Narrative Nonfiction Need Not Be Boring
Surprise your young readers by engaging them in captivating narrative nonfiction.
By Dawn Dodson
It’s the best reading encounter of all—the moment when you’ve forgotten where you are because you are completely immersed in a story. What makes this experience even better? When you realize that the story that transported you to another time and place is a true story. This is just one gift of narrative nonfiction. Also referred to as creative nonfiction, this genre turns real-life stories and events into beautifully crafted literary gems. Reading and writing narrative nonfiction in the classroom not only provides another opportunity for learners to analyze informational text, but also demonstrates that nonfiction is more than a pile of facts. In addition, taking full advantage of this genre can help cover a wide span of skills and concepts, saving time and resources—of which we all need more.
Reading Narrative Nonfiction
- Story Elements: Narrative nonfiction offers a great opportunity to identify and analyze common story elements that we may also find in fictional works. Understanding how these elements work helps readers to understand how the author develops the characters and advances the plot. For analysis, I recommend providing graphic organizers to first identify the elements and then break them down so that pupils have the chance to look at each element used in the story.
- Literary Devices: One trademark of the narrative nonfiction genre is the use of figurative language and literary devices. Having pupils identify various devices and analyzing their role in the story is the focus of many of my classroom writing prompts and literature responses. Comparing stories with poems using the same language style and themes is another method for assisting readers in comprehending the various ways in which language is used.
- Extracting Information: It’s important to remember that narrative nonfiction is a true story full of factual information. After reading a story, I often have students locate the facts and rate the evidence that supports the central idea of the text. I ask them to rate it from strongest to weakest. This activity not only lifts important information from the text, it is great for formal assessment preparation, and it also reminds readers that stories can be read for both information and entertainment.
Writing Narrative Nonfiction
- Research: As I said above, narrative nonfiction contains facts and information about real people, places, and events. I have found that reading this genre helps students to better comprehend an event and the experiences of the people who lived through it. The language and text structure deliver many details that provide vivid images to readers. Using this genre of text in research helps to further fact exploration, as well as deeper questioning from readers/writers. Providing graphic organizers to sift through important information, and further questioning allows for a productive research assignment. Specifically, after reading a story, I provide students with two to three organizers, each one with a chart with a space at the top for a central idea and/or question presented in the story. Underneath the central idea/question there are five rows for pupils to find a fact from another source (space for providing source citations is at the end of each row). Researchers peruse databases for articles and books to further collect information presented in a class story. The information is finally presented in a formal essay and/or a digital presentation.
- Emotional Essays: Again, this genre often relates the experiences of the people who were a part of a significant event. Using a narrative nonfiction story as an exemplar, the class reads and analyzes the strategies the author(s) used to relate the experience and emotions of the characters. Taking an event from their own lives, or the life of someone close to them, pupils write their own narrative nonfiction piece mimicking the tone and style of the exemplars studied. Providing revision checklists throughout this process help writers focus on specific aspects of the genre and the manner in which they are relaying their message to the audience.
However you chose to approach nonfiction texts, know that they can be fascinating while simultaneously fulfilling your requirement for informational texts.