Nonfiction articles, nonfiction resources, nonfiction standards, and informational standards. How can we engage middle school students?
Nonfiction is important for the middle school ELA classrooms. Our standards dictate that we help students understand nonfiction texts in a variety of ways. As a teacher, I know engagement is key. With middle school English students, asking students to participate in choice concerning topics greatly helps.
Not only do the standards stress nonfiction, but teachers also realize that students must familiarize themselves with nonfiction text features. Once students leave our classrooms, they will largely read nonfiction.
Any why not? Most of what adults read at work and in life is nonfiction. (If anyone has a lead on a job where I can read fiction all day, shoot me a message. Bonus points if I can wear comfy pants and drink coffee.)
In the information age, it only makes sense to teach nonfiction. How you do it though, that matters. I’ve found student inspired nonfiction resources are most effective in drawing students to the assignments. Here are four ways I involve students in choosing nonfiction resources.
Ask students to pick topics.
Middle school students will share ideas with you! I do this anonymously. Typically, I ask students to write on a note card a topic they find interesting. Before doing so, we brainstorm possible ideas: sports figures, old movies techniques, a little-known artist. (A student taught me about Jean‑Michel Basquiat from this exercise.) Often, I use this as an exit ticket. You can also create a Google Form if you use Google Classroom.
Then I research articles on these topics and bring them to students. The nonfiction resources are student generated topics.
Since this is anonymous, you may be surprised with what students choose! This does narrow some of the work for you.
Another similar method requires older students, and a trust with them:
Assign students to find nonfiction.
This is a step beyond the first method. It works well with older students, and it requires a discussion of trust and practicality. Set some ground rules, such as school appropriateness and strong sources. Ask students to find a certain number of nonfiction pieces (maybe 2), and let them bring you the nonfiction. Some classes can steer the direction of analysis questions.
A side benefit? This is a great opportunity for a lesson concerning primary and secondary resources, strong and weak support, and other nonfiction tools. You have the perfect opportunity to guide students into finding strong resources.
Create nonfiction centers.
A great informational text activities for middle school deals with centers or stations. This is lots of prep work for the teacher, but when I have a class that dislikes nonfiction, my students appreciate the effort. Print five or so nonfiction articles that are high engagement such as school suspensions or advertising. Set each one up at a center with thinking questions. Students will rotate around the room and have an opportunity to discuss the nonfiction and questions with peers. Each student will get a chance to view all five pieces.
Then allow students to choose which piece they enjoyed the best, and provide a reflective or writing assignment for each piece.
This does create lots of work the first time around, but as years continue, your file of nonfiction will have grown, and you may only to switch in and out a few pieces.
(Again with choices) Make assignments for every student to view.
This informational text activity for middle school is similar to the previous one, only I will find two or three nonfiction pieces of similar length (I made the mistake of pairing a short with a long one once). I send students links and accompanying questions (old days: printed them out) and allow students to choose which nonfiction piece they wanted to examine further.
This is similar to the nonfiction centers, but it a little less work. Sometimes it works better because students are less influenced by what their peers choose.
Students should read nonfiction. The integration of nonfiction resources in an ELA class needn’t be pushy or boring. What I love about older students (and what I use to my advantage), is that student feedback can valuably shape your curriculum. I’ve learned of wonderfully written sources because of students. I’ve learned about topics I previously knew little. My students’ input for nonfiction resources grows my curriculum, and always entertains me.
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