access to non-fiction reading.
  • Are your school’s curriculum needs being effectively met by your non-fiction books? Ideally, you would have books suitable for each subject and key topic area so that readers can enjoy independent learning and delve deeper into subjects that interest them. When looking at topic books it is worth taking a closer look at your geography selection as these are the books that become outdated most quickly. Much of the statistical information on populations, industry and climate change is subject to change and old books about life in different countries can be very misleading.
  • Is there an appealing mix of different text styles such as infographics, magazine-style, narrative non-fiction and instructional texts? A good mix of non-fiction includes newspaper histories, time travel guides, expedition diaries, blog-style reporting and much more.
  • Does your non-fiction section introduce children to all the features of non-fiction texts they will be expected to encounter? Alongside contents pages, captions, text boxes, glossaries and index pages pupils need to learn how to navigate bar charts, pie charts, flow charts, graphic information and diagrams. These are essential skills for information literacy.

Topic Book Collections from Pandora Books

We spend time sourcing the very best for your classrooms and regularly meet with educational publishers to see the year’s forthcoming titles. We also keep a keen eye on curriculum developments and, this year, have reshaped our P.S.H.E. collections in line with the new guidance for schools. Our aim is to provide collections for every key topic area in the Primary Curriculum so that whatever you need we can help you. We understand that any educational resource you buy for your school needs to make a real difference in the classroom, so we choose books carefully to ensure our collections meet all curriculum requirements and have a broad range of books to fully engage the whole class. Browse our full range of topic book collections here.


Non-Fiction in schools: 10 Ways to support children’s reading

“Schools need new non-fiction books by the lorry load” My sister is a school book monster; she secr..

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