I haven't done this yet, but after looking for resources on Thinkfinity, I found a great resource that would help increase student understanding on subject read about in textbooks. The site is http:/www.sciencenetlinks.com.
They have lessons, pod-casts, etc. that could be used to enhance student learning.
I teach 5th grade literacy, but use the Science textbooks frequently to incorportate nonfiction reading skills. My colleague was teaching a unit Newton's Three Laws so I put the kids in cooperative groups and each group had to read about a particular law. They then wrote "Important Poems" using vocabulary and main ideas from the passages using correct writing skills. They had to teach their lesson to others. I think it helped them understand the concepts a bit better.
As mentioned previously, Science NetLinks may have a number of resources that could support student's comprension of non-fiction science text. However, I also wanted to mention another AAAS (The American Association for the Advancement of Science, where Science NetLinks is produced) resource that you might find useful. Each year AAAS holds the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prizes for Excellence in Science Books which celebrates outstanding science writing and illustration for children and young adults. You can view last years winning books, previous winners and actually last Friday the 2012 finalists were announced. So definitely take a look at these great science reads and if you're wanting suggestions for incorporating the books into the classroom, Science NetLinks has developed lessons for many of the winning books! You'll find those listed here.
Science NetLinks Project Director
For more science posts and discussions, visit and join the All About Science group.
I also use Science NetLinks to supplement our science textbooks. I preface any science reading with a discussion of any new vocabulary. After reading an article or a part of the textbook, students have to answer questions, give a summary or create a visual. I always try to include a few opinion questions about the reading. Students usually want to answer the opinion questions and become more engaged in the reading. They also enjoy sharing their opinions and it often leads to great class discussion.
These are great ideas. Have you ever tried asking students to write one question that can be answered by the reading and pose it to the class? You might want to assign it to a different student each time. This might also help you to develop a framework to integrate some of the "big idea" topics into classroom discussion. For example, you could help students develop their thinking on the nature of evidence but pointing out examples in the reading or asking "how do we know?"
Somerville High's professional development this year is centered on reading comprehension. Some of the strategies that I especially liked were:
1. Anticipation guides - students take a quick "fun-fact" questionnaire about the topic that you're about to cover. They love to find out if they were right (and brag about it even though most of the time they randomly guessed)!
2. Group graphic organizer - write a word that relates to your reading on the board. Then put students in pairs and each pair has to write at least one new word/concept on the board related to a word on the board. Everyone has to copy down the developing graphic organizer and I have them write the new words on their paper and then get approval before going up to write it. They quickly realize that the sooner you get a word up the easier, because you are less likely to repeat a word.
3. Using Green, Yellow, and Red highlighters to highlight sections that are well understood, that you have a question about, or that you do not understand.
4. Similarly, using post-its or writing in the textbook (when possible) processing codes such as X for I don't agree, + for new information, ! for interesting, ? for I don't understand, and * for very important.
5. Say anything - review the text and call on students randomly after each reviewed paragraph. They must respond with a comment, question, their opinion on that section... anything.
6. Visual Arts Expression - I have large student whiteboards where students can diagram/draw out their representation of what they learned (i.e. they try to draw out the four stages of mitosis after a reading about mitosis).
I am an English teacher, but teach a science-infused class with a great deal of non-fiction articles and texts. The students seem to have more trouble reading and understanding these types of texts than they do with fiction or novels. It seems students ignore headings, graphs, charts, or basically anything that is not the main text. I think asking students to pay attention to things other than just the text will help them become more comprehensive readers.
Students can also make text-to-self or text-to-world connections when reading science. My students were just reading Darwin's Origin of Species and related it to many political arguments today. Students understand things best when they can make personal connections.