Using Fiction to Engage Students With Facts
Children need to learn how to read “informational texts”—fact-filled, often dense pieces of nonfiction of the kind that older students, and adults, work with all the time. Yet kids are more easily engaged by narrative stories. How do we square this circle?
Doug Lemov has a solution. Lemov, who many of you know as the author of Teach Like a Champion (and the new Practice Perfect), has been working on how to improve students’ reading skills in his other capacity, as managing director of Uncommon Schools, a network of charter schools.
I attended a workshop given by Lemov last night at which he spoke about the idea of “embedded nonfiction.” Basically, the idea is to supplement novels and short stories with nonfiction selections on related topics.
His teachers’ experience with this approach is that students understand the narratives better for having read the supporting factual material, and they care more about the nonfiction passages because they illuminate the experiences of characters the students have come to care about.
In one class he described, students read Lily’s Crossing, a historical novel about a young girl living through World War II, along with a nonfiction article describing the wartime system of food rationing. “I’ve never seen my kids care so much about something so dull!” the teacher said to Lemov.
The connection between the fiction and nonfiction readings need not be so close, either. Lemov showed a video clip of a teacher using a nonfiction article about hierarchies in the animal kingdom to help deepen students’ understanding of the social pecking order depicted in the classic young adult novel The Outsiders.
As Lemov noted, this kind of fiction-nonfiction crossover is something adult readers do all the time—we’ll become interested in something we read about in a novel and Google it to find out more. Our understanding of both the narrative and the factual material is enriched—and the same can be true for kids, too.
Here’s an Education Week article in which Lemov talks more about the technique of “embedded nonfiction.” Is this something you think could work for your kids?