Teaching non-fiction in middle school is often overlooked due to the pressure to teach fiction. Novels, short stories, and poems are all commonplace and wonderful parts of the Language Arts classroom, but often these selections lean heavily toward the fiction side of literature.
While fiction is a valuable part of language and culture, it is often used to the exclusion of non-fiction selections. Let’s talk about the importance of consciously including non-fiction in our English Language Arts curriculums.
Today’s blog post is written by Rebecca Gettelman who is a middle and high school teacher from the Midwest. She has been teaching for over eleven years.
Why Teach Non-Fiction?
Reason One: An Enduring Skill
The ability to read non-fiction, specifically the ability to read for information, is an important life skill. Even as an avid and passionate reader of fiction, the vast majority of things that I read in everyday life are non-fiction pieces. Whether it is a recipe for dinner, a news article about an important current event, or a pamphlet from my most recent trip to the doctor, reading for information permeates life.
And it is not just adult life in which this skill is useful. As students get older and advance through their education, reading for information becomes more and more prevalent in the tasks they are asked to complete.
Math, history, science—no matter what subject students are studying, they will be expected to read for information as a part, sometimes even a significant part, of their education. Helping our students know how to read for information well is an invaluable skill that students will use extensively both now and in their futures.
Reason Two: Appeal
There is no denying the appeal of fiction for many people. Immersing oneself in a world not one’s own—whether that world has dragons and elves or is just a fictional account of the city right outside one’s window—is something that appeals to a great many people, adult, and child alike.
But it does not appeal to everyone. Some people just really prefer to read about real people and true events, and there is a certain segment of the population that does not connect with fictional heroes and made up stories. Providing non-fiction reading choices to these individuals, whether it be in the form of a class novel, individual choice books, or something in between recognizes the needs and preferences of these individuals in your classroom.
Reason Three: Understanding Sources
Understanding source reliability is another invaluable skill that reading non-fiction allows us to address and teach. As the Internet becomes a ubiquitous part of modern life and anyone from storied news corporations to the average Joe with an opinion can publish a website, understanding who is behind the information that we are consuming and relying on to form our own opinions and inform our actions is more important than ever.
Teaching non-fiction gives us the opportunity to show our students how to look at who a source is, question its reliability, and make informed choices about who we turn to for important information. It also allows us to teach situationally—why Wikipedia can be simultaneously a wonderful resource and lacking in research, how a newspaper can provide both insightful and biased information, and how social media can at times be both an effective way to spread grassroots social justice movements as well as the basis for unfounded and harmful misinformation and conspiracy campaigns.
Reason Four: Writing Success
Non-fiction writing is also an important life skill. Cover letters, background information for colleagues, emails, and so on are all parts of life for many people, even those who are not in writing-heavy fields.
And don’t forget the innumerable written responses, essays, and term papers our students will need to complete throughout their educational careers – these too are an important part of our students’ future success.
By familiarizing our students with quality examples of non-fiction writing, we teach them what good non-fiction writing looks like so that they can emulate it themselves.
How Do You Teach Non-Fiction in Middle School?
Option 1: Article of the Week
Use non-fiction articles in your weekly or bi-weekly article of the week lessons. Read more about this key literacy strategy here.
Option 2: Literature Circles or Book Clubs
A lot of teachers are hesitant to use lit circles or book clubs in their classrooms because they worry students will not keep up with the required reading. Instead of using novels, introduce book clubs using high-interest non-fiction articles. Each week, each group gets a different article to read and discuss. Complete this cycle 4 times so that students get a lot of practice time with the book club strategy. Read this blog post about online student book clubs.
Option 3: Reinforce Literacy Strategies
Use non-fiction to reinforce key literacy strategies. In this set of non-fiction graphic organizers, students will practice their summarizing strategies such as 3,2,1 Chart, 5 W’s + H, GIST, Key Ideas, and Alphabet Summary as well as their reading strategies such as Predictions, Connections, Questions, Author’s Purpose, Main Idea, Determining Importance, and Extending Answers.
Where Do You Find Non-Fiction For Middle School Students?
Holidays and celebrations are often overlooked in middle school because the traditional activities have usually been done in elementary school. It is still important to recognize and celebrate a wide variety of holidays in your classroom by helping students gain background knowledge about these topics. In this Article of the Week Non-Fiction Articles Celebrations and Holidays Bundle the following holidays and celebrations are covered: Chinese New Year, Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day, Daylight Savings, St. Patrick’s Day, April Fools’ Day, Earth Day, Ramadan, Halloween, Diwali, Hanukkah, and Christmas.
Students also love reading about topics that interest them. Have you ever noticed that students love talking about things they have seen on YouTube? Each of these articles comes with an accompanying video that helps build your students’ schema. In this Article of the Week Non-Fiction Articles High-Interest Bundle #1 the following topics are covered: Regifting, Benefits of Reading, Benefits of Exercise, Dangers of Caffeine and Energy Drinks, The Mystery of the Bermuda Triangle, The Mystery of the Loch Ness Monster, School Uniforms, Electric Cars, Self-Driving Cars, and The D.B. Cooper Mystery.
Middle school students also love to read about dangerous things. In this Article of the Week Non-Fiction Articles, High-Interest Bundle #2 many dangerous topics are covered such as Public Swimming Pool Safety, Dangerous North American Snakes, The Mystery of Oak Island, The History of Television, The Titanic, The Disappearance of Amelia Earhart, Podcasts, Alcatraz, Dangerous North American Animals, and Dangerous North American Spiders.
In this Article of the Week Non-Fiction Articles, Bundle #3 students will learn about a variety of high-interest topics such as North American Amusement Parks, Crime Scene Investigations, Drones
eSports, Life In Space, Natural Disasters, Popular Desserts Around The World, Smartphone Addiction, The Homework Debate and The Mystery of Big Foot.
So next time you are looking through selections to teach, consider the importance of making some of those selections non-fiction ones. Including these in your curriculum will help you reach more students and set all of your students up for success.
It is important that you find high-interest non-fiction articles to read with your students. Here are some suggestions for interesting articles for your ELA classes.