Building World Knowledge: Motivating Children to Read and Enjoy Informational Text

Exposing young children to informational text early on can help them to handle the literacy demands of fourth grade and beyond. Practical instructional techniques can be used to promote understanding and enjoyment of informational texts. The three techniques described here — Text Impression, Guiding Questions, and the Retelling Pyramid — can help children become familiar with the language and structure of non-fiction books.

Young children benefit from opportunities to read a rich array of fiction and informational books. Reading educators and researchers agree that young children benefit from increased exposure to informational books (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998). Today there is an abundance of high-quality informational text for teachers and parents to use with children. According the Cooperative Children's Book Center (2006), the number of informational books published for the early grades has increased by 200% over the last ten years.

An early preference for nonfiction?

Several recent research studies by Pappas (1993) and Mohr (2006) suggest that children in kindergarten and first-grade often prefer to read nonfiction books. However, by the time students reach fourth grade, where they are expected to read and learn from informational text and content area textbooks, there is an overall decline in reading scores (Chall, Jacobs, & Baldwin, 1990). These findings suggest that greater exposure to informational texts during the early years may help minimize the effects of the "fourth grade slump" in reading achievement.

Informational text and reading achievement

Evidence that reading informational texts increases reading achievement can be found in data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NEAP). From 1990 to the present, the trends on the NAEP indicate that fourth graders' reading achievement increases as the diversity of their reading experiences increases. Fourth graders who reported reading a wide variety of text (e.g., narrative, informational) had higher reading achievement than students who reported reading only one type of text. Therefore, it seems reasonable that exposing young children to informational text will help them to handle the literacy demands of their later schooling (Duke & Bennett-Armistead, 2003).

Instructional techniques for informational text

Several practical instructional techniques can be used to promote understanding and enjoyment of informational texts. These instructional techniques familiarize children with the language and structures of non-fiction books. We agree with David Pearson (2003) who reminds us that proficiency with informational text helps students build the skills they need to be successful in school, work, and community.

In the following sections we describe three instructional methods:

  • Text Impression
  • Guiding Questions
  • Retelling Pyramid

Text Impression (McGinley & Denner, 1987) is an effective way to introduce vocabulary and hold predictive discussions before reading. Guiding Questions (Marinak & Mazzoni, 2008) set a purpose during reading, and the Retelling Pyramid (Schwartz & Bone, 1995) supports retelling and summarization after reading. Examples of the three techniques are described below using examples from the popular book Wild Babies by Seymour Simon.

Before Reading: Text Impression

Before reading, it's important to introduce new vocabulary and activate prior knowledge about the topic. The Text Impression technique invites children to share what they know and motivates them to begin reading. To conduct a Text Impression, 5-10 important vocabulary words are shared one by one. With each word added to the list, children are invited to hone their predictions based on the important vocabulary.

Below is a Text Impression taken from Wild Babies. Note that by end of the Text Impression, children can predict that the reading will most likely be about penguins and an African animal that lives in a herd. The fun word that might provide surprise is 'kindergarten.' Readers might not be aware that penguins and giraffes both protect their young in 'kindergartens.'

  • Antarctic
  • African
  • One
  • Rookery
  • Herd
  • Kindergarten

During Reading: Guiding Questions

Guiding Questions can be provided to set a purpose for reading. It is important that the inquiry include literal questions, inferential questions, and extended questions. In addition, the questions should include some of the important vocabulary introduced in the Text Impression. The Q-Matrix by Spencer Kagan is helpful when writing challenging Guiding Questions. The Q-Matrix contains question stems to construct all three types of questions.

In addition to teachers using the Q-Matrix to write Guiding Questions, students can also use the matrix to write their own questions. Below are several Guiding Questions for the giraffe and penguin in Wild Babies. Each question uses the word 'kindergarten' from the Text Impression. The stem words from the Q-Matrix are in bold.

