Encourage Students to WONDER with Nonfiction Digital Texts

Questions are the door to human wonder. Mine them with a pick ax. All kids have questions (23).

~Stephanie Harvey in Nonfiction Matters: Reading, Writing, and Research in Grades 3-8

All students wonder. All students have questions. Adults do too. Sonja and I are huge fans of the site Wonderopolis, a site that asks and answers people’s wonders. We love using this site with our students because it increases our students’ motivation to ask questions, research, and read nonfiction. Another way we encourage our students to wonder and read nonfiction is to create nonfiction digital bins.

Using digital texts when teaching nonfiction reading and writing units helps students ask questions and wonder. Here is one of our favorite nonfiction digital texts, “PBS: Shirley the Elephant.” We use this text for nonfiction minilessons on reading, research, writing, and persuasive writing.

Get ready to break out your tissues! This digital text discusses the life of the elephant, Shirley, who is moved from a zoo to an elephant reserve. Don’t worry, Shirley’s story is a happy one!

Part 1- Shirley’s life at the zoo.

Part 2- Shirley’s new life.


10 Ways to Use this Nonfiction Digital Text:

  1. Generating questions and wonders!
  2. Identifying facts and taking notes for research/ nonfiction writing.
  3. Argument writing – Students studying captivity could use this text.
  4. Using a variety of sources and evidence in nonfiction (photos, video, interviews, etc.)
  5. Learning from a documentary.
  6. Adding to a nonfiction digital bin about animals or animal captivity. See our November 12 post about Sea World digital texts.
  7. Locating the main ideas or central themes of the digital text.
  8. How to use a digital text for research
  9. Teaching multiple perspectives. What the different perspectives represented in this digital text.
  10. Use texts such a The One and Only Ivan or Owen and Mzee to discuss animals in captivity, animal perspectives, and unlikely friendships.


Dana Johansen spends her time teaching fifth grade in surprisingly snowy Connecticut, taking long walks in the woods with her yellow lab, and reading the False Prince series by Jennifer Nielsen. Dana was very excited to find out what was at the bottom of 10x on the show, The Curse of Oak Island, last week. She has taught elementary and middle school for fourteen years. Dana is a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University where she studies blended learning in reading and writing workshop. She believes in balanced blended learning and is the co-author of Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning and Flip Your Writing Workshop. 

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