Monday, August 4, 2014

Slice of My School Life - Non-Fiction for Older Students

           It's Tuesday, time for a slice of life at the Two Writing Teachers blog. Thanks to Stacey, Tara, Dana, Anna, Beth and Betsy, this community thrives. Please come visit for lots of interesting topics!
          Many blog posts and tweets are buzzing with plans for the school year. My mind is swirling, I have piles of work all over my dining table, trying to create a way to organize what I hope to do this year. Maybe I’ll never be done, but I’m beginning!
         There are numerous professional books that help with ideas about getting started in the school year, and blogs are lately filling up with ideas for starting reading workshop, writing workshop, writers’ notebooks (see Two Writing Teachers’ blog series this week! The first one is by Tara Smith, workshop routines).        
              I just enjoyed a NEW twitter chat with Ruth Ayres (@ruth_ayres) and Christy Levine (@rushlevine) on Sunday evening that will happen every first Sunday of the month at 8 eastern time, hashtag #TandCWriters. This time Katherine Sokolowski (@Katsok) was the host and questions were asked about the use of writers’ notebooks. How does one start them, etc.?


           Also recently, Carrie Gelson’s four posts on her blog There’s A Book For That about introducing, loving and using non-fiction picture books in the classroom have been awesome.  In one of these posts, a comment caught my attention. The commenter shared that she thought the enthusiasm for non-fiction diminished as the students got older. That may be true in some classes, yet I know there are ways to enhance non-fiction learning for older students, too. I’d like to share some recent books that I know students read and love, and one activity that worked well for me for two reasons: showing students that the world is filled with ideas that are interesting, and letting them have a continuing experience of good non-fiction writing.
       I’ve taken the Smithsonian magazine for years, and as I finished reading an issue, I tore out articles, stapled them, and kept them for class.  Sometimes I browsed the articles myself and pulled some that touched on the new unit topics my students had chosen. (Each student in my school chooses their own topic to study throughout the year, and the curriculum for them is built around that topic.)  But the rest of the articles' subject matter covered a myriad of topics, as you might imagine.
       Using those articles, the assignment I gave was to read two articles each week and answer the following questions:
  • What did you read and who wrote it?  
  • Share in a brief paragraph the high points of what you learned. 
  • What strategy did you notice that might be used in your own writing? 
  • What did you like, or not like, about the topic? 

       I created a worksheet that would cover both articles and each student turned it in on Monday. I read them, kept a record, and they were placed in a large binder with a section for each student.         
       On Fridays, I divided the class into small groups to share some of the article learning, to see if they would begin trading. They did! This really took little time on my end, and I read two articles too, participated in a group at random each meeting. It showed students the excitement of non-fiction, the many styles of n-f writers, and the high interest of so many, many topics.
           Here is a brief list of some recent books I've book talked to students and/or used in my own classroom a few years ago:
Bomb – Steve Sheinkin
The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World's Most Notorious Nazi -           
         Neal Bascomb

The Animal Book – Steve Jenkins (actually most any book by Steve Jenkins)
 Carver: A Life In Poems – Marilyn Nelson
The Panama Canal: The Story of How a Jungle Was Conquered and the World Made Smaller –   Elizabeth Mann – pair with Silver People by Margarita Engle
The Scraps Book: Notes From A Colorful Life – Lois Ehlert
The Boy On The Wooden Box – Leon Leyson
Marley and Me – John Grogan
Into Thin Air – Jon Krakauer (I own a large collection of outdoor adventure/out in nature books. They are popular.)
Persepolis #1 & 2 - by Marjane Satrapi, Mattias Ripa

Poop Happened: A History of The World From The Bottom Up - Sarah Albee (her latest book is Bugged: How Insects Changed History)

           If you have other book ideas, leave the titles in the comments and I'll create a page with these and those commenters add too.
           And please share other ways you're getting your older students to love non-fiction!


38 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed your post, Linda. Great ideas you have for your students that leads them to be independent leaners thriving in a culture of achievement. Enjoy the rest of the summer.

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    1. Thanks Carol. We want them to be aware of so much that is out there in the world, and the ideas that get them reading about it, then getting out of the school for experiences is important.

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  2. Linda,
    Your description of your table sounds like mine! So many wonderful ideas to put into play. It is a question of how right? I love the questions you put to your students and the challenges they take on by connecting the articles to their own writing. I was sorting through my vast nonfic collection today and I usually sort it out by subject. This year I'm sorting it purposely by size of book. My students are going to sort by subject. I thought that would be a great way for them to get to know the library and come up with ways to slice and dice subject matter. So many ways this can go and I hope good thinking will come out of it!

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    1. There are many ways to discover new topics, I agree, Julieanne. The librarians and I are planning different activities to help students be more comfortable with browsing, too. Best wishes in organizing your collection. It's a challenge! Thanks for sharing!

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  3. Thank you for sharing more great stuff on nonfiction!

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    1. You're welcome, Loralee. I hope you find something to take for your own here.

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  4. It's so important to share your process and struggles. It makes this community so authentic. I am starting to put together some PD plans at my schools even though I am still in summer mode. I'm remembering your great images of your downtime on your island.

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    1. Thanks Bonnie, best to you in your planning, too! Yes, we're all remembering our island-just a mere two weeks ago!

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  5. My kitchen table stacks are beginning to make their way back into the classroom as today is our first official day. I am already missing summer. I will come back to this post to tap the resources you share. Thanks for being so open and willing to share your knowledge and activities.

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    1. Oh Margaret, best wishes to you today! You're welcome to see what's most appropriate for you and your students!

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  6. I LOVE YOUR TABLE and how you describe it so full of ideas and potential for the school year.

