Using Non-Fiction Texts in the Middle and High School Classroom

Students need to be exposed to a variety of fiction and non-fiction texts during their educational careers. It is important that teachers select high quality and engaging non-fiction pieces to compliment any fiction works covered in class. Read this informative blog post from 2 Peas and a Dog to get ideas from other teachers about how they find and use non-fiction in their classrooms.

Students need to be exposed to a variety of fiction and non-fiction texts during their educational careers. It is important that teachers select high quality and engaging non-fiction pieces to compliment any fiction works covered in class. Through non-fiction reading, students build background knowledge about the world. When students have a solid foundation of background knowledge it makes reading other non-fiction, fiction and content area textbooks easier to understand. This week our #2ndaryELA Twitter chat focused on using non-fiction texts in the middle and high school classrooms. Read the curated Twitter chat below to get ideas from other teachers about how they find and use non-fiction in their classrooms.

Have your say! Please use the comments section below to tell other teachers how you use non-fiction works in your classroom.


Q1: How do you use non-fiction texts/media in your classroom? 

  • I use Article of the Week each week to get students exposed to non-fiction. In each unit, I teach I try to add in non-fiction readings.  They read the article in class, write a response and we have a discussion from the ideas in their responses.
  • As a literacy coach, encourage teachers to do more non-fiction pairings with novels. Just connected national anthem protests with The Misfits
  • My teachers utilize an article of the week that is relevant to what is happening in the world around them. Great exposure – The use @newsela and are able to incorporate various Lexile levels so all students can access
  • Most nonfiction is supplemental texts to accompany literature: context, background, real-life examples.  I do Article of Week with my comp students. Keeps them writing most weeks & they have to choose one of those topics for research 
  • My department has started typing nonfiction into all of our units. I think it helps students see validity when they see it in context
  • My students LOVE to debate – non-fiction with an argument is my favorite! 
  • Recently read “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote and would love to teach his work in my future classroom 
  • Many primary sources in Am Lit: speeches, essays, journals, etc. I also connect curriculum texts to news articles for relevancy 
  • Just got hooked on AOTW. Looking to see how I can incorporate effectively
  • We read about cockroaches this week – and cloning our pets! 
  • Where does everyone find resources for their article of the week besides @newsela 
  • Make connections to/add to DOK for lit/media/writing. Some students prefer reading non-fiction texts too. Will be starting AOTW in 2 weeks.
  • We have units on both, but we try to incorporate them at least once a week through our Google Assignments.


Q2: What is your favorite resource for finding current/applicable non-fiction texts to use in your teaching?

  • I just read the news and choose what 18-year-olds should be aware of as they become adults.
  • Often find good pieces in Time, Sports Illustrated, Entertainment Weekly, etc. @Scholastic Scope also good 
  • I use lots of websites to find non-fiction texts
  • Oh! And use  to create ad free pdfs. 
  • The “news” tab on social media sites like Facebook can generate interesting discussion about reliable “nonfiction” sources 
  • I use non-fiction articles mixed in with the fiction we read on related topics
  • We just read an excerpt from Colin Beavan’s No Impact Man today to connect with NA Myths. Video clip too. Great website. 
  • I teach 8th, so my students also love Wonder of the Day on @Wonderopolis 
  • @NYTimesLearning & @TIME & @ncte & random twitter articles that appear in my feed!
  • NewYorkTimes Learning Network
  • If you’re an AVID school, you likely get a subscription to #AVID weekly – great resource!
  • Just got some subscriptions this year – students love it! 
  •  is a great site for students looking for argumentative resources
  • Love using conspiracy theories too. 
  • SCOPE and Jr. Scholastic are great resource
  • Washington Post, NY Times Learning Network, Time, TED talks
  • We love Scholastic’s Scope Magazine, and then use anything we can tie into what we’re already teaching
  • @smokeylit Text and Lessons are great resources 
  • Scholastic Scope, new Sela, NY Times online subscription


Q3: What benefits do you find short/long term from using real-life non-fiction materials in your classroom?

