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There are many ways of teaching nonfiction, including assigning projects, debates, in-depth text studies and presentations. A balance should exist between students being able to select their own texts based on their interests and having entire classes read the same text. Studying nonfiction is important because people need to be able to research information as part of their schooling as well as in real life.
One way of teaching nonfiction is by assigning projects. Students can be allowed to choose challenging nonfiction texts of interest to them individually. Although these projects can take many different forms, general guidelines are that they should read carefully, answer in-depth essay questions, create a visual or hands-on project, and present their work to their classmates. During presentations, teachers and classmates should be able to ask questions to ascertain that students have read and understood the text as well as related it to their own lives and beliefs.
Debates are another way that nonfiction can be taught. Students can choose a topic of interest to them, read and research the topic, and come to class prepared to debate the topic with their classmates. This works well with topics that have multiple sides, such as the death penalty or appropriate punishments for drug use. Students should be required to read texts that support multiple sides of the issue to be debated so they can strengthen their arguments. During debates, as in all methods, students should refer back to the text and do their own synthesizing of the information.
Teaching nonfiction also can be accomplished having all students in a class read the same text at the same time and both in and out of class, depending on the age of the students and the level of difficulty of the class. At the beginning of the units, students can be given objectives as well as questions to guide their reading. As classes work through the text, students can discuss different important points in groups and with the whole class; they also can highlight important elements of the text and of nonfiction, in general. Students also may be required to find other nonfiction sources to further their understanding of various concepts and events from the text. They also can participate in seminar discussions in which they are asked higher-level questions about the text and must back up their answers with logic and passages from the text.
In teaching nonfiction, it is important to examine the various elements of nonfiction — such as bias, narrative structure and purpose — as well as different types of nonfiction — such as biographies, autobiographies, informational texts and articles from newspapers, magazines and the Internet. Students can look at examples of the elements through in-depth studies of the text and different types of these texts together. They also can find their own examples to bring in and present to the class.
The elements and types of nonfiction can be taught and reinforced using any of the previously mentioned methods. The more students are responsible for learning information, understanding it and doing something with what they have read, the more they will get out of their nonfiction study. Students also may be required to write and share their own examples of nonfiction, such as journal entries or autobiographical sketches.
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