The easiest Read Naturally stories to read are often the hardest ones to write. Many people are surprised to learn this. Isn’t it easier to write a quick level 1.0 story than it is to research and write a complex level 8.0 story?

Not at all. There are several reasons why. First, it’s much harder to be concise than it is to explore a topic with as many words as you want. But early readers need the sentences and stories in the lowest Read Naturally levels to be quite short. Second, readability formulas are very limiting at these levels—one difficult word can upset the entire balance. And finally, perhaps most importantly, Read Naturally stories are nonfiction. Taking nonfiction research, simplifying it, and turning it into an original, completely accurate, high-interest story—which, by the way, is only about a paragraph long—is really hard to do! The phonics levels, where a high percentage of the words also need to use a particular phonics pattern, are especially challenging to write in nonfiction. So why do we insist on nonfiction stories?

Read Naturally decided on high-interest nonfiction when we wrote our first stories over 30 years ago, and we haven’t wavered since. This is because we want our stories to appeal to readers of all ages. Read Naturally educators might have a third grader, a fifth grader, and an adult all reading the same second-grade level material. These stories must be interesting enough to appeal to many readers and not appear too young or immature, regardless of the level of vocabulary in the story. Furthermore, the Read Naturally Strategy requires teacher modeling and repeated reading with short passages. Teacher modeling and repeated reading are two of the most effective, research-based strategies for improving fluency. The ideal length of stories for modeling and repeated reading is 100–400 words, which is also a good length for nonfiction. Most good fictional stories require more than 100–400 words.

Read Naturally stories present new information about unusual animals, people, inventions, etc., and as students do repeated readings, they increase their knowledge base and share it with parents and peers. It is motivating for students to share the interesting information they've learned from the topics. Nonfiction can also encourage students who have not previously enjoyed reading to want to read more about a particular subject that interests them—so they not only enjoy learning to read but begin to enjoy reading to learn.

In this blog post, literacy expert Tim Shanahan elaborates on the value of nonfiction text for students of all ages. He gives good tips for educators wondering how to incorporate the Common Core informational text requirement into their curriculum. We especially like his mnemonic: Fabulous Libraries Can Give Satisfaction. According to Shanahan, educators using informational text should teach…

1. Fact vs. Fiction

2. Locating Information

3. Comprehending Informational Text

4. Use/Interpretation of Graphical Elements

5. Synthesizing Information

Read Naturally programs align well with Shanahan’s recommendations. Not only do our programs feature nonfiction stories, but our strategy requires students to comprehend and synthesize the information before moving on. Comprehension questions are present at every level, and comparison questions in higher levels require students to compare the information in two or more stories.

If you’re looking for high-quality informational text and a powerful strategy to help your struggling readers, check out our website to see if Read Naturally meets your needs.

Oh, and if you’re wondering how we feel about fiction-- We LOVE good works of fiction! Nothing makes us happier than classic literature and riveting novels. We’re also huge fans of the many beautiful children’s fiction books in today’s bookstores. (Need recommendations? We’re full of them!) Getting lost in a work of fiction is one of the best experiences a reader can have.

Read Naturally stories fulfill a specific purpose for developing and struggling readers. For that purpose, nonfiction is the story we’re sticking to. For other purposes, as long as students are engaged with the reading material, the sky’s the limit!