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7 Best Strategies To Teach Non-Fiction

What strategies do you use to teach non-fiction to your students? Do you use non-fiction texts in your classroom? 

If you are unsure about using non-fiction in your classroom or why you should teach non-fiction, you can read the article Why Teach Non-Fiction in Middle School? where four reasons to consider teaching non-fiction are shared. 

Reading non-fiction is a crucial skill that students need to continuously practice for a few reasons:

  1. It’s required in many Language Arts Curriculums. 
  2. Understanding non-fiction is a vital life skill since most adults regularly encounter it. 
  3. Biographies and news articles appeal to many students because they tell real stories. 
  4. Non-fiction extends beyond traditional written formats, including audio elements like podcasts and talk radio.

When you teach non-fiction, it helps students develop critical thinking and source analysis skills for real-world success. In this blog post, seven teachers share their best strategies to teach non-fiction.

7 Best Strategies To Teach Non-Fiction

Kristy: Article of the Week

Kristy from 2 Peas and a Dog loves using the Article of the Week strategy to get her students reading and engaging with non-fiction texts weekly. 

Each week, assign a high-interest non-fiction article for your students to read and write about. I like to read the article once as a whole class and reinforce annotation skills with students. Then, students can take some time to work through the article independently. 

After reading, they can work independently, in pairs, or groups, depending on the writing task I follow up the reading with. I scaffold this strategy so that at the start of the year, students are working with graphic organizers and can work with others. Then, I gradually reduce the amount of scaffolding so they eventually work independently to answer a long-answer writing prompt.  

Check out this ready-to-go Article of the Week Differentiated Lessons resource you can use with any non-fiction article.  

Non-fiction articles are one way to teach non-fiction, but a common piece of non-fiction many people are familiar with is articles in the media. Lesa shares her strategy below, with an emphasis on media bias.   

Lesa: Media Bias

Lesa from SmithTeaches9to12 loves to explore media bias when teaching non-fiction to her students. The goal is to dive a bit deeper beyond an article’s content and into its structure and function.

Focusing on structure and function can be an extension of work on rhetoric, text features, and media bias. And media bias is where Lesa spends a bit more time, especially these days with the proliferation of fake news, clickbait, and rumour-turned-breaking news. 

To start an examination of media bias, students still do the usual to establish a level of comprehension of the article. Then, they spend time focused on a variation of the 5Ws to help investigate the reliability of what they’re reading:

  • Who is telling the story? Can you do a quick check on the writer? What else have they written? Do they only focus on a particular area, and/or do their articles all have a similar approach?
  • What message is being ‘pushed’ in the article? What is the main idea (summary practice built-in here!)? 
  • Where does the article appear – which publication? (Using this AdFontes media chart can help with some interpretation.)
  • When was this published? Is the timing relevant? Is it super close to an event’s ending that doesn’t allow much time for interpretation? Is it placed at a time to influence, and how so?
  • Why was this article published? This asks students to apply some additional critical thinking so they consider not just the non-fiction article but its place within the topic and (news) world.

Looking for a lesson all about media bias? Check out this ready-made resource to walk students through 8 different types of media bias and then apply their knowledge with an analysis activity.

Media bias is another great way to teach non-fiction, and something that pairs nicely with learning about bias in the media is learning about perspectives. For her strategy to teach non-fiction, Amanda dives into current events and perspectives, as she explains below.   

Amanda: Coffee & Donuts Current Events

ELA classrooms oftentimes make space for sustained silent reading or comfy independent reading time, but what about switching that time for checking in with current events and non-fiction?

Amanda from Mud and Ink Teaching does just that, and she calls it Coffee and Donuts time.  The coffee is optional, but the Donut is actually what’s center-stage!  If you haven’t checked it out yet, it’s about time you started reading your daily Donut:  a newsletter-style email with multiple perspectives about current events.  It’s the perfect news-style non-fiction for the classroom.

For a few selected weeks, Amanda has students replace their quiet novel reading time with time to browse through the latest issues of The Donut.  She details her whole plan and even has a free handout to use with students on her blog right here!

Non-fiction articles, media bias, perspectives – it’s all essential learning, but it should also go beyond just reading and analysing non-fiction. Class discussions are also crucial when you teach non-fiction. Krista goes over how she incorporates formal discussions into her teaching of non-fiction. 

Krista: Formal Discussions

So…what do we have students DO with the non-fiction articles they are reading? This is a question that nagged at Krista from @whimsyandrigor, so she decided to institute bimonthly formal discussions, often based on an article the students have read.

You might be afraid that these discussions will end up with just a few kids dominating while everyone else passively watches. Or maybe you fear it will turn into a yelling match where no one is listening and no one is learning. Or maybe your worst teacher nightmare will come true – no one will say anything.  

Luckily, the protocol Krista has developed ensures none of these scenarios actually happen! 

