Standard Lesson

Using Science Texts to Teach the Organizational Features of Nonfiction

3 - 5
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Three to five 40-minute sessions
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Science captures even the most reluctant readers and writers. Students are naturally drawn to the colorful photographs and layouts of nonfiction science texts. This lesson supports students in grades 3–5 as they explore the organizational features of nonfiction texts, such as labels, captions, headings, fonts, and so on. Students then have an opportunity to work together with their classmates to create a two-page spread using those features to present information about their local environment (as gathered for the Square of Life Internet project). This resource includes links to student and teacher materials and to related websites. Several pieces of literature appropriate for use with this lesson are suggested.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Compared to 20 years ago, informational books are now considered literature and can be used for teaching reading and writing skills. Nonfiction writers employ writing techniques, similar to fiction, to make the content subject matter more accessible to students.
  • Children's science books offer great examples of writing organization. Authors often use a two-page spread to provide a topical approach to the subject.
  • Science books allow teachers to meet their reading and writing goals while filling a need to teach more science.


Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

Materials and Technology

  • 10-15 nonfiction science texts from list of nonfiction science books
  • General classroom supplies (markers, crayons, pencils, paper)
  • Large sheets of chart or butcher paper
  • Sticky notes




1. Collect a variety of science texts from your school or public library (see the list of nonfiction science books for some suggestions). As you are gathering books, look for ones with organizational features that will stand out for students. For younger students, make sure that the text does not overwhelm the organizational features. Supply enough books for children to browse through, or make copies of particularly well-done two-page spreads for students to examine.
2. Select one particularly well-done two-page spread, and prepare a few typed paragraphs detailing the same information that is presented in the spread. In Session 1, students will compare the paragraph text with the two-page spread to see how the organizational features in the spread make the information more accessible to the reader.
3. As preparation for Session 2, make an overhead of a two-page spread from a science text. In addition, prepare index cards with each one listing a different organizational feature (see organizational features of nonfiction texts). Put the index cards in a paper bag or box.
4. In the elementary grades, it is imperative that students have and share experiences in science to gain knowledge about the world around them. Visit the Square of Life website and read the teacher information to find out how your class can participate in this Internet-based project. As part of the project, students investigate their local environment and share their information with other students around the country and the world. Students will need to have completed a majority of this Internet project before beginning this lesson, as they will use the information they gathered and submitted online to create their two-page spread.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Identify and understand the purpose of the organizational features used in nonfiction texts, such as labels, fonts, captions, headings, etc.
  • Apply the organizational features of nonfiction texts to their own writing by incorporating them into the design of a two-page spread about a science topic
  • Work collaboratively with their classmates by planning, discussing, and negotiating the content and layout for the two-page spread

Session 1

1. Divide students into groups of three to four students each. Give each group the typed paragraph that you prepared in advance of the lesson (see Preparation, 2), and ask them to read the paragraph and gather as much information as they can about the topic in three to five minutes.
2. Next, give the groups the sample two-page spread that presents the same information as in the typed paragraph but uses organizational features, such as photographs, labels, sidebars, etc. Give students another three to five minutes to gather information from this page.
3. Have students discuss as a class which page was more interesting to read and more effective in relaying information. Encourage students to point out specific reasons why the two-page spread was more interesting and accessible to them.
4. Tell students that for the next few days they will be analyzing nonfiction texts looking for the organizational features or qualities that make the books interesting. Explain to students that nonfiction texts have several different features that set them apart from fiction books and that some of these features can be used in their own writing.
5. Show students a variety of nonfiction science books that you have collected from the library and ask them to browse through them (see the list of nonfiction science books). Students can choose to work independently or with a partner while browsing through the books. It is beneficial to provide time for students to look through the books first without any expectations or assignment. Science books are fascinating, and it is easy for students to get caught up in reading and examining a new book. Give them time to enjoy and get to know the science books that you have collected.
6. After students have browsed the books for a while or near the end of the session, gather them together to share interesting facts or features about the books. You can use the following prompts to engage students in the discussion:
  • Would anyone like to share a page that they found interesting or well organized?
  • What makes the page interesting or well organized?
  • Did anyone else find a similar feature in the books they were looking at?
  • When browsing through the books, what features immediately caught your attention?
  • What do you think was the author's purpose in using that feature?
7. As students are sharing, they may use ambiguous terms to describe what they are seeing. For example, a student may say that she notices that the author has different kinds of words all over the page. This would be an opportunity to introduce the term font and discuss the purpose of that feature.
8. List the organizational features that are mentioned during the discussion, along with any new vocabulary or information about the feature's purpose, on a sheet of chart paper (see sample class chart).

