Teaching Non-fiction to Elementary Students

I wanted to share an idea about writing a non-fiction report, but realized after I started delving into the topic that I needed to cover some foundational aspects of fiction and non-fiction before proceeding to the report! It is essential that students can first distinguish the difference between the two genres.

Pick some children’s stories to read that are both fiction and non-fiction and have the same animal as the topic. Get a piece of paper and divide the paper into two columns. Make the heading of the left hand column be Fiction and the right hand column be Non-fiction. Read both genres paying particular attention to the differences between them such as: make believe versus realistic; a story versus facts; illustrations versus photographs or realistic representations of the animal. Write these differences in the appropriate column. Also note that in the non-fiction column there may be the table of contents, index, additional resources, or a glossary. Do this over a period of two weeks and choose several different animals as examples for your student(s) to see that fiction and non-fiction books are both similar and dissimilar in the material that is covered. Look at the list you have made previously and see if there are other categories to add.  Use this list so your writer can refer back to these as a guide for when (s)he writes the non-fiction report. Not all of these items will be used in the nonfiction report (pictures, glossary, index).

I have chosen the topic of rabbits here as a guide for you. Read The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter or Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens and a non-fiction book (or two) about rabbits. The books may seem too young for a middle school student, but the whole idea is for them to be able to understand the differences between fiction and non-fiction. You want to be able to concentrate on the elements of writing as opposed to figuring out the plot.  It is also a reference point for you to discuss with your child as you teach about writing their own non-fiction report.  As a bonus, if you have little ones they will enjoy the stories as well. If you aren’t that crazy about rabbits here are some other animals to read about for the genres: dogs, cats, pigs, and bears. I have listed some dog books after the rabbits for you below.


Online resources for Peter Rabbit: Peter Rabbit This is the first printing of the first edition of Peter Rabbit (1902). I love how you can “turn the page” by hovering over the corner of the book and dragging your mouse across to the other side. It looks the page is actually being turned.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit a UTube video that is narrated by a gentleman who has a wonderful United Kingdom accent. There are pictures, but no words from the book.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit a UTube video that is narrated by Meryl Streep. She does a lovely job reading it, but you do not get to see the pages or the words of the book. If you have the book it will be a fantastic addition.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit a UTube video that has pictures and words.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter There were too many fun resources on amazon.com for me to list so I thought you could choose your own!

Tops and Bottoms  A Caldecott Honor winner, this tale will be enjoyed by all as you read about how the clever rabbit outwits the lazy bear.

Non-fiction Books Rabbits, Rabbits, and More Rabbits, Gail Gibbons This book has bright, colorful illustrations and covers topics such as breeds, folk lore, and care of rabbits.

Animal Life Cycles: Rabbits (First Step Non-fiction), Melanie Mitchell This book would be great to use as an introduction into nonfiction.

Rabbits and Hares, Diane Swanson This is a book for older students (ages 8-12) that compares rabbits and hares. Interesting reading material and a terrific example to  show how a non-fiction report comparative report can be done.

Rabbits, Melissa Stewart This book describes the physical characteristics, habitat, behavior, life cycle, and conservation status of the rabbit.


Fiction Books If You Give a Dog a Donut, Laura Numeroff  I always enjoy these books and though they may seem young for older students, they are easy examples of fiction that everyone enjoys.

Dog Breath!: The Horrible Trouble with Hally Tosis, Dav Pilkey Who knew bad breath could save the day?

Non-fiction Books Dogs, Gail Gibbons Informational book about dogs from one of my favorite non-fiction authors.

The Dog Family, Bev Harvey

True Stories of Dogs and Cats free kindle book! There are other free titles of dog stories here as well.

Everything Dog: What Kids Really Want to Know About Dogs, Marty Crisp This non-fiction book is done in a Question and Answer format based on inquiries from children the author has collected over the years.

How about wrapping up this topic with a good ol’ dog movie?  These first two are sad, but are favorites of many people. Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows, Homeward Bound, Cats and Dogs (my favorite!), Otis and Milo, Snoopy Come Home, Because of Winn Dixie, and Shiloh are just a few to get you started. Next week I will discuss writing a non-fiction report.

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