Literal Questions

  • How long do penguin chicks stay in a kindergarten?
  • How old is a giraffe calf when they enter a kindergarten?

Inferential Question

  • When would penguins and giraffes form kindergartens?

Extended Question

  • Giraffes and penguins use kindergartens to protect their young. What might other animals do to protect their babies?

After Reading: Retelling Pyramid

A Retelling Pyramid can be used after reading. The pyramid supports retelling and summarization. The prompts for each line of the pyramid can be revised to reflect specific information from the text. Below is an example of Retelling Pyramid with prompts from Wild Babies. After completing the pyramid, children can compare and contrast the giraffe and the penguin.


These three simple instructional techniques can be used with young children to make informational text more interesting and accessible. The use of these techniques will support children in developing the language, strategies and skills needed to read informational materials with greater ease. As children become more competent in their ability to comprehend informational text, they will be more motivated to choose to read informational texts.


Click the "References" link above to hide these references.

Chall, J., Jacobs, V., & Baldwin, L. (1990). The reading crisis: Why poor children fall behind. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Cooperative Children's Book Center (2006). Children's books by and about people of color. School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Retrieved September, 2006 from

Duke, N., & Bennett-Armistead, V. S. (2003). Reading and writing informational text in the primary grades. New York: Scholastic.

Kagan, S. (2009). The Q-Matrix. Retriezed March 20, 2009 from

Marinak, B. & Mazzoni, S. (2009). Reaching all readers. Zaner Bloser: Columbus, Ohio.

McGinley, W. & Denner, P. (1987). Story impressions: A prereading/writing activity. Journal of Reading, 31(3), 248-253.

Mohr, K. (2006). Children's choices for recreational reading: A three-part investigation of selection preferences, rationales, and processes. Journal of Literacy Research, 38 (1), 81-104.

National Assessment of Education Progress. The nation's report card. Retrieved May, 12, 2008 from

Pappas, C. (1993). Is narrative "primary"?: Some insights from kindergartners' pretend readings of stories and inform books. Journal of Reading Behavior, 25, 97-129.

Pearson, P.D. (2003). Foreword. In Duke, N., & V.S. Bennett-Armistead (Eds.), Reading & writing informational text in the primary grades, 8-9.

Schwartz, S. & Bone, M. (1995) Retelling, Relating, Reflecting: Beyond the 3R's. OISE Press: Toronto.

Snow, C., Burns, S., & Griffin, P. (1998). Preventing reading difficulty in young children. Washington, D.C: National research Council.

Barbara Marinak, Linda Gambrell (2009)


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Working with lower functioning students I find that this article helps give me tangible ways to help them understand everyday text that they will be exposed to. I really appreciate the Retelling Pyramid. It gave me an accessible way to teach my students.

This was an interesting article and backs up information in a previous class that I have taken, LI243 which was Children’s Literature. Not only did the this class teach future teachers about the different types of children’s lit available to younger readers, it also taught us how to keep reading fun and interesting when it’s time for them to learn from informational text. One of my favorite parts and techniques that are used when making sure student can enjoy informational text was the retelling pyramid.

I thought this was a very good article on a subject that is very important in the reading process. As children progress through school, informational texts become more important in their learning process, so the earlier we can expose them to these, the better understanding they will have. The three methods seem to build upon each other from before, during and after reading the selection. I think that using text impression, guiding questions, and the retelling pyramid is a great idea and will help with overall reading comprehension for our students.

I really enjoyed reading this article. The three instructional methods built up each other giving an effective way to teach reading. By using these three methods the DOK levels could definitely be raised to 2’s or possibly 3’s. I especially like the text impression method when presenting vocabulary words. I like the idea of presenting the words and presenting questions making the students think about what the word means.

I agree with these reading comprehension strategies. I use text impressions by imploring the students to predict outcomes and uses life experiences. I use guided questions often when teaching reading comprehension. I like the pyramid idea and want to try to incorporate it into my teaching.

