What I love most about teaching nonfiction is the endless possibilities this genre provides for my students. Prior to launching my official nonfiction unit with my 6th graders, I take stock of the knowledge students bring with them to our classroom and the work we’ve done as readers and writers of nonfiction so far. And, I think about my hopes for the work we’ll accomplish together.
This year, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the ways preparation for state testing, and the state test themselves, can rob students from learning to love nonfiction. I feel such sadness for teachers who are forced by administration to present nonfiction as dry, lifeless work that is simply a pathway to answering questions on a test. But mostly, I’m sad for students forced to endure this torture, each day, as many schools believe that nonfiction must dominate reading experiences in the classroom and high interest nonfiction books are rarities.
My goal is simple. I want to cultivate a love of nonfiction within each and every one of my students. I want my students to be investigators who use nonfiction as a tool to discover the stories in and of our lives.
Here’s my plan for this year.
We’ll be reading A Long Walk To Water by Linda Sue Park. This unique story blends both fiction and nonfiction. I’ve found this work to be incredibly compelling to students. They are drawn in by the fictional character, Nya, and the real person Salva. A Long Walk To Water will help to spotlight my theme of nonfiction being the stories in and of our lives. As we read, students will keep their reader’s notebook at hand to jot down the big ideas and questions this novel should spark.
Tracking Big Ideas & Questions
We’ll generate ideas about the topics and subtopics associated with A Long Walk To Water. We’ll chart our ideas and write details about what we’re learning and we’ll include our questions. I find that students enjoy wearing their researcher hats when teachers emphasize the importance of questions. Making our questions public is a way of validating them and encouraging even more. After scouring Jen Serravallo’s The Reading Strategies Book, I have ideas about how I’d like my chart to look. I’ll share it once it’s up and running!
Building a Text Set
We’ll also read three texts in addition to A Long Walk To Water. Shattered Lives, is a 2015 Scholastic article about The Syrian Refugee Crisis. It is an important text to pair with A Long Walk To Water as it offers another perspective about what it means to be a refugee. It helps students to understand that this is a global issue that impacts all of us. Another text I’ll use is Water Runs Through This Book by Nancy Bo Flood. (I know right? A book about water by an author named Flood! How cool is that??) This is a high interest, gorgeous book with photography by Jan Sonnenmair. It includes facts, details, charts, maps, poetry, quotes and more. It will help my students understand the importance of water in our daily lives. I will be reading a page or two of this book aloud to students each day until we finish.
This digital text is essential to share with students as it demonstrates the challenges American citizens are experiencing to obtain clean water. This 3-minute video clip about the Flint, Michigan Water Crisis can help students to understand that while clean water seems ubiquitous in their lives, people are struggling to obtain this resource right here in our own country.
Creating a Digital Bin
My students and I will create a digital bin with links to texts, video clips, photography, etc. organized by our topics and subtopics. My students will be excited to explore issues further and share what they’ve discovered!
Check out our previous post on digital bins to learn more!
Writing With Passion
I can imagine the feature articles, research-based argument essays, and more that can come out of all of this work. I look forward to guiding my students as they make decisions about the work they want to do. I look forward to hearing their voices in their writing and celebrating their accomplishments!
Sonja Cherry-Paul is a member of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Committee. She has been immersed in reading wonderful books created by authors and illustrators who address themes related to social justice. The best part of this process is sharing these incredible books with her 6th graders and the insightful conversations they spark. She is co-author of Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning and Flip Your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach.