Stop, Think, and React to New Information when Reading Nonfiction

by Stephanie Harvey

Photograph by Lori Epstein

An adage attributed to E.B. White reminds us to “Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.”

You can’t help but ask questions and react to information in a room filled-to-bursting with great text, stirring images, and actively engaged students. Content-rich classrooms create irresistible, stimulating environments that fuel kids’ natural curiosity.

The real world is fascinating and compelling, so let’s replicate it in our classrooms. Rather than skimming the surface of nonfiction texts, kids should be constructing meaning from it.

Reading with Your Heart and Your Head

Understanding content requires that kids use “thinking strategies” as they read.

They need to merge their thought processes with information they’re learning by asking questions, visualizing, and drawing conclusions from the text. They should also infer from visual and text features, and figure out important ideas.

By doing this, students learn to read with both their head and their heart (Beers and Probst). Over time, they build knowledge, understanding, and often take action. Education thought leader Arthur Costa suggests, “Content literacy is all about what kids do with their new knowledge, how they make sense of it and use it in their daily lives.

Photograph by Winn Brewer

Engaging Texts

This is where National Geographic Explorer magazine comes in. Young readers can’t resist engaging deeply in the articles featured in the magazine.

The April issue of Explorer, for instance, is chock full of appealing photos, intriguing features and captivating text. Kids can have fun figuring out the meaning of inferential titles and subheads in “Pollination Nation.” They can learn the steps of tornado formation from closely examining the graphic “How a Tornado Forms.” They can view the diagrams of levers to infer how they work in “Clever Lever.”

Photograph by Elemental Imaging/E+/Getty Images

Stop, Think, and React

One “thinking strategy” to engage kids in their nonfiction reading is to teach them to Stop, Think, and React (STR) to information in the text or images.

As we share the article on pollination, for instance, we as educators might read the first paragraph and model how we stop and visualize what is happening by jotting our reactions on a sticky note: “Wow, I can see these stunning blossoms and the bees hovering above them, giving me a picture in my mind of what pollination really looks like.” And, when reading on, “That’s surprising, I never knew that bees were not the only pollinators.”

Stop, Think, and React is a powerful nonfiction reading strategy. Try modeling your thoughts and reactions with any of the articles from Explorer, and then give kids time to practice as they read another article independently.

When they read compelling text and react to it, students are far more likely to engage more thoroughly, enhance their understanding, and build knowledge.

Click here to learn more about Explorer magazine, as well as browse a sample issue.

This blog post was loosely adapted from “Content Literacy: Building Knowledge Through Thinking-Intensive Learning,” by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis.


Stephanie Harvey is a National Geographic Fellow and private consultant to schools and school districts around the world. Her company implements K-12 literacy initiatives focused on comprehension, collaboration, and inquiry.


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