Many years ago at a Reading for the Love of It Conference, I listened to author and educator Tony Stead speak about the virtues of teaching non-fiction reading and writing in the elementary grades. It was an “ah-ha” moment for me as an educator. As an adult the majority of the text that we interact with each day is non-fiction. Writing a grocery list, filling out a survey, reading an advertisement, reading a blog and corresponding in an email are all examples of interacting with non-fiction text. If I read fiction it is because I choose to do so for pleasure. Yet, much of my language curriculum in the primary grades had been fiction based. I had chosen many beautiful picture books for read alouds and focused a lot of our time on narrative story writing. Most of what I write as an adult is purposeful communication, not for pleasure. During that time I also put together that the majority of what the boys in my class were interested in reading and writing were non-fiction topics and that likely contributed to the reluctance of many of them to read and write.
Consequently, as an educator, I spend much more of my time teaching how to read non-fiction and how to write in different non-fiction genres. Recently with my grade 4-5 class, we have been investigating non-fiction text features. We are learning to use non-fiction text features to help us both as readers and writers. For example, through inquiry the students learn what a diagram is, what is used for, how it helps the reader to gain new information and how we can then use it in our own writing to communicate information effectively. The students are working towards providing a kind of instructional guide to non-fiction text features using the app Explain Everything to present to younger students in our school. Students search for examples of non-fiction text features, take photos and using voice, text or diagrams; explain how the text features work and how they help readers and writers communicate. Students understand that these diagrams, graphs, maps etc., in their texts can provide quick snapshots of important information and make their research interesting, richer and often more expedient. In their writing, they understand that many features provide “proof” of the point they are trying to make for their readers.
My love of non-fiction does not exclude studies in fiction. However, as educators it is important that we are expose our students to purposeful, rich, relatable tasks as well as good stories. In part two of the blog, I will be sharing student work with non-fiction. For more information about educator and author Tony Stead I have included some links below.