Fabulous Nonfiction Ideas for Middle School Students

Back in the day when Common Core Standards were just a twinkle in the NGA’s eyes, I remember English teachers ranting and raving over the water cooler. Rumor had it that 70% of our curriculum would have to focus on nonfiction.

Now we know that the bulk of this nonfiction is accounted for in non-ELA classes, and literature is still a majority of the reading students should do in an ELA class. This proved to be something of a relief, but we still have to address nonfiction reading skills more than ever before. Fortunately, the publishing world is heeding our call for well-written middle grade nonfiction.
My students and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve always had a “lit-rich” classroom, and now I also have a nonfiction rich (nonfict-rich has no ring!) classroom. Here are some of my tips for creating one for yourself.

Creating a Nonfiction-Rich Classroom

1. Fill your shelves with magazines and newspapers.

I keep them in baskets and boxes all around the room so they are within easy access.




Early finishers know that if they find an interesting article, they can probably finish it in one sitting. Reluctant readers definitely find short pieces much less daunting than books. Just be careful the magazines you choose are content appropriate. I like Scholastic’s magazines, Reader’s Digest, and Sports Illustrated for Kids.You don’t have to subscribe. Just put out a request for people to donate issues they’ve finished reading.

2. Utilize the content from free websites.

There are wonderful sites out there, with more springing up every day. I like Newsela,which offers high-interest current news articles with quizzes and questions. Each article is offered on five different reading levels, which makes it a dream for differentiation.
One of my new favorites is The Nonfiction Minute, where you can find short works of nonfiction on a wide variety of topics. They’re written by popular nonfiction writers, and many include short videos and links to longer works. I like to use them as mentor texts, but they also serve to give kids ideas about research topics and independent reading selections.

3. Do some “information dropping.” 

Every so often, I throw out a bit of information that I’ve learned from one of the nonfiction titles on my shelf.
Here’s an example of how it works. One day when some of my students were complaining about the cold weather, I mentioned that I had just finished Gary Paulsen’s Puppies, Dogs, and Blue Northers, and I learned that sled dogs prefer being in freezing cold kennels. In fact, sometimes the kennels are so cold that newborn pups -born wet-  will immediately freeze to death coming out of the birth canal.

It was too bad that I only had one copy of that book, because I had about three kids who fought over it right there and then.(Note: It is not always easy to make smooth connections to the conversation at hand. In fact, my information dropping probably seems pretty weird and random at times. Do I care? My kids are reading. Thank you very much.)

Later this week, I’ll post my best idea for assessing nonfiction independent reading assignments. In the meantime, you might want to steer clear of me in real life. You never know when I might launch into a random story about our favorite patriotic schoolteacher, Nathan Hale, and how he managed to sneak past 64 guns on a British man-of-war, steal the whole ship, and deliver its supplies to the American militia.
 I learned that from Bill Doyle’s Behind Enemy Lines. Don’t fight over it, please.