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    1. Thanks, Anita-it is certainly filling up!

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  7. I'm with Anita! The table is so important for sorting and organizing work - hence a work table! YES! I've also marked this because of all your great ideas! Thanks so much for sharing!

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    1. You're welcome, Fran. So many posts, like yours, are filled with new ways to "see" that I find I'm bookmarking and bookmarking! Hope you will find something to add to your 'table' here, too.

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  8. Linda - thank you for the lovely comments about my posts here. I, too, have been thinking about that comment and in fact, was thinking about sharing some titles that I have loved reading with my own children who are now "older readers" (yikes) It is difficult for me to speak to books I am using at school as obviously my students are younger and I can only speak to the books we are engaged with as we learn. I am curious to see if more titles are suggested here. Thanks for a brilliant post. I love the Sarah Albee suggestions - I was also thinking of Nicola Davies titles illustrated by Neal Layton (like Poop, A Natural History of the Umentionable)

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    1. oops missed an N - should be Unmentionable Haven't had coffee yet!

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    2. You're so welcome. I hope some do share some titles. I will look for Nicola Davies' titles to add in, Carrie. I found Poop Happened so fascinating & sad to say, still haven't read Bugged!

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  9. I really like your idea. If you don't mind, I would like to pass it along to one of my former colleagues. She is always looking for new ways to incorporate non-fiction reading in her class.

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    1. Of course, please share. If Smithsonian seems too challenging for students, there are other magazines that will work as well. Thanks, Arjeha!

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    2. Thanks, Linda. I will definitely give you credit. - Bob

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  10. Terrific ideas for inspiring our students (old and young) to read non-fiction. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. You're welcome, Katherine. Hope you'll find some books here that will fit your students!

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  11. I love this time of year, the anticipation for a new start. My girls have been at that point for a while where they ask how many weeks until school and then sigh saying it is too far away. They love school.

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    1. How wonderful to hear that about your girls, Amanda. We have students like that, who cry at the end of the year & can't wait for the start. Hope all is going well for you!

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  12. First of all: Into Thin Air...I read that book probably 10 years ago (in July and I still had to cuddle up in a blanket!) It has really stuck with me. What a great story.

    Second, I think a lot of students don't think of NF reading as reading. They think they need to read fiction books to be readers. I recently had a high school student, who is reading non-fiction every day for homework, tell me that she doesn't have time for reading. I point out that she was reading, just not fiction. She wasn't sure what to say! I love our idea for incorporating non-fiction reading in a way that helps the students see that it is just as valuable as reading fiction.
    Lisa

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    1. What an insight. I'm not sure I ever thought that students might not consider non-fiction as a reading choice. I will remember this! Thank you!

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  13. What a great and varied list. I just read Into the Wild. I have loved reading various blog posts on nonfiction books and teaching.

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    1. Oh, I should have remembered Into The Wild, too. Terrific story but so sad. I'll add it to the list!

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  14. Love the idea for the articles! Our state conservation department puts out a magazine for kids that is free to state residents. There are many interesting articles in it that students would enjoy. Plus the articles from newsela would be great. I've just pulled a stack of nonfiction picture books to share with my new school. I loved Carrie Gelson's category of books to swoon over. That is what nonfiction deserves. I was going to suggest Nicola Davies too.

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    1. I've been here too long to know about the kids' magazine, but we took the Missouri Conversationist for a long, long time, Elsie. It too could be useful for older students. I'll definitely add in Nicola Davies books! Thank you!

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  15. I just might have to pull one of our anthologies out that has an excerpt of "Into Thin Air." Perhaps that could also spark someone to read the complete book. Or perhaps we could follow the climb in the spring while reading the book...you are inspiring me!

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    1. Following the climb in the spring would be a wonderful idea, Jaana. There are so many ways to inspire students that NF is exciting, interesting, good to read! Thank you!

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  16. I love this approach: "Each student in my school chooses their own topic to study throughout the year, and the curriculum for them is built around that topic." Of course you need great nonfiction. Thanks for the good suggestions you mentioned. I too wonder if students don't see NF as "real reading." Thankfully so many current authors offer NF selections that pull the reader in, just like good fiction!

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    1. As for students not considering NF as reading, I will really look at that this year. Our students read a lot for their research, yet not always for a "read". Thanks for your thoughts!

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  17. I love the way you used the Smithsonian articles and the questions to engage the students. I'm passing this post along to my fellow teachers. I love that student choice is honored for each student. I've gathered nonfiction newspaper articles for years, but I love the focus that the questions provide for the students, the opportunity to share in small groups, and the possibility to explore new topics inspired by other students.
    I'm also thinking that asking parents to bring in possible articles would be a way to expand the library of articles. I love learning from my slicing friends!

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    1. Another terrific idea, Ramona. Asking parents to engage in this will help add to the articles, but also include them in non-fiction, which I suspect they will enjoy. I've loved all the ideas shared on this post, too!

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  18. I am always trying to find more accessible NF for my students. The ones I've had success with so far are:
    Hitler Youth by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
    Great Fire by Jim Murphy
    Blizzard by Jim Murphy
    An American Plague by Jim Murphy
    Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World by Jennifer Armstrong
    Freedom Writers Diary by Erin Gruwell
    Volcano by Patricia Lauber
    They Call Themselves the KKK by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
    The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie by Tanya Lee Stone
    Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun by Geoffrey Canada
    The 9/11 Report by Sid Jacobson
    NF GNs: http://www.teachmentortexts.com/2012/08/nonfiction-graphic-novels-jay-z-sharks.html#axzz39r1bE1zs

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    1. Thank you very much, Kellee. I'll add your list to mine!

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