One of the big changes for teachers writing new curricula to meet Common Core Standards is the incorporation of nonfiction in the English Language Arts Curriculum. As ELA teachers, we are experts in teaching literature — but nonfiction?
Having recently gone through the process of writing a new middle-school English Language Arts curriculum, I fully understand this challenge. Below are some of the ways our middle school ELA teachers worked to more organically integrate nonfiction texts into our teaching.
At each grade level, we took one or two of the novels we taught and switched them out for nonfiction books. Memoirs like “Night” or “The Other Wes Moore” are great ways to get students interested in reading nonfiction because they read like a fiction story. This can also be an easier transition for teachers because these books can be taught in a similar fashion as novels.
First, we determined the theme or main ideas of the novel that we were teaching. Then we found newspaper and magazine articles that demonstrated real-life applications of that theme. For example, when we taught “The Giver,” we used articles about China’s one child policy and California’s history with euthanasia, which allowed students to see that elements of “the community” in the novel were based on reality. This provided us an opportunity to simultaneously teach nonfiction texts while providing depth and context to the novel.
Nonfiction “picture” books
There are many high-quality, shorter nonfiction books made for young adults that include historical documents and pictures to engage younger readers. One grade level gathered a sampling of these books and offered students “nonfiction circles” (instead of literature circles). Students ranked books based on their interests — from history to technology to animals, and the teacher aligned groups together based on student reading level.
Another grade level used chapters from such books that corresponded with what the students were learning about in social studies, such as “Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy” when studying the Industrial Revolution and “Bomb: The Race to Build — and Steal — the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon” when studying World War II. Check out the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction.