Supporting Disciplinary Reading through Text Selection

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One of our most frequently asked questions is: 

Can you recommend a great book for teaching …(insert national curriculum topic here)? 

First Thoughts

Our first thoughts are around the purpose of the book. Is this book going to form the basis of your topic? By this I mean, are you planning to use this as the foundation for learning about the subject. Books can make an excellent base from which to build knowledge. One example is The Pebble in My Pocket which is included in Take One Book for Year Three. It provides an engaging context to learn about rocks and supports children to read as a scientist. It could be that you are looking for a supporting read. Picklewitch and Jack and the Sea Wizard’s Secret features a residential trip to the coast to hunt for fossils and is a fun read aloud to accompany the topic. You might be looking for a narrative text to build engagement prior to or during the topic in which case, Blue John is another excellent choice. 

Criteria for Selection

When selecting books to support disciplinary literacy we are careful to only include those that are fit for purpose. They must be:

  • Is this book still in print? Sadly many excellent books go out of print every year and this excludes some titles from our collections.
  • Is it up to date and authoritative? 
  • Is the language appropriate, challenging and lively? 
  • Is it written with an engaging voice? 
  • Will reading this book be a pleasurable experience?
  • Does this book support reading as a historian/scientist/geographer? 
  • Will it both build and extend knowledge?  
  • If illustrated, are the illustrations of a high quality and do they add something to the text?

If the book isn’t good enough then our silence speaks volumes because we simply will not include it.  

Our topic is materials – is there a great book?

Some curriculum areas are rich in high quality texts which support children to read as historians, scientists or geographers and build knowledge. Others are rich in quantity but not necessarily quality. One such area is that of Materials where there are many nonfiction books available which contain accurate information presented clearly but do not meet our criteria for selection for Take One Book.  Imagine our excitement when the wonderful Walker Books introduced us to Nano: The Spectacular Science of the Very (Very) Small. This nonfiction picture book introduces young readers to the fascinating (and cutting-edge) science of the very, very small in an accessible and engaging way.

What makes Nano so good?

Many books which deal with the subjects of materials do so in a series of double page spreads which explore different aspects such as solids, liquids and gases, properties of materials, evaporation and so on. Each area may be written about in a fleeting manner without any real depth of understanding being built. What Nano does beautifully is builds knowledge throughout the book. We begin with the concrete idea that materials are all around us in an opening spread illustrated with a cross section of a house labelled with the different materials. This invites the reader to make connections with their own lives and the materials they see. I love that Dr Jess Wade begins the book by drawing attention to the world children inhabit with an invitation to look around their own home. ‘Everything is made of something’ she explains. ‘Something light or something heavy, something strong or something bendy….’ Finishing with ‘each of these ‘somethings’ is perfect for a different job. And scientists call them materials.’ 

This expresses perfectly the concept that science has its own discourse and using a high quality text will support children to read as a scientist.  By the end of the second double page spread, the concept of what a material is and how its properties relate to its use has been established with clarity and precision both through the text and illustration. Now we delve deeper and learn about atoms and molecules before the creation of new materials is introduced. Of course learning about atoms goes beyond what is expected in the primary curriculum but does this matter? When we talk about a knowledge rich curriculum , surely this is a part of that. Why not introduce difficult concepts? When it is done in such an effective and engaging way we are supporting children’s natural curiosity about the world around them and giving them the essential tools to express their knowledge and understanding.

Expert Voices

The author of Nano, Dr Jess Wade, is a highly skilled physicist and trailblazing campaigner for diversity in STEM fields. Her passion for the subject combine with her expertise to make this a highly informative scientific text. A real strength of this book is the way that the abstract concepts are rooted in real life application and Wade reminds the reader that this is work that scientists are involved in now. Wade also knows which concepts are problematic and has tools at her disposal to guide the reader through them. This is a :

Every single thing on this planet is made from atoms.

Stop: read that last sentence again. It’s a gigantic idea to get your head around, but it’s too important to skip over.

Nano: The Spectacular Science of the Very (Very) Small

Her scientific expertise is complemented by Melissa Castrillon’s dynamic and beautiful illustrations. The illustration of the elephant walking the graphene tightrope is unforgettable and brings the concept to life. The spread below is a breathtaking example of how it is possible to create an image of an abstract idea. In addition, the diagram enhances understanding.

Final Thoughts

In my opinion, Nano is an outstanding book to use if you want to develop scientific knowledge around materials and their properties. This science topic is revisited and built on over the primary years and this book will support knowledge acquisition in the first instance as well as consolidation when revisited. When working on a teaching sequence for Take One Book, we begin by mapping the Text Potential which is an opportunity to reflect on what the text offers. The diagram below gives an idea of the rich opportunities for developing reading skills offered by this book.

You can see at a glance just how rich the potential of this text is for teaching explicit reading skills while building knowledge in science and reading as a scientist all in the context of an exceptional book which will motivate and engage young readers.

So, where can I find a great book to teach ….?

I hope that this blog has demonstrated that when you come to Just Imagine with this question, a great deal of thought goes into the answer. Our selections are made with care and we are fortunate to have a wealth of experience of texts and children to spot those gems that will inspire a love of reading while teaching skills that will support their reading journey. The same diligence is applied to the books selected for Best Books for Schools which includes easy purchase curriculum packs. You might be aware of our award winning Reading Gladiators bookclub with its carefully curated selections of books supported by comprehensive discussion guides. The new flexibility provides a great solution for children who need additional support to catch up as well as higher attaining readers.