Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Pushing Nonfiction

For all my problems with the Common Core standards, I'm loving their emphasis on nonfiction.

My English teachers weren't originally feeling the romance, but now some of them are ready to flirt with the idea that nonfiction can be fantastic and engaging.

A nonfiction display for the unit

Today, for the first time, we had classes in the library for a nonfiction book selection. Because these kids have never picked a nonfiction book "for fun," they needed a little instruction in what to look for. I invented arbitrary nonfiction categories for my collection: reference books, research books, coffee table books, biographies, and literary/narrative nonfiction, and provided examples from each category.

The kids were asked to choose books that were either biographies or literary/narrative nonfiction.

What nonfiction topics do 14-year-olds gravitate towards?
  • Ghosts
  • Sports stories (think the Blind Side)
  • Memoirs (esp. drug addiction stories)
Nonfiction books definitely benefit from book talking. I could have used 10 copies of these titles:
  • The Big Necessity (about toilets all over the world) - one of my personal favorites
  • What the World Eats (great images and info about a grocery shopping and food choices all over the world)
  • A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a boy soldier (about a boy solider in Sierra Leone)
What did we notice?
  • There's a lot more conversation about the books. Kids are reading portions of the book aloud to each other, sharing random facts, showing off cool pictures, etc.  
  • There's more interaction between the page and the reader. For example, I had one student whip out his calculator so he could add up a family's grocery bill in What the World Eats.
  • For a few (though less than I expected), there was some serious disappointment when they realized the book they WANTED to read was fiction, and therefore off the table.
  • Although I love nonfiction, I've read significantly more of my fiction collection. I'm not as comfortable coming up with on the spot recommendations - more of a mental stretch on my part.
Where are we going with these nonfiction books? This will provide the students with their first resource for an upcoming research unit. We think it's a great way to kick off a research unit because students will actually have significant background knowledge on their topic, and hopefully be more successful in developing research questions. Ultimately, they'll uses their research to write poems about their topic.

Have you had any experience book taking nonfiction?

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