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Non Fiction Essays For High School

Resource Topics

Teaching Writing - Genre - Nonfiction

Featured Resources

Purposeful Writing: Genre Study in the Secondary Writing Workshop

January 2009
NWP's For Your Bookshelf audio series talks to Tracy Rosewarne and Rebecca Sipe of the Eastern Michigan Writing Project about their book Purposeful Writing: Genre Study in the Secondary Writing Workshop. More ›

Book Review: Nonfiction Writing: From the Inside Out—Writing Lessons Inspired by Conversations with Leading Authors, by Laura Robb

The Quarterly, 2005
Rus VanWestervelt
Laura Robb's Nonfiction Writing: From the Inside Out redefines the genre of nonfiction writing, encouraging creativity and relevance for both the reader and the writer. More ›

Growing Writers Through Collaboration

The Voice, 2005
Kathy Brody
Brody recounts her fourth grade class's inspired collaboration in writing and illustrating Animalogies: A Collection of Animal Analogies, which won Scholastic's Kids Are Authors contest in 2003 and has been published by Scholastic. More ›

 

Additional Resources

National Newspaper Week and Student Publishing

October 2010
Art Peterson
In celebration of National Newspaper Week, NWP highlights the use of newspapers and other publication sources by NWP teachers, lists articles on using newspapers for teaching, and suggests venues available to young writers and their teachers. More ›

"It Sounds Like Me": Using Creative Nonfiction to Teach College Admissions Essays

April 2010
Jennifer Wells
Jennifer Wells, a teacher-consultant with the Central California Writing Project, describes a process in which she systematically introduces students to creative nonfiction as they craft college admissions essays that detail and reflect on telling experiences from their lives. More ›

Homage to the California Writing Project

January 2010
Marek Breiger
Marek Breiger, a teacher-consultant with the Bay Area Writing Project, describes how since 1982 his experience with the writing project has anchored his belief in the teaching of creative nonfiction and provided strategies to support this teaching. More ›

Narrative Writing Works Magic in the ELD Classroom

The Quarterly, 2004
Lisa Ummel-Ingram
Using personal stories as the basis for their projects, Lisa Ummel-Ingram's third-graders created text, storyboards, and art that led to complete books. Ummel-Ingram notes gains in the students' language arts skills and confidence. More ›

Dead or Alive: How Will Your Students' Nonfiction Arrive?

The Quarterly, 2003
Nancy Lilly
Lilly describes how she helps her students recognize that the skills that elevate fiction are the very skills needed to write strong nonfiction, including science writing. More ›

Mining the World of Writing Material

The Quarterly, 2003
Evan Balkan
Describing his work with college students, Evan Balkan offers suggestions for encouraging students to look at their lives for rich writing material and to think critically about the world around them. More ›

Book Review: Is That a Fact? by Tony Stead

The Quarterly, Fall 2002
Kim Douillard
Kim Douillard reviews Is That a Fact? Teaching Nonfiction Writing K-3, praising author Tony Stead for his conviction that primary students can compose a variety of nonfiction texts and for the useful techniques he offers. More ›

Giving Children a Voice and Venue After 9/11

The Voice, September-October 2002
Rus VanWestervelt
Inspired to capture moments and reflections that could be lost forever, VanWestervelt launched the 9/11 Project, which received over 200 student submissions for inclusion in the book September Eleven: Maryland Voices. More ›

Reflections on September 11

The Voice, September-October 2002
Audrey Clarkin
A student writer reflects on how "this unforgettable moment changed the lives of many people, all people, even me." More ›

Student Essay Makes Real-World Connections for Florida Classroom

The Voice, September-October 2002
Art Peterson
Middle school teacher Michael Taylor asked his class to write about the events of September 11 and to then send their papers to the local newspaper, an assignment that landed one of his students on the Oprah show. More ›

Writing to Build Community in a Time of Stress

The Voice, September-October 2002
Sarah Robbins
Robbins describes the work of the program Keeping and Creating American Communities (KCAC), and the writing assignments that a group of middle and high school teachers developed after September 11. More ›

Book Review: Beyond the Writers' Workshop: New Ways to Write Creative Nonfiction by Carol Bly

The Quarterly, Fall 2001
Micheal Thompson
Micheal Thompson reviews Beyond the Writers' Workshop: New Ways to Write Creative Nonfiction by Carol Bly—"a riveting critique of educational group-think methodology" that offers "an energizing and intellectually unified array of ideas for teachers." More ›

