Tips for Teaching Nonfiction

Teachers, Lovers of Literature,...heck anyone...lend me your ears. Prepare for the Golden Age of Nonfiction.

It wasn't long ago that ELA teachers were freaking out concerned about the focus on informational text. Part of that is because we tend to enjoy freak-out parties teaching literature so much that we thought we would be turning kids off reading. And truth be told, many of us just don’t know enough about teaching nonfiction to feel competent enough to teach it.

Have no fear. Yes, the revolution has begun, but it’s not all gloom and doom. In fact, kids are fascinated by the people and world around them, so getting middle school kids hooked on nonfiction isn’t difficult at all. Neither is teaching it. Here are some tips to get you started.

1)     Immerse yourself- and your classroom- in high-quality resources. The nonfiction revolution has been a boon to the publishing industry, and they have heeded the call to action. Books are available on every topic under the sun and then some. Do you have students interested in Legos? Try putting Toys!: Amazing Stories Behind Some Great Inventions by Don L. Wulffson on your shelf. Would anybody like to read about a dog that could climb trees? And who wouldn't?! Try Farley Mowat’s The Dog Who Wouldn't Be. Spies? Try Behind Rebel Lines: The Incredible Story of Emma Edmonds, Civil War Spy by Seymour Reit.  For more book ideas, check out my Middle School Nonfiction Pinterest board. I originally created this so I’d have a go-to list for my bookstore trips, but I’m happy to share!

2)    Teach students what to look for in nonfiction, some of which is the same as fiction. Just like its literary sister, well-written nonfiction includes figurative language like metaphor, simile, personification, etc...It also contains technical language exclusive to the topic, resulting in a goldmine for vocabulary development. Teach students how to read text features such as charts, graphs, and embedded text, which will aide their understanding of the text. Additionally, teach students to evaluate the difference between fact and opinion, so they will be able to evaluate arguments.

3)    This might be the toughest, but hear me out. Begin thinking of independent reading differently. Sometimes, requiring students to read a variety of shorter pieces like articles and essays makes more sense than asking them to read a book. Think about it. If I suddenly developed an interest in Pooktre art, a form of tree-shaping, what would I do first?

 Realistically, I would look it up online and read a few articles about it. If the shorter texts pique my curiousity, I would move on to a book on arborsculpture.  

        Short selections give us a chance to explore a myriad of topics, while requiring as much thinking as longer pieces. And kids will be much more likely to pick up some shorter selections. They don’t seem nearly as daunting as an entire book, especially for reluctant readers.

 It's an exciting time! About fifteen years ago I remember encouraging friends in my book club to read young-adult fiction. I think I may be ready to do the same for nonfiction. 

 Stay tuned for more blog-posts on middle school nonfiction. In the meantime, brush up on your Pooktre art, and share your nonfiction ideas-please! I'd love to learn from you!

 Viva la revolution! 

1 comment

  1. Great ideas! I agree with immersing the classroom in nonfiction resources. It is so true that kids are enthusiastic about nonfiction because they enjoy learning about the world. I disagree/won't be encouraging my friends to read nonfiction. ;) Sorry but I just can't! I am a novel lover!