6 Expert Tips for Incorporating Nonfiction into an ELA Classroom


While nonfiction is required as part of the English Language Arts Common Core standards, it has the added benefit of incorporating multiple disciplines, which increases its relevance to the student. However, engaging a classroom full of middle or high school students in a nonfiction work that feels antiquated or inaccessible can be a challenge.

Here are six teacher-tested tips for incorporating nonfiction texts into a secondary ELA classroom:

  1. Incorporate current events in addition to historical nonfiction.
    By including current events in the classroom, you can draw students in with high-interest topics that reflect what they are currently experiencing and engage them in their own history in the making. Jodee Boehm, a LEP Chair in NC, notes that “Blasts [included in StudySync®]provide immediate and high interest topics in a brief format that ELL students can easily grasp.” Combining Blasts discussions with the study of historical events helps students make connections that result in deeper engagement.
  2. Provide vocabulary and reading resources.
    Nonfiction texts can be complex and may intimidate some students. Many use dated language and expressions that can be difficult for students to grasp. Darcie Dreher, a World History teacher in MO, mentions that frequently her students miss the importance of nonfiction works because they are distracted by the vocabulary. Darcie suggests, “One of the most useful tools in StudySync is one of the simplest; a vocabulary section to accompany difficult or challenging texts,” that can be reviewed at the beginning of the lesson.
  3. Practice multiple skills with each nonfiction text.
    Because nonfiction works have ties to many other subject areas, they also provide ample opportunity to practice multiple skills. Jodee notes that when exploring nonfiction works, “StudySync gives teachers the freedom to adapt [lessons]for library [titles]or Blasts to a variety of assignment types, including reading, writing, or skill practice. What a time saver!” She also emphasizes that the “Research to Build and Present Knowledge” strand of the Common Core Standards is easily addressed with nonfiction works within StudySync, using Blasts, as well as other features found in the program.
  4. Introduce debate.
    Because nonfiction texts are grounded in history, there are abundant opportunities to conduct research and craft academic discussion. Alison Behnke, a Content Developer at StudySync, stresses the importance of debate in the classroom and points to nonfiction as a great context for the basis of these discussions. She notes, “Modern and historical nonfiction engages students and boosts their ability to critique others’ arguments and form their own fact-based opinions.”
  5. Coordinate lessons with Social Studies counterparts.
    Introducing nonfiction into the Language Arts classroom helps prepare students for success in other core subjects such as Science, History and Math. As Hal Ober, Manager of Education Content at StudySync, notes, “the immediate impact of primary-source nonfiction makes it clear that this really happened, and here’s the proof.” They also allow students to experience historical figures from many disciplines, such as Winston Churchill, Louis Pasteur, Abraham Lincoln, and Sojourner Truth in their own words.

    Darcie uses StudySync for assignments in her World History class. After using the program to work with historical texts, she “noticed an improvement in my students’ abilities to incorporate text-based evidence and details into written responses.”

  6. Encourage peer feedback.
    Students, used to the immediacy of social media, crave instant affirmation that they are on the right track with their work. By providing immediate feedback to complex nonfiction work, you provide that reassurance to students, which keeps them engaged and on task. Jodee uses StudySync to provide feedback through anonymous peer review and has noticed that it “heightens student engagement and increases student motivation to read with better comprehension and respond with increased accuracy.” Darcie has also recognized that “students began to recognize effective use of nonfiction text in the written responses of their classmates and improve their own responses in similar ways.”

As Darcie points out, “so many of my fellow teachers agree with the idea of using additional nonfiction texts and sources to support our curriculum beyond the appointed textbooks, but finding the time to research and assemble these pieces can be particularly challenging.” However the benefit of nonfiction in the classroom far outweighs the inherent challenge in introducing them to your students. To streamline the process but still get the benefit, it is important to find a resource, like StudySync, that curates the texts for you and provides multiple resources to effectively engage your students in the text.

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