We All Have “Lots of Yesterdays”: How Creative Nonfiction Enlivens the Secondary Writing Classroom

The Quarterly, Summer 2001
Meredith Eastburn
High school senior Eastburn introduces a group of middle school students to creative nonfiction, helping them understand that "there's something more to nonfiction than the facts they find in textbooks." More ›

"Write for Your Life" Promotes Teen Literacy, Well-Being

The Voice, Fall 1996
Ten NWP sites are involved with this program, which empowers children to create healthier futures for themselves by making their health the focus of their study. More ›

Creating Work of Their Own: Skills and Voice in an Eighth Grade Research Project

The Quarterly, Fall 1996
Robert Roth
Roth argues that if students are to execute successful research projects they need to put their own stamp on their work and also need explicit instruction in the skills necessary to carry out this task. More ›

Location, Location, Location: A Way into Descriptive Writing

The Quarterly, Fall 1996
Ray Skjelbred
Skjelbred provides strategies to sharpen "location writing," ways to understand the importance of small detail, to choose words for accuracy and sensory impact, to avoid quick subjective judgments about what we see. More ›

Ordinary Lives Illuminated: Writing Oral History

The Quarterly, Winter 1990
Jean Gandesbery
Gandesbery argues that students introduced to oral history writing learn to attend closely to the stories of others, and discover that "ordinary lives" are not ordinary at all. More ›

OP 06. Narrative Knowers, Expository Knowledge: Discourse as Dialectic

National Center for the Study of Writing and Literacy Occasional Paper, 1989
Anne DiPardo
DiPardo explores the schism between narrative and exposition and argues that instruction which fosters a "grand leap" away from narrative into expository prose denies students the development of a complex way of knowing. More ›

Overview | What are the differences between fiction and nonfiction? How do we read texts of these two types differently? In this lesson, students reflect on their experiences reading nonfiction works in school, compare reading fiction to reading nonfiction and develop reading strategies. Finally, they investigate and recommend nonfiction titles appropriate for their school curriculum.

Teachers | What nonfiction do you teach? Why? Tell us here.

Materials | Student journals, handouts, nonfiction text excerpts (as described in the activity below), computers with Internet access, copies of reading lists.

Warm-Up | Tell students to open their journals and list as many titles as they can remember reading for school (you may wish to limit this to middle school or high school). Then invite them to share titles, and write them on the board. Prompt students to add to the master list all school reading material, including textbooks, historical documents and so on. Next, ask students to direct you in circling those that are considered nonfiction. You might also make a mark next to each title to indicate what subject area or class students read it in.

Together look at the results, and pose some or all of the following questions for discussion: How do you define nonfiction? What types of writing fit into this category? Encourage students to think broadly here and keep a list of “subgenres” on the board for use later in the lesson.

Continue: How does the number of nonfiction titles you’ve read compare with the number of fiction titles? Why do you think that is? What is the best piece of nonfiction writing you have read and why? Why do you suppose the content in English classes tips toward fiction? Which reading experiences – fiction or nonfiction – have you most enjoyed? Why? What can reading nonfiction give you that reading fiction can’t?

Related | The blog Idea of the Day, written by Tom Kuntz and other editors of the Week in Review, features “must-reads” from around the Web. The post “Schools’ Nonfiction Problem (True Story)” notes that a Washington Post columnist recently voiced concerns about the dearth of nonfiction reading going on in schools:

[… O]n his Washington Post blog Class Struggle, Jay Mathews, a veteran education writer, highlights longstanding concerns among some educators that youthful reading is weighted too much toward fiction — a view seconded on other blogs (like here, here and here).

A new catalyst to the brow-furrowing is a recent comprehensive survey of what grade- and high school students actually read (whether it’s assigned or not). The top 20 books read by high schoolers included only two nonfiction works: “Night,” Elie Wiesel’s story of his boyhood in the Holocaust, and “A Child Called ‘It,’ ” by Dave Pelzer, a first-person account of child abuse (which some dispute as largely fiction anyway).

Read the blog post with your class, using the questions below. To prompt further discussion, encourage them to read the original column, too.