Session 2

1. Begin this session by reviewing the organizational features listed on the chart paper created during Session 1. If there are certain features missing from the list (e.g., labels or graphs), spend some time introducing, discussing, and showing examples of those features. Make sure that all features are included on the chart paper before moving on to the next step (see organizational features of nonfiction texts).
2. Display the overhead transparency of the two-page spread that you prepared in advance of the lesson (see Preparation, 3). Using the bag or box of index cards labeled with the different organizational features, have students take turns drawing cards and finding examples of the features on the overhead transparency.
3. Allow students, either independently or with a partner, to browse through the nonfiction texts again to find examples of the different organizational features. Model how students can use sticky notes to mark the features and write notes to remind themselves of what they want to share. For example, some students may be fascinated by illustrations that cross from one page to another. They can use a sticky note to mark the page and write a note to share "cross-over pictures" as an interesting feature.
4. While students are browsing through the books, you can briefly conference with individuals or pairs of students to make sure that they are able to recognize the organizational features listed on the chart paper. If students are unable to focus on the whole list, you can give them one of the index cards and have them search through the books for that particular feature. During the conferences, ask students to show you examples of the different features and guide them in discussing why the features are important.
5. At the end of this session, gather students together with their science books and have them share the organizational features that they marked with sticky notes and the reasons why they are important.

Note: Use your judgment and observations of students to guide your instruction. If students seem comfortable identifying and discussing the organizational features and seem to understand their purpose, then continue on with creating a two-page spread in the next session. If students seem hesitant or are unable to distinguish various features, then allow them more time to become familiar with nonfiction texts.

Session 3 plus

1. Explain to students that they are going to work together to create a class two-page spread to include information on their local environment as previously gathered for the Square of Life Internet project (see student examples of two-page spreads). The spread will include information about the plants, animals, and nonliving objects found on the playground during their Field Trip.
2. Assign or allow students to choose their jobs for creating the class two-page spread (see jobs and checklists for the class two-page spread). In most classes, there will be more than one student working on each job; however, you may wish to add jobs so that each student has a unique role in the project. For larger classes or older students, you may consider dividing the class into smaller groups so that each student can have an individual job.
3. Display the sketches, writings, class notes, and final report for the Square of Life project. Explain to students that they will use this information to create the class two-page spread. Each person must use the Square of Life information to construct his or her portion of the two-page spread. Even the border designer must create a border that matches or complements the Square of Life project.
4. Use a sheet of butcher paper for your class two-page spread. Make sure that the paper is large enough for several students to work on it at one time.
5. Before students begin drawing and writing on the butcher paper, provide them time to plan their writings and drawings in their writing notebooks or on blank sheets of paper. Encourage students with different jobs to collaborate with one another. For example, the heading designer may need to meet with the border designer to make sure that the colors they choose do not clash. The caption writer will need to meet with the photographer and illustrator to find out what captions will be needed.
6. Have a plan for coordinating student collaboration, such as by arranging a sign-up sheet and designating a meeting spot for students to discuss and share their work. Decide what students can be doing if they finish their work on the project early. For example, you may want to set up a research area for students to begin working on another two-page spread or have them continue working on other writing workshop pieces.
7. At the end of each planning and writing session, have students post or share their work, and allow other students to offer comments and suggestions. If there is a part that does not fit together, lead students to discuss and decide what changes need to be made. It is important to guide students in creating a two-page spread that flows together nicely.
8. Once students have planned, edited, and revised their parts for the two-page spread, the class will have to negotiate where to place each organizational feature on the butcher paper. This may take several discussions and persuasions before final decisions can be made. As students decide where each feature will go, lightly mark a place for it on the butcher paper with pencil.
9. Allow time for students to work on the actual construction of the two-page spread. This work may take students several sessions to complete.
10. Upon completion of the two-page spread, have students complete the How Did I Do? student evaluation form.


Encourage students to create their own two-page spreads on a topic of interest. Provide resources, either through the Internet or library, for students to use when researching their topics and planning their two-page spreads.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • During student conferences in Session 2, make observational notes about the students' abilities to recognize and discuss the organizational features of nonfiction texts. Use these conferences as a time to further model, reteach, or extend their knowledge.
  • Use the rubric for the two-page spread to assess your students' work on the project. (RubiStar can also be used to create your own rubric for this and other projects.)
  • Use the How Did I Do? student evaluation completed at the end of the project, along with the rubric for the two-page spread, to make your final assessment of each student and guide your instruction. You may see that students are ready to work on two-page spreads independently or that they need more opportunities to collaborate with their peers on similar projects.

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