Nonfiction Detectives

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Students compare and contrast texts into genres. They determine specific features that differentiate nonfiction from fiction. Students work with a partner or small group to exchange ideas about the categories each book falls into.

Big Idea

No student can resist the invitation to get up and move around the classroom. In this lesson, students search the space for samples of fiction and nonfiction texts.

Activator: Genre Clues

15 minutes

In preparation for this activity I placed a wide variety of books (of both types), magazines, posters and newspapers around the room.

Ask sixth grade students to identify different types of literature and without hesitation they will come up with fiction. Furthermore, they can easily identify its elements (characters, setting, plot, etc.). Sometimes it takes a prompt like “Up and down. Forward and back. Think opposites. Besides fiction there’s ___________.” And then we quickly move into the nonfiction category. What is it? What does it look? Why is it important? At this point we are not taking notes, just having a discussion that (hopefully) piques their interest.

Students then have the opportunity to circulate around the room in search of examples of both types of texts. After a few minutes, they return to table groups to explain their choices to others and to listen to what others have to say about what they have chosen. I listen in on their conversations and point out snippets as examples to those who might not quite know how to phrase their thoughts, such as “Hey look, there’s a map in this textbook, but there’s nothing like that in this novel.” “Ever notice how novels don’t have an index?” and so on. It is also important to show how to keep a conversation going by asking questions that lead to deeper thinking: What topics are listed in the table of contents? Are you familiar with them? Besides this book, where else can I look for information on reptiles? What is even more encouraging is when students make connections between fiction and nonfiction texts as in this exchange “This story is takes place in Alaska and here’s a book about that state. Maybe we can find if this is a real city or not.”

Students really enjoy this activity and often refer back to it when we begin a novel reading unit.

Evidence Notes

30 minutes

Note taking is an important skill that students will use throughout their educational experience and after. Therefore, we take the time to make sure it is done well. Today’s goal is to answer the questions “What is nonfiction?” and “What text features are used to organize nonfiction writing?” but first we need to get organized.

Our school is in the second year of a 1-to-1 iPad program, so this year’s students are pros after having them for first time last year. I let students know that they have a choice in of formats for note taking – on the iPad or on paper. About a third of students prefer the paper method and the rest choose an app such as Notability, Pages, or Notes. My only requirement is that the decision be one that they stick with so that all their ELA notes are in one place. Whatever the method, I let them know that each time they take notes they must label it with the date and a title.

 I model the note taking process using the Notability app on my iPad and project it on the whiteboard using the Reflector software. Of course, this task can be accomplished in many other ways including on chart paper or the whiteboard. The note we create today is titled Nonfiction, a date is added and the first question is listed: What is nonfiction? After our experience with the activator it does not take much to get the conversation going and before long students have shared many ideas to create a list. The same process is used to answer the second question: What text features are used to organize nonfiction writing?  A copy of the final product is attached here.

Additional thoughts on technology in the classroom and the CCSS appears here:



Tonight’s homework builds on the work done in class and is connected to social studies, the other subject I teach. To familiarize themselves with the textbooks that were handed out today, students complete a worksheet that requires them to put to use their knowledge of nonfiction text features and prepares them for the work we will do tomorrow. It is attached for your viewing pleasure. Keep in mind that this document can be adapted to whatever texts your students use.

Additional thoughts on technology in the classroom appears here: