Let’s face it. It’s not always easy to get kids excited about non-fiction. Sometimes, we just need a gimmick. A gimmick that works!
Every Friday is Non-Fiction Friday in my classroom. Is this the only time for non-fiction? Of course not! But Non-Fiction Friday is meaningful to my students. They read non-fiction curled up in corners of the classroom or stretched out on the carpet with friends. It is purposeful and pleasurable reading. Students read what they choose. Whether it’s a magazine about the solar system, a picture book about polar bears, or a biography about Faith Ringgold. It’s their choice!
Additionally, on Non-Fiction Friday, a student leads the class in a 15-minute conversation about world or science news. During the week, the student prepares for this discussion by reading, you guessed it, more non-fiction! I’m finding that my students are learning numerous skills, without us even being in a formal non-fiction unit. Here are my observations about what they’re learning:
- Include sources – Of course, they should cite sources! This is a non-fiction staple. But they’re discovering this on their own, particular when their peers ask them where they can go to find out more.
- Distinguish between fact vs. opinion – Of course they should include the who, what, where, when, why and how! This too is a non-fiction staple. They get the importance of this when they don’t and they’re unable to answer their peers’ questions.
- Present complex issues clearly – They’re learning how to accomplish this by reading and being prepared with notes.
- Use a visual – They’ve discovered that the discussions they remember the most had some sort of compelling visual. So, they’re learning that to capture the attention of their peers, they’ll need to bring in a photo or a map. Some are even showing 5-minute news videos to create interest and to also provide background information to support their discussion.
- They’re learning to love non-fiction! Students are returning to books they love, reading longer and more complex texts, and nurturing (and discovering!) passions.
Non-Fiction Friday is a gimmick. But it’s one that works. It works because my students are growing a stronger appreciation for reading non-fiction. They’re learning about the way this genre works. And they’re learning about the process of presenting non-fiction. All invaluable lessons wrapped up in gimmick that works!
Sonja Cherry-Paul has been an educator for the past 17 years. She is a middle school English teacher and co-author of Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning. Sonja is a Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards committee member and a part-time instructor at Teachers College, Columbia University where she is also a doctoral student.