The Fiction-Driven Classroom… Guilty as Charged? Creating Successful Nonfiction Writers

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Web_Reynolds_Creating Successful Nonfiction Writers_blog1One of those things teachers have to think about today—that maybe they didn’t so much before—is the difference between fiction and nonfiction.

Unless you’re a teacher and responsible for meeting the standards, you might think “It’s all reading, so it’s all good for our kids.”

Oh, if it were only that simple.

In your own school and district, your state standards have probably generated some talk (grumbling?) about adding a lot more nonfiction into your day.  In fact, teachers are being called to give equal emphasis to fiction and nonfiction. That’s a big change: Research shows students spend very little time in the classroom reading informational text. Merely five minutes a day is not unusual.

So what’s the thinking behind all this?

- Children have diverse interests. You’ve no doubt seen this in your own room. One child is crazy about snakes, another about tornadoes. Texts that address these interests can actually be super-motivating to young readers. In many cases, students actually prefer this type of text.

- Much, if not most, of the reading students will need to do in the “real world” is informational, not fiction.  A perfect example: The Web.

- As children advance through the grades, they are expected to do more informational reading, and that type of reading is more complex. By the time they reach college, they better be comfortable with informational text.

- Reading informational text builds visual literacy and word knowledge. By getting familiar with nonfiction-related terms like sidebars, captions, and headlines, students will naturally build their literacy.

- There’s a link between reading nonfiction and writing it. The most successful writers are familiar with and can write in a variety of formats—from journals and posters, to comic books and reviews.

The good news is that there is a wide array of nonfiction texts for children to choose from. If you need recommendations, just google it and you’ll find all kinds of “top ten” lists from publishers.

Of course as you surely know, any kind of book these days can cost a pretty penny. If you do have a budget, it’s no doubt limited and you need to spend it wisely. All nonfiction is not created equal. Here are some tips to help you evaluate nonfiction texts as you make your purchasing decisions:

- Look at the cover. Is the title enticing? Do the graphics grab a child’s attention?

- What about the content? Does it have wide appeal? Is it accurate and up-to-date?

- Are the photographs and illustrations clearly explained with captions? Are they big enough?

- Is there clear division between topics? Is it easy to browse through? Do italics, boldface, headings, and other features aid reading?

We sometimes hear teachers say they’d love to do more nonfiction with their students, but their curriculum is already full.  We say integrate it—rather than thinking of nonfiction as an add-on. Even if you increase the time students spend reading nonfiction a few minutes a day, you’ll make a difference. In other words, just do it!

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Learn more about nonfiction and how to link it to successful writing in your early childhood classroom. Check out SDE’s webinar Creating Successful Nonfiction Writers (Gr. K–2) by classroom teacher Laureen Reynolds, author of Simple Steps to SMART Success.

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