New Core CurriculumI am currently at a Core Curriculum meeting and, WOW, this is very different from what we are/have been teaching to this point.  Focus is now going to lay heavily upon...

New Core Curriculum

I am currently at a Core Curriculum meeting and, WOW, this is very different from what we are/have been teaching to this point.  Focus is now going to lay heavily upon non-fiction and informational texts.  So, my question is...

How would you get your students to become more engaged in informational texts (ELA is now focusing on Declaration, Lincoln's Speeches, Washington's speeches, Preamble, etc.) given many do not want to even read fiction texts?

Expert Answers
creativethinking eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Something that students can really get into as far as non-fiction texts go is their real world application. Whereas very few of us get the chance to create fictional texts as part of our careers, there are multitudes of situations in which people in all fields must create and/or interpret non-fiction texts. This gives students the chance to experience a very authentic way of reading and writing that will be directly applicable to their careers. Or, in the case of the historical documents that you mentioned, they get to read something that "really happened." If you can milk the "true story" potential of those texts, your kids may be more interested than you think!

Like you, literaturenerd, I've often feared that students will find non-fiction texts too dry and boring, so I try to be on the lookout for examples of solid non-fiction text that is entertaining. You might try a National Geographic article, a TED talk (available at, or maybe some writing from a humorist. Hopefully you and your students can find a source of inspiration. Good luck on your journey with the new standards... we'll all be there along with you! :)

Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In regards to the specific informational texts you mention (the Declaration, Lincoln's Speeches, Washington's speeches, Preamble, etc.), a smattering of those (albeit not the entirety) is usually found within an American Literature curriculum, but I can understand your concern if it has become the main focus. As a result, I'm going to present a little different take on your question and focus on how to spark the kids' interest in these non-fictional pieces.

In my own classes, I often try to spark interest by playing some of the old School House Rock (History) DVD clips.  I'm never sure if it brings the kids back to their childhood as much as it brings me back to my childhood, but at least they are catchy songs that help them remember the history of it all.  Another idea would be to show clips from the musical comedy 1776.  In regards to Lincoln, there's always the clips of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure that deal with Lincoln and will be sure to incite some laughter.

wannam eNotes educator| Certified Educator
I got my students to read the things they didn't want to by giving projects. I would tell them about a big, creative project we would be doing with the test. Then, when they complained about the reading, I would remind them that we couldn't have fun with our project if they didn't understand the text. Usually, that worked. The students also gained a better understanding of the text (and textual analysis) during the project. Projects might include letting them make their own speech, acting out the parts of the speech or the events surrounding it. What about having a founding father's game show. They would have to read some of the "I've already done this" texts from a different angle in order to find questions to ask and interesting, game show answers.
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I like the technology element.  The use of Youtube is right on for this one.  Another trick would be to have students create a "bag" of websites about a particular topic.  For example, take Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address."  You could outline what kind of sites you want found and students register at and "deposit" websites that meet your criteria in their "bags."  It is a great way for students to interact with the content in a manner that appeals to the technology medium.

Along those lines, having kids film dramatizations off of themes or ideas from the source material is another way to broaden their understanding.  Uploading these to YouTube also helps to generate technology as a means of sharing ideas.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I don't necessarily think this question is restricted to non-fiction and informational texts. To be honest, I think all of us have the same issues in trying to get our students to engage with a Dickens or a Hardy novel. To me, it is not about the text itself but it is about how we introduce and present the texts to our students, whatever that text is. We need to carefully plan activities and discussions that help the students to confront the ideas in these texts before they encounter the texts themselves so that they can have a helpful "handle" or a series of "hooks" to negotiate the text with. It is so important not to just jump straight into the text, but to do pre-work before giving the text to students.

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Media and technology:

Always build schema using websites such as United Streaming (under Discovery education) or download speeches that are dramatized and uploaded to YouTube. It is best if you download videos of other high school or middle school students showing them role playing the character who is giving the speech. Another great resources come from the "interesting facts about Presidents" series that you can actually research online. Start the lesson saying 10 unknown facts about the character and share them with the students. Maybe by seeing that some of these persons can be "cool" might help the students want to study them more in-depth.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I guess my question was more intended to speak to the fact that many, if not all, students have already seen these documents and tend to have the "I have already done this...Why do I have to do it again?" attitude.  The problem is, I teach English, not History- where they typically see the documents, and embedding them into my curriculum is hard.

