Site Information

 Loading... Please wait...
  • Call us on 800-255-8935
  • My Account

The Teacher's Pet Blog

Ways To Incorporate Nonfiction Into Your Literature Unit

Posted by Mary B Collins on

We're living in The Information Age, a time when there is more information about EVERYTHING more readily available than ever before in human history. Yet, ironically, students' knowledge of background and general information seem to be lacking more than ever. How can we fix this?

We can broaden our students' knowledge base, without giving up the important skills and lessons learned by studying works of fiction, by incorporating nonfiction work within our literature units. This is easier than it may at first seem.

Spontaneous Web Quests

When you come upon allusions in literary works, do a quick Internet search. If you leave a computer and screen set up for this purpose, it's easy to take a few minutes to do a little "aside" to get additional information to share with students.

If you don't have a dedicated computer and screen readily available, let students make use of their smart phones or laptops. Throw the topic out there to students and say, "You have one minute to find information about [Topic]. Go!" and see what they can come up with. Let various students share what they have found. Even doing a few of these throughout will spice up your literature unit.

Allusion Assignments

Go through the section of the book you are studying and find allusions to nonfiction topics such as historical events, people, places, or things. Make a list, and assign one item for each student to research and orally report on.

Related Reading

Every fiction story has nonfiction elements in it or related to it that could be investigated. People, places, things, historical events, careers, social issues and more make great topics for investigation. You can jazz it up by making your students Super Sleuths who are sent out to investigate things. Put some detective or super-hero graphics on your topic assignment sheets. You could make each assignment worth x number of points. Students who accumulate y number of points for their detective work could be designated Super Sleuths and receive some award/reward.

Guest Speakers

Read, answer questions, "rinse and repeat" gets boring. Break up your reading schedule with volunteers from your community who are experts in topics related to your story. Your students will benefit from their knowledge and will appreciate the change of pace.


Just about every fictional story has some topic related to it for which a documentary video has been made. Choose a short YouTube video or a longer movie on some relevant topic. Match the length of the video with the importance of the topic you have chosen in relation to the book you are reading. For example, if you are reading The Devil's Arithmetic, you could spend a whole class period watching a video about the Holocaust or a shorter video about Jewish customs.

What's It Like To Be A ...

One good way to relate literary fiction to real life is to have students investigate careers related to things people do in the book. In To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, students could investigate being a lawyer, a judge, a sheriff, clerk of the court or any other jobs related to the criminal justice system. They could investigate being a writer, a horticulturist (for Miss Maudie's flowers), or a fireman (putting out the fire next door), or careers in journalism. The list is almost endless. 

This kind of an assignment addresses what some of your students are starting to think about (what they'd like to do with their lives), it helps them learn about the world around them and what other people do, it teaches them about opportunities and possibilities that exist, and it broadens their background knowledge.

Research Alternatives

You can always assign the customary research paper in your literature unit, but if you're already swamped with papers to grade, these other options will help your students increase their background knowledge, relate the fictional reading to real life, exercise researching, reading, and other vital ELA skills, provide a welcome break in your "read and discuss" routine, and check off that "related nonfiction" standards requirement too!

View Comments

Foreshadowing in Literature: Why Studying It Is So Important

Being a terrible writer of fiction myself, I've always admired authors who are able to craft their stories with close attention to details, using literary devices like foreshadowing. We typically think of mystery novels as being laden with foreshadowing, which they certainly are, but clever and talented authors of works in other genres use it [...]

Read More »

Allusions in Literature

We often define the term allusion when we're talking about literary devices, but did you ever stop to think about the real value of reading literature that is full of allusions--or what you could do with the allusions that are present?Why We Don't Look At Allusions More CloselyMost often we probably think of allusions as [...]

Read More »

3 Reasons To Use Rubrics With Every Assignment

"What the heck is a rubric?" I innocently asked. Turns out, it's just a form specifying the criteria for the acceptable completion of an assignment. It takes some time to create a good rubric, but the time spent is well worth it. Here's why:1) Rubrics Help You Focus Your AssignmentWhen you have to actually think [...]

Read More »

New to Teaching Literature? 5 Things You Should Know

Some things would have been good to know in my early years of teaching literature. Here are five of them (in no particular order; they're all important): 1. You Don't Have To Know EVERYTHING.First of all, it's impossible for you to know everything about a work of literature and the author. As a new teacher, I [...]

Read More »

3 Ways to Deal With Vocabulary in Your Novel Unit

It's October now--time for Halloween and spooky stories. A great time to teach the stories and poems of Edgar Allan Poe. But, sadly, many students won't be reading Poe this October. Why not? Because Poe's vocabulary is just too much to tackle for some classes. And that's a real shame because those students are missing [...]

Read More »

Teaching The Scarlet Letter

Overview CommentaryThe social revolution of the late 1960's and early 1970s in America broke the chains of our country's moral conscience that had bound us to "right" and "wrong" regarding our personal behavior. "Free love" and the idea that "I can do my own thing" pretty much axed our traditional moral values handed down from [...]

Read More »

Teaching Of Mice and Men

Overview Commentary on Of Mice and MenOf Mice and Men is a short novel--just a little over 100 pages--and the reading level isn't particularly difficult. However, because of the subject matter, it is most appropriate for high school juniors and seniors, who are old enough to understand the complexities of the book.On the surface, Of [...]

Read More »

The Key To Teaching Literature

The key to teaching literature effectively is to see the books as a means to an end, not an end in themselves.If I thought the books were an end in themselves, I would have quit writing about them 20 years ago. I lose patience with characters like Holden Caufield (The Catcher in the Rye) and [...]

Read More »

Teaching 1984 by George Orwell

Overview Commentary On 1984 The publisher's summary for the book 1984 by George Orwell says, "Orwell depicts a gray world dominated by Big Brother and its vast network of agents, including the Thought Police, quashing freedom in a totalitarian world in which news is manufactured according to the authorities' will and people live tepid lives by [...]

Read More »