Teaching Nonfiction in an Organized Way

Teaching nonfiction? Do so in an organized way and watch students engage with the material in a meaningful way.

Teaching nonfiction? I almost titled this, “how to teach nonfiction without putting your students to sleep or confusing them.” This is a look into my nonfiction lessons.

Welcome to “This or That,” a monthly chat where the authors of Reading and Writing Haven and Language Arts Classroom cover different ways of approaching common decisions in the ELA classroom.

I teach nonfiction alongside literature and poetry, but I also complete a larger nonfiction unit and require students to compose thoughtful and appropriate responses to nonfiction. I feel that this readies them for college and careers, and I’ve found that students (and adults) struggle to respond maturely to a variety of subjects.

This is my process for teaching nonfiction. You should be able to apply this process to any piece of nonfiction and make it your own. I will provide examples throughout the post, but you of course don’t have to use them.

Set the tone

Nonfiction will be the majority of what students read as they leave high school. It is heavily covered on standardized tests because colleges expect students to proficiently read it. Nonfiction is a multifaceted source that requires analytical skills.

Before diving into a piece, students and I devote time to discussing when they will read nonfiction. I also start with a high-energy piece that will interest them. No matter what the first nonfiction article is, I provide “extras” to help students understand the material.

Teaching nonfiction? Do so in an organized way and watch students engage with the material in a meaningful way.

Provide background

For instance, students love learning about advertising and marketing. When I teach a nonfiction article about marketing, I detail what “marketing” is. Students will acknowledge print, radio, Internet, and visual advertising.

I remind them that marketing encompasses more than standard commercials. The colors, fonts, container shapes – everything associated with a product contributes to the marketing message. Students wouldn’t regularly know this, and by giving them background, I’m setting them up for success.

I also tell students that they will be responding in writing to the nonfiction piece we read. The background information is not necessary to their written responses, but they are welcome to cite it.

Brainstorm together

I believe in the power of analysis together. For every piece of nonfiction, we read some or all of the piece together and brainstorm varying angles together.

In  “The Curse of the Olympics,” students see a very negative view concerning the destruction the Olympics leave behind. I discuss the author’s attitude with students and look for specific words that show the author’s angle.

For the first nonfiction piece, we analyze views together. The next time, students might work with a partner. As continue with nonfiction, I release students and have them complete more work alone.

Another important topic we discuss is the opposing view. Students might not find an opposing view in the article, but one probably exists. It is important for students to look and not simply swallow the viewpoint in front of them.

Write a response!

After looking at the background, reading the nonfiction piece, and analyzing it, students write about the topic.

This is fun for me (and hopefully my students) because the writing prompts are limitless. If you’re covering nonfiction for the first time, you might wish to give students one or two writing topics. If you need to meet argumentative or informative writing standards, you might need to specify a topic.

If you are comfortable, provide suggestions but then allow students to take ownership of their response’s directions.

That is a quick rundown of how I approach teaching nonfiction.

If you need pre-made nonfiction materials, I have five weeks of material in my Nonfiction Unit of Current Issues. All samples (and more) used in this blog post are included in this unit.

Looking for more nonfiction teaching ideas? Melissa has you covered at Reading and Writing Haven.