Teaching Genres of Fiction and Nonfiction Effectively

Teaching genres of fiction and nonfiction? Take a deep dive into purpose and elements. Then read and write! When fourth and fifth grade students study nuances of literature and informational text, they think critically – and have lots of fun.

Estimated reading time: 30 minutes

Are you considering organizing your ELA block around genres of fiction and nonfiction? If so, this post is for you. In it, I detail strategies and stories that have worked in fourth and fifth grade classrooms over the years