Whenever I begin introducing my students to nonfiction writing, the initial reaction always seems to fall somewhere between a collective sigh and a groan. To be fair, fact-checking and citing sources doesn’t sound incredibly appealing—which is why, when it comes to teaching 3rd grade nonfiction writing, the key is to have a strategy in place for presenting the topic in its best light.

These three strategies will help you show your students how to see nonfiction for what it really is—an exciting opportunity to learn, explore and even solve a mystery, one credible source at a time.



Strategy #1: Show them how to be Sherlock.

be like sherlock holmesNonfiction writing can seem restricted in comparison to fiction. In the world of fiction, you can make it all up as you go along, whereas the point of nonfiction is that it’s accurate and factual. To 3rd grade students new to the concept, digging through the research necessary to ensure that accuracy might sound boring, or at the very least, like a lot of work.

So instead of asking them to simply do research, try teaching them to put on their thinking caps and pretend they’re Sherlock Holmes. The research topic is a mystery to be solved, and in order to solve it, they’ll need clues from reliable sources to support the conclusion they come to. Be sure to provide a simple writing strategy or editing checklist to help keep their investigations on track. Inviting your students to think of their assignment as a fun opportunity to play detective is a great way to illustrate how fascinating nonfiction writing can be. After all, who knows what secrets their research might uncover?


Choose one or more historical topics to write about that involves an actual mystery, such as what the Loch Ness monster is or what happened to “The Lost Colony” of Roanoke. Have them write case files detailing the known facts about their mystery as well as the solution they have come to based on those facts. Ask them to draw the “scene of the crime.” Finally, be sure to publish their findings in a classbook worthy of a spot on the shelf next to the works of Arthur Conan Doyle!


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Strategy #2: Explore engaging and relevant topics.

write engaging topicsWhen it comes to nonfiction writing, there are a million topics out there to choose from—so whatever you and your students do choose to write about, make sure it’s something they’ll be fully invested in. One easy way to do this is by asking your students to brainstorm their own topics; they’re bound to choose something that’s of particular interest to them.

Alternatively, if you feel your students need a little more direction, try to keep the topic relevant to their experiences and current circumstances. Do they have a favorite game they like to play during recess? Try having them look up its origins and history; how have other kids played it through the years? Or, perhaps there’s a holiday coming up soon. When was it first celebrated? What are the festivities like in other countries? The more current and relevant the topic, the more fully they’ll be able to connect with their research and engage in the writing process.


Turn your students into junior reporters and ask them to write about a current event of their choice in the style of a newspaper article that answers all the major questions—who, what, why, when, where, and how. Ask them to create a black-and-white drawing to accompany their piece in the place of a photograph. Finally, publish their reports in a highly informative collaborative classbook.


Strategy #3: Mix up the media.

mix up the media Different students have different learning styles. Some learn best by reading, others by listening, still others by watching. The exciting thing about teaching nonfiction writing in today’s world is that there are so many different places to find information—why not take advantage of that choice by inviting a little variety into your lesson plan?

Whenever possible, encourage your 3rd grade students to incorporate more than one type of media in their nonfiction research. Watch news clips or documentaries together as a class, or have them borrow some from the school library on their own time. Read newspapers and books, online and in print. Listen to audio recordings and interviews. If possible, schedule a small field trip to a local library or a relevant museum to really bring the topic at hand to life. The more lenses you give them to view their topic through, the more clearly they’ll see it—and the better their writing will be.


Get a little meta with this strategy and try dividing students up into groups, with each team writing on a topic directly related to a different type of media. How are movies made? When was the first newspaper created and published? Who invented audio recordings? Have them collaborate on their research but write and illustrate their pieces separately. Finally, put their work into print by publishing their art and writing in a thoroughly researched and professionally bound classbook. Bonus: do a live reading and film it for the parents!


Strategizing for Teaching Nonfiction

If fiction is the art of inventing stories that feel true, nonfiction is the science of telling stories that are true in new and inventive ways. Using teaching strategies that incorporate elements of play, pertinence and diversity will help you show your 3rd grade students how to explore the creative potential of nonfiction writing and more fully engage in, and enjoy, the writing process. When  you opt to professionally publish their work, you’ll be able to preserve both the lessons they learn and the memories they make along the way in a beautiful hardcover classbook that’s worthy of showcasing their hard work.

For more free teaching resources—including lesson plans, project ideas and more—check out our online teacher’s lounge, and be sure to sign up for your free publishing kit!


Image sources: Lead image via Unsplash user Pixabay; Images 1, 2, 3 via Openclipart.com