Want to help kids think deeply about fiction and nonfiction? Get great ideas from the Great Books Foundation.
Pairing fiction with nonfiction is a fantastic way to engage different kinds of learners in content with common themes. In the early grades, it can also be a way of helping students understand the attributes of both types of reading material. Pairing fiction with nonfiction can also deepen the dialogue and questions raised during discussions and inquiry-based activities. Here are some great ideas for pairing fiction and nonfiction in the elementary classroom:
1. Build the bridge.
Some of your readers may prefer fiction, while others gravitate to the nonfiction resources in your classroom library. Sometimes it’s the teacher who has to help students make the connections. Share some examples of fiction and nonfiction pairings with the class. Then ask your students to help you brainstorm more examples. By pairing the two together, you can help draw students from one genre to the other.
2. Try this Wonderful approach:
The book Wonder by R.J. Palacio is an all-time favorite worth reading and rereading with your students. These ideas for nonfiction pairings will give you even more reasons to return to this wonder of a book.
3. Use the classics.
Explore themes such as bravery, community, friendship, generosity, responsibility, kindness and courage by pairing titles in the Great Books fiction series and grade-specific nonfiction libraries. Here are charts that suggest pairings, themes, and essential questions to explore.
- 2nd Grade Nonfiction Theme Correlations: Friendship, responsibility, bravery, generosity, community, being yourself
- 3rd Grade Nonfiction Theme Correlations: Relationships, kindness, confidence, gratitude, courage, cleverness
- 4th Grade Nonfiction Theme Correlations: Trust, resourcefulness, communication, strength, integrity, perspective
- 5th Grade Nonfiction Theme Correlations: Honesty, self-respect, fitting in, family, humility, compassion
4. Teach science through literature.
Science book author Melissa Stewart has been creating perfect pairs of fiction and nonfiction books for teaching science for more than 10 years. Here are some specific suggestions along with inquiry-based class discussion guidelines and class activity ideas.
5. Do a background check.
Pairing historical fiction and nonfiction reference material on the same time period can help students get a better sense of the background facts that influence the characters, setting and plot of the book. Educator Bernadette Simpson shared a few pairing ideas on Goodreads, such as this one on ancient Egypt: Tut Tut (fiction), Mummies, Pyramids, and Pharaohs: A Book About Ancient Egypt (nonfiction) and Eternal Egypt (website).
6. Pull out the picture books.
Pairing picture books with nonfiction can be a perfect match. Not only can you contrast the differences between the two types of texts (opposites do attract!), you can also examine the similarities in the themes that they cover. Educator and blogger Linda Kamp (Around the Kampfire) did a “Hippo Friends” unit with her students where they outlined the similarities and differences between a work of fiction (George and Martha Round and Round) and a nonfiction text (Owen & Mzee: The Language of Friendship). They also delved into the relevant questions students had, which formed the basis for a rich classroom discussion.
7. Capture their imagination and engage students with pairings.
“Minds in Bloom” blogger Jill Richardson believes that fiction-nonfiction pairings are one of the most effective ways to engage her students and help them make those all-important connections between the text and their own lives. She shares some suggestions for book pairings and offers anchor charts, graphic organizers and examples that have worked well in her own classroom.
8. Keep ’em short!
Careful reading means reading things more than once. In order to have the time to discuss pairings of fiction and nonfiction, it is best to start with short texts. Shorter texts are often more accessible to students. When looking for nonfiction pairings, consider magazine articles and infographics tied to the theme of the book.
9. Flip a gold coin.
Consider pairing “The Gold Coin,” a tale by Alma Flor Ada about a thief who encounters unexpected kindness from an old healer with “Small Acts Make a Big Difference,” a nonfiction story about kids who find creative ways to make a difference in their communities.
10. Cut to the Common Core.
If you are looking to match your reading unit to the Common Core, these early-elementary pairings are listed along with the specific standards that they meet.
11. Pair up readers too.
You can pair reading buddies within your classroom or invite students from a different class or grade to partner with your students for paired read-alouds of fiction and nonfiction texts. Here’s some advice on how to start a Reading Buddies Program that pairs older students with your early learners.
12. Diagram the learning.
Venn diagrams, QAR charts, graphic organizers and other anchor charts are a great way to help students visualize their learning. Here are several ready-to-use graphic organizers for nonfiction, although many work well with both fiction and nonfiction. We especially like the one on “Making Text Connections.” There is also one on “Comparing Two Passages” (p. 37) and a “Fact and Opinion Chart” (p. 45) that works with fiction-nonfiction pairings.
13. Compare and contrast attributes.
One of the things students learn in their early reading classes is to distinguish the differences between fiction and nonfiction. Check out this lesson from the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) that covers the concepts and vocabulary of different types of books and other text resources. Checkout the anchor chart we found on Pinterest that clearly illustrates some of the attributes of both types of texts.
Here’s a video:
14. Age it up.
Looking for pairing tips for older students? Check out the blog Pairing Fiction and Nonfiction in the High School Classroom.