The gist: Krista watches the students have a discussion on a low-key topic (pineapple on pizza, for example), and then she gives the class-specific, concrete things she saw and heard and then specific, concrete things she WANTS to see and hear for the next discussion.  

She has also created an observation document where she can quickly and easily document what students say, how many times they spoke, whether they referenced the article and a few other crucial categories that help paint the picture of a student as a discussion participant. (To snag an editable version of Krista’s observation sheet, just click here.)

To see this whole strategy broken down, check out this quick video tutorial Krista shared and prepare to hear some seriously awesome academic discussions where everyone is engaged and ideas about non-fiction texts are flowing. 

Now, let’s go beyond current events, the news, the media, bias, and perspectives – another place students can benefit when you teach non-fiction is through fiction. It’s true! Katie shares how she creates text pairings below. 

Katie: Text Pairing Fiction & Non-Fiction

While looking for ways to connect current events to her ELA lessons, Katie from Mochas and Markbooks decided to find fiction and non-fiction text pairings based on a common theme.

While teaching a thematic unit about maintaining one’s identity despite societal pressure, Katie read the short stories “Borders” by Thomas King and “On the Sidewalk Bleeding” by Evan Hunter and paired these with articles and video about the protests in the Middle East.

As well as extending our discussions on identity and making connections between the Iranian protesters and the characters in the short stories, this was a great opportunity for students to learn more about a part of the world they were unfamiliar with and understand the conflict that was currently happening.

Another way to create fiction and non-fiction text pairs is to use news articles about a specific time period or event in history as an introduction to a fictional text that is set in this time period as well. Students can look through articles in a gallery walk or station format either digitally or walking around the classroom to help create some historical context for the fictional writing they will be studying.

Lastly, a great way to pair fiction and non-fiction texts is to include author bios as part of your pre-reading activities before starting a class novel. Students can read through the bio and complete a 3-2-1 chart of three things they found interesting, two things they found surprising, and one thing they are wondering about. Then, after reading the book, students can revisit their 3-2-1 charts and discuss how the author’s life and experiences may have influenced their writing. 

Now, it’s time to incorporate non-fiction into your daily routine. Jeanmarie explains below how she uses non-fiction for her daily warm-ups and short excerpts to teach non-fiction.   

Jeanmarie: Rhetorical Analysis Warm-Ups

Jeanmarie from McLaughlin Teaches English thinks warm-ups are one of the best ways to get non-fiction in front of students.  Each week, Jeanmarie’s students do close reading and rhetorical analysis of one short non-fiction excerpt.  

These warm-ups follow a predictable pattern, so students know what to expect.  

  • Day one, they read the passage for the rhetorical situation.  
  • On the second day, they reread to summarize.  
  • Day three, they return to the passage to annotate for rhetorical choices.  
  • On day four, students examine the message and purpose.  
  • Finally, the last day of the week is a quick writing passage.  If it’s not a 5-day week, it’s easy to double up to keep the process consistent.  

At the beginning of the year, Jeanmarie and the students work through the process together under the document camera.  But as the year progresses, there is a gradual release of responsibility.

To learn more about how Jeanmarie uses warm-ups, be sure to check out this post: Class Routines: Decide Once on Bell Ringer Activities. Over there, you can grab a free Warm-Up Sampler, including Rhetorical Analysis of the Week.

Lastly, it shouldn’t all be serious learning, right? Sometimes, we have to dive into some fun with our students when we teach non-fiction. And what’s something students love? Games! Below, Yaddy shares how she incorporates non-fiction reading into her escape rooms.  

Yaddy: Non-Fiction Escape Rooms

Yaddy from Yaddy’s Room loves to incorporate non-fiction readings into her escape rooms for her units to expose students to important information in a gamified way. 

Escape rooms are a great way to change up the standard read-and-respond protocol that students expect in the classroom. In an escape room, students are given a variety of tasks to complete that produce a code. Once they have all the codes, they can then “break out” of the room.

In an escape room, you might go to the mall, this might involve physically moving things around or fiddling with actual locks. With Yaddy’s paper escape rooms, students work through tasks together, like ciphers, matching, and multiple-choice, in order to find the codes. They then put their codes on a paper or Google Form, where you check their answers. 

Folding non-fiction information into escape rooms is a wonderful way of enriching the experience and providing the necessary context for students to understand topics. For example, in an escape room preparing students to read Antigone, students might read about Thebes, Greek Theatre, who Sophocles was, and gender roles at the time of the play. 

For more information on escape rooms, you can check out this article here, where Yaddy walks you through her process in detail. 

Need more non-fiction resources? Check out this article, 3 Ways to Make Teaching Non-Fiction Interesting, which advocates for making non-fiction more engaging and enjoyable for students to learn – and when it comes time for teachers to teach non-fiction. 

I hope you can use these best strategies to teach non-fiction in your middle or high school classroom. 

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