  • Students gain background knowledge from reading non-fiction. This helps them understand content area materials better
  • Short term = students more knowledgeable about current issues Long term = students more well-rounded, better citizens
  • Inspire students to create *their own* non-fiction pieces, like memoirs, for fun 
  • I also strongly suggest Reading Nonfiction Notice & Note by @KyleneBeers @BobProbst for strategies to teach students. 
  • Builds background knowledge 
  • Great for reaching those students who DON’T love fiction. Shows real-world connections to what we do
  • Students need to see the relevance and then the historical impact of issues they might be reading about
  • Being able to converse about something real and relevant in connection to classic or contemporary literature
  • Lessons/conversation always changing. Core topics stay same, but “outside” influences effect. Share different with students year to year. Seminar!
  • I find students who never get ‘into’ reading love to choose their own news articles!
  • I have my Juniors research mass hysteria with Crucible by these Seniors are reading about the clown hoaxes.
  • Non-fiction reading helps to teach expository/argument writing, too
  • I’ve also noticed kids get curious and want to dig deeper into the topic #inquirylearning
  • Benefits– I want my students to be skeptics, learn to verify, and form own opinions. Don’t regurgitate what they’ve heard
  • My myths class are following the clown story too! We talked about it while discussing urban legend.
  • And Teaching non-fiction isn’t what it used to be. New outlets/insights/views. We need savvy students to become educated/smart Adults! 

Q4: How do you handle sensitive topics in non-fiction/real life materials that you use in the classroom? 

  • I teach 8th grade so I consider the content carefully of each non-fiction piece I use to ensure it aligns with the curriculum
  • I think you have to be very careful. Know and understand your students and the community. Certain topics may not be ok 
  • Also ask “what feelings might people have about this topic?” Start general before students share personal views 
  • I like these discussions the most. I begin building class culture of respect on Day 1 so we can have these tough conversations 
  • Honest discussion, debate, and let students ask and answer each others’ questions. No point in beating around the bush 
  • I usually teach juniors & seniors so I feel I have latitude. Am avoiding Trump/Hillary articles but did one on third parties
  • Setting an academic tone is important. Also, teaching students how to use language to agree/disagree respectfully helps 
  • Gave a “trigger warning” annotation before optional text this week. Mantra generally is: students can accept/reject ideas but must respect 
  • I always compliment my students & say that since they’re Juniors, I expect them to be mature & show can handle “grown up” topics
  • If we don’t teach how to debate/disagree, be willing to listen/change our minds…we will end up citizens who can’t think 
  • In junior high (8th esp.) I do set boundaries/limits. We use school handbook as a guide. We tread into deep water, but don’t go under!
  • It is good to push the envelope and extend students thinking. 


Q5: Describe your favorite lesson/unit that incorporates real-life non-fiction material.

  • In November, we read a lot of non-fiction about the World Wars this aligns with Remembrance Day in Canada. 
  • Surrounding the Ray Rice domestic abuse issues, I did a mini unit on domestic violence, evaluated some PSAs.   Also compared the treatment of Ray Rice with Hope Solo. Great conversations about relationships, race, gender came out of it 
  • Crucible unit–students do all background research, create Ignite presentations and share throughout the unit
  • Before reading Roll of Thunder, we researched modern-day slavery and racial issues/police brutality
  • When reading Anne Frank, sharing primary sources (news, ads, letters). When reading The Outsiders, researching social issues
  • Let students explore a non-fiction piece, “copy” the style of their author & create their own piece about their life
  • Students read #ofmiceandmen and then debate whether the end was murder or euthanasia. They research non-fiction txt for support
  • I do a #hyperdoc on the Salem Witch Trials before reading 
  • 8th ELA– PSAs. Research topics of interest to gen. ed public, prepare scripts & record. Playback on school info-monitors. 
  • Sort story unit dual cr lit–students research articles for context, such as Yellow Wallpaper, Flight Patterns
  • My students LOVE doing PSAs related to their lit readings
  • IB English seniors studied Orwell’s “Politics + Lang” & applied standards to current political speeches – great insights on language
  • Another grade in my district has students research non-profits, choose one meaningful to them, create PSA’s about it. Present to students. 
  • @Narratively as a thematic group of non-fiction essays called American Dreamless; I use them when teaching Gatsby
  • Fred Douglass with Malala on education, Story of Hour with news on cardiomyopathy, Midsummer with NY Times on parents/love. So many!
  • We read Chew on This! A GREAT nonfiction text that also helps study bias and persuasive techniques
  • A Long Walk to Water has great non-fiction pieces that can be used with it – Lost Boys, @WaterforSoSudan etc.

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