I agree with these three techniques very helpful teaching student to read and understand what they are reading. Introducing words and discussing the purpose, asking questions what do they think is going to happen,makes the students intrested in reading to find out. Then retelling the story and after reading it, asking questions to see if they understood the story.

This is an excellent article about a very difficult topic. Comprehension is challenging to many students. I like the ideas the article offers about reading and comprehending. Text impression, guiding questions, and retelling pyramid are excellent ways to get children to read and understand. I am a special education teacher and reading and comprehension is one of the challenging steps that I face during my days. The students have such a great difficulty in understanding and it is great to learn different ways to help my students understand. I am going to try these steps to see how this works. I think that introducting the words at the beginning of the reading is a great way to get the students excited about what they are going to read and it will help them in understanding from the beginning and not struggle as they get to each word they do not know. These ideas sound great and I can't wait to try them.

In my class with severally handicap children we have introduced new vocabulary words to the students and after reading the article and seeing the retelling pyramid I think this would benefit my students after we read the text or book to them

I thought this article was a great resource in showing the importance of young children and their exposure to informational books. Before I read this article, I thought reading any book was important. After reading this article, I realized how important it was for kindergarteners and 1st graders to have exposure to informational books. When students start out reading these types of books, they have a stronger foundation as they approach the 4th grade, when reading informational books becomes a necessity in order for them to learn and read material for their assignments. Finally, using text impressions, guided questions, and retelling are wonderful techniques in reinforcing comprehension.

I really like this article. I felt that it was full of helpful information and the explanations of the material was easy to understand. I think the three instructional methods mentioned would be very helpful when teaching students and helping them learn that informational texts can be enjoyable to read.

This article was very interesting and gave good tips teachers can use to promote understanding and enjoying informational texts. The three instructional methods were: text impression, guiding questions, and retelling pyramid. These strategies are very important to teach. If students are able to comprehend what they read,they will be more motivated to read. If a student does not understand what they read, they will not be motivated to read other times.

This article was very interesting and gave good tips teachers can use to promote understanding and enjoying informational texts. The three instructional methods were: text impression, guiding questions, and retelling pyramid. These strategies are very important to teach. If students are able to comprehend what they read,they will be more motivated to read. If a student does not understand what they read, they will not be motivated to read other times.

I agree this was a great article to read. I also agree informational text should be introduced to students during the early years of life. Informational text is a process in which students are likely to be encouraged, excited and knowledgeable about what they are reading. It also validates that students are reading and comprehending high quality information, as a result, they will have an opportunities to become successful readers. In the article I enjoyed how the story, “Water Babies” was dissected into the three instructional methods. Students had a clear understanding of the information received. In order to promote literacy, students need a variety of enjoyable text material to read. We as teachers do not want any of our students to go through the fourth grade slump. Therefore, we must add effective strategies to our repertoire to meet the needs of each student.

This article is very informative on how teachers can get their student more motivated to reading. The three important strateges that were discussed were Before Reading, During Reading, and After reading. Before reading the teacher should give the class a heads up on new vocabulary and what will be read in the story. During reading approch is the teachers asking questions as the class is reading to ensure comprehension is happing. After reading is when the teacher should make sure that all student have comprehend all important concepts from the reading.

Great article. I like how the three techniques build on one another. The text impression is good because it introduces what is going to be learned and undoubtedly boosts comprehension as the story is actually read.

I feel the predicting and learning the vocabulary is such an important prereading strategy. Students need to be knowledgable of words in the text to understand what they are reading

I loved this article and the techniques stated to promote understanding and enjoyment of Informational text. The techniques of text impression, guiding questions, and retelling pyramid are great strategies for teaching students how to read informational text. As the article stated, these could help the students become familiar with the structure and language of nonfiction text. I agree that the wider the variety of types of text students read, the better their reading achievement will be. Using before reading, during reading and after reading strategies the students can successfully understand what they are reading.

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