How to Make Non-Fiction Matter in your Classroom

Does your school encourage children to read Playstation manuals as well as Harry Potter? Perhaps it should, says Emma Hughes-Evans

Emma Hughes-Evans
by Emma Hughes-Evans
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As a teacher, I’ve always been passionate about fostering a love of books and reading among my pupils.

That exposure to a wealth of quality language and vocabulary is what ultimately allows children to become better writers; but if we’re looking to make improvements to non-fiction writing in particular, the reading diet we offer must be sure to include plenty of rich examples from this genre too.

Confined to the realms of English lessons, non-fiction writing can struggle to find room to breathe, which is why it’s vital to seize the vast array of opportunities to reinforce non-fiction writing throughout the whole curriculum.

Such a cross-curricular approach provides real situations that have a sense of purpose and therefore show children the value of what they are writing.

This sense of value is more likely to enthuse and subsequently encourage young learners to produce a piece of higher quality writing – as opposed to one which seemingly has no reason to exist apart from satisfying the teacher or providing evidence of genre in an exercise book.

Arousing this enthusiasm for non-fiction writing is no easy task, and it was with this in mind that I sat down to write Stimulating Non-Fiction Writing (Routledge 2019), which provides both professional development on the subject and fresh ideas to use in the classroom – a few of which I’d like to share with you now.

1 | Go beyond books

It is important to remember that a broad range of texts can be used to inspire non-fiction writing. Atlases, leaflets, gadget handbooks, product packaging and catalogues – many children are exposed to these regularly, but they may not consider them actual ‘texts’.

For reluctant readers, however, the study of a manual for a games console or even a cereal box can be more accessible and engaging than a more traditional non-fiction book.

You might, for instance, challenge the class to produce an alternative manual for a device they own, or for one they invent themselves – taking the form of an explanation or instructional writing.

Or you could set a persuasive writing exercise in which children produce appealing packaging for a new cereal or food product, which in turn opens up cross-curricular links to a healthy eating study in science.

2 | Use fiction to inspire non-fiction

The use of fictional texts as sources of inspiration for the writing of non-fiction genres should not be ignored. Recount writing in the role of characters is something that can be done for any fiction study.

This could be in the form of a diary, letter or newspaper report relating to events experienced by characters within a text.

Children could also be asked to research and subsequently write a non-chronological report based on an historical event that features within a fictional text.

For example, a reading of Goodnight Mr Tom, Carrie’s War or When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit could lead to a piece about the Second World War.

3 | Try new recipes

Suggest titles for new culinary creations that incorporate people’s names, eg Betty Spaghetti, Roast Peter, Graham Goulash, Tim on Toast.

Develop an understanding of word play and word association by asking children to write the accompanying recipe (instructional text) for these new meals. Encourage them to make their recipes humorous and perhaps revolting in nature.

4 | Write a Wonderland guidebook

Following a reading of a fictional text, focus the children’s attention on the setting of the story eg Alice’s Wonderland, Narnia or even Mr Men and Little Miss Land.

After a discussion about the different aspects of this fantasy land, challenge children to write a non-chronological report in the form of a guidebook. Possible subheadings could focus on aspects such as weather, food, objects, landscape, inhabitants, and attractions.

5 | Tackle key issues

Engage children in an oral debate relating to a troubling issue or concern. This can be within their locality or the wider context of the country / world (eg poverty, homelessness, prejudice, crime, Brexit).

Following the debate, ask children to reflect on what’s been said and then write a discussion text which relates their thoughts and perspectives on the issue.

To take this a step further you could actually send pupils’ work to well-known figures who are passionate about the issue – a local politician, the prime minister or the queen, for example. Children may even receive a reply!

Emma Hughes-Evans is assistant headteacher at a primary school in the West Midlands and author of Stimulating Non-Fiction Writing! Inspiring Children Aged 7-11, published by Routledge.

Find more resources for Non Fiction November.

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