Questions | For discussion and reading comprehension:

  1. Why, according to some, is it problematic that students are not reading nonfiction?
  2. Why do schools tend to give them “short shrift”?
  3. Why do you think titles like “Night” and “A Child Called ‘It’ ” are among those most frequently taught? To what genre do they belong?
  4. Do you think students should read more nonfiction in school? Why or why not?
  5. What do you expect when reading a piece of nonfiction like this blog post? How are your expectations for nonfiction different from those for fiction? Do you feel as prepared to read and discuss nonfiction as you do to read and discuss fiction?

Activity | Give each student a Venn diagram (PDF). Have students work in pairs and use the diagram to compare and contrast fiction and nonfiction, based on their own reading experiences. Tell them to think about content, structure, features and purposes as they work. Then invite each pair to add ideas to a class diagram on the board.

Next, ask: How does reading nonfiction differ from reading fiction? What general strategies do you use to process nonfiction texts?

Turn students’ attention back to the categories of nonfiction (and creative nonfiction) they listed during the warm-up discussion, and add to it as needed. Ask students if there are different strategies for reading different genres of nonfiction, like a memoir, a biography, a Times article, a historical document or a science textbook chapter. Do they approach different types of nonfiction texts differently? Invite initial thoughts on this question.

Then, divide the class into small groups, and give each group an excerpt from a different nonfiction genre, like those above. Tell each group to read its passage and generate a list of strategies for reading that particular nonfiction genre, based on reading this excerpt as well as past experiences with this type of nonfiction. When groups are finished, reconvene and create a chart on the board, listing tools, tips, strategies and rules for reading nonfiction by category. Students should copy the chart into their notes.

Ask: What reading strategies are common to all types of nonfiction? Which are particularly useful in one or more categories? How do these strategies differ from those you might use while reading fiction?

Going Further | Students put their nonfiction reading techniques into practice by selecting and reading works of nonfiction and recommending them (or not!) for the curriculum. They start by looking at reader suggestions for nonfiction works to read in school in both the Idea of the Day post and the Jay Mathews column, as well as nonfiction book lists, like Modern Library’s list of the 100 best nonfiction books and the American Library Association’s list of nonfiction books for teen readers.

After looking through the titles, students choose one that interests them and prepare a synopsis to share with classmates, along with answers to the following questions: What interests you about this work? What might you gain from it that is different from what you might gain by reading a work of fiction – even one on the same topic? What do you hope to gain from reading it?

Students read one work of nonfiction (the one they shared with the class, or a different selection – perhaps one recommended by a classmate). After reading, students should write persuasive letters advocating for their book’s inclusion in the curriculum, a letter critiquing the book and explaining why it might not be a good choice for secondary students. Work with the library to bolster its collection of nonfiction and set up a display of student-recommended titles for independent or summer reading lists.

In a future class, ask students to reflect on their experiences reading a nonfiction works compared to their experiences reading fiction.

Other ways to encourage more reading of nonfiction and take this activity further:

  • Complement curriculum in any subject with related New York Times articles to engage readers, offer models for writing and put ideas into historical or current context.
  • Students play with the idea of genre by adapting a work of nonfiction as fiction. The adaptation by Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze of Susan Orlean’s nonfiction book “The Orchid Thief” into the fictional film “Adaptation” is one example. Encourage students to think creatively about how to craft such an adaptation and make it work, including choosing an appropriate fiction genre. They append to their finished work a note about the differences between the genres and the artistic decisions they made.
  • Create book clubs around a theme in the curriculum, say coming of age or cultural identity, and offer students a choice of nonfiction texts to read. This can be done as a self-contained unit or in conjunction with a work of fiction related to the same theme.
  • Begin a “book in common” program at your school. Create a rotation of disciplines and invite teachers in each to suggest a nonfiction title each year to serve as the book in common. Every member of the school community reads the book and shares a common experience. This approach helps students see that reading goes beyond English class and offers possibilities for readers whose passions might lie outside the canon.
  • Involve teachers from across the curriculum in planning summer reading experiences and creating summer reading lists to ensure they offer students nonfiction options and reflect the breadth of your school’s curriculum.

Standards | From McREL, for grades 6 to 12:
Language Arts
1. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process.
5. Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process.
7. Uses the general skills and strategies to understand a variety of informational texts.
8. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes.

Life Skills: Working With Others
1. Contributes to the overall effort of a group.
4. Displays effective interpersonal communication skills.

Life Skills: Thinking and Reasoning
3. Effectively uses mental processes that are based on identifying similarities and differences.


Language Arts

Teaching ideas based on New York Times content.

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