A Crime-Scene Cure for Reluctant Readers?


Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood is one of those rare books people describe as “impossible to put down” that really is (figuratively) impossible to put down. As an English teacher, I found a marked increase in student participation when I substituted Capote’s “nonfiction novel” for one of the canonical works in the syllabus. Even the reluctant readers in class suddenly became unreluctant.

Part of our Strategies for Reading series, our biography topic lets students explore how, on a dark night in 1959, the criminal actions of Dick Hickock and Perry Smith changed forever the peaceful mid-American town of Holcomb, Kansas—and became the subject of a brilliant novel, as well as three excellent movies.


The Strategies for Reading tool assists students in understanding nonfiction texts. They can analyze sample nonfiction passages or enter their own text. Students develop strategies for nonfiction—predicting what they will learn before reading, identifying details and organizing ideas while reading, and explaining what they have learned after reading.

What makes our approach compelling? Prior to reading a complex, informational text about the criminals, students examine and comment on six thought-provoking photographs and make predictions (within the tool) about what they will read.

Students then engage in a close reading of a short biography of Hickock and Smith, which they can also have read to them, and reconsider their predictions while responding to a pointed question about each photograph.  Difficult words are defined in rollovers. After rereading the biography, students organize their ideas by responding to four general questions in the tool’s built-in organizer.

Students demonstrate their comprehension in the final section: they answer a series of true/false questions, choose the best of three short summaries, and explain the reasons for their choice. Students can then save, print, and email a document that contains all of the responses mentioned above.

If you are trying to break down the barriers erected by a reluctant reader, take a look at our Strategies for Reading Biography. Your students just might find it impossible to put down.

And be sure to check out our related materials that help students explore other informational and literary texts. All follow the same format as Strategies for Reading Biography.

Strategies for Reading Novels
Strategies for Reading Poetry
Strategies for Reading Short Stories
Strategies for Reading Science Fiction
Strategies for Reading Mythology
Strategies for Reading Epics
Strategies for Reading Folklore
Strategies for Reading Fantasy
Strategies for Reading Dramatic Dialogue







About Author

Tim McBride

Supervisor, Educational Multimedia Writing

Tim McBride has degrees from Rochester Institute of Technology and NC State University, where he taught English for several years. His first book of poetry, The Manageable Cold, was published recently by TriQuarterly Press at Northwestern University. He works as a writer and an editor on Curriculum Pathways. He lives in Cary, NC, with an American pit bull terrier named Charlie McCarthy and a Catahoula hog dog named Junk.

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