So more of what I was looking for is a way to help all English teachers in implementing these non-fiction informational texts (per the new Core Curriculum) without students shutting down to the idea.

On another note, #3, great suggestions!!!

sarahc418 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I had some good luck with doing an interview situation where students had to role play characters from short stories, and novels from the unit as well as authors and historical figures from the unit. They had to write up a script for a talk show with the overarching question "What is our American Identity"? They could choose which talk show they wanted and people with costumes got extra points. It was fun, engaging and an effective assessment on what they had learned.

ask996 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You can catch their interest by putting them in situations that challenge their personal ideas and agendas. For example: if you're studying the Montgomery Bus Codes, have students come into class unawares and let most of them sit in the desks, and a few select students sit on the floor. Continue teaching as if nothing is affected. Students will very soon recognize the unfairness of the disadvantages, and then they will be more interested in the literature.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I suppose that you could get them to think about how these things apply to their own lives and/or how we do or don't adhere to the ideas put forth in the documents.  The ones you mention are all foundational documents of our society, right?  So maybe you can have them look at ways in which we do or do not live up to ideas like the idea that our government should protect our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.


litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
I have found that many students are more engaged in non-fiction than fiction. The key is to provide enough background. I also pair fiction and non-fiction, which makes both more interesting. For instance, Lincoln's speeches with an excerpt from a civil war novel or short story make both elements stand out. Kids like to study one topic in-depth, rather than skip around. Non-fiction allows us to do that.
literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

What wonderful answers!!! You all are amazing.  I will definitely try everything suggested and see what works. Thanks again!!! Keep up the amazing work, our future depends on it!

scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When I began teaching AP English Lang. which focuses heavily on nonfiction texts such as speeches, I had to change my way of teaching, but what I have found is that I have been using more nonfiction in my college prep classes now because my students (especially my male students) enjoy it. What you can do to introduce your students to classic nonfiction pieces like Lincoln's speeches or historical documents is to introduce them first to relevant modern nonfiction pieces and explain the difference between analyzing those pieces and analyzing fiction. I like to start with editorials and articles that are interesting and very current. Once you have chosen some brief nonfiction pieces, work on standard nonfiction elements such as tone, context, audience, appeals, and bias. By beginning this way, your students have the foundation to look at what they consider to be familiar texts from a fresh perspective. Below are two brief activities which I have used when teaching speeches.

1. To demonstrate the importance of matching tone with audience and subject, I show my students this link from youtube: It's overly enthusiastic Phil Davison's campaign speech for Stark County Treasurer. You and your students will laugh hysterically, but they will also realize the significance of a speaker's/writer's tone.

2. For historical speeches, I ask my students to write a brief speech for a specific context, audience, and purpose. Those elements match the context, audience, and purpose of the historical speech that we plan to analyze (such as Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address), but my students don't know that ahead of time. After they have completed writing their speeches, I have them read their peers' speeches and vote on the one that best fits the assigned context, audience, and purpose. I then reveal the historical speech for which they just wrote a model, and we compare the class's "best" speech to the original historical one.

tahearne | Student

One thing that I have had them do with the nonfiction pieces is to relate them to their own lives. We write our own "Declaration of Independence" that has to follow the syntax and organization of the original document.  We have memorized and acted out the different speeches and I had them critique whether or not the original speaker intended for the speech to be performed those particular ways. Figuring out the rhetoric in the speeches tends to be an exercise in critical thinking, and if you set it up appropriately, they will respond in the positive. Most of them have never looked at the writing as "writing" and have only looked at the impact of the documents. I'd be more than happy to share my assignments with you!  Good luck!

krcavnar | Student

You could always give them the non-fiction piece and have them determine what is happening in society at that time. Once the students have a rough list of what they think might be happening have them do a short research project over the time period. I would then use a piece of literature, even if just an excerpt, from the same time period and see if the students can find the same issues within the text or within the tone of the work. This is the opposite of how I teach the same things in my history class but would expect that it could work the same.