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.
Nonfiction 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?
Strategy #2: Explore engaging and relevant topics.
When 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.
Strategy #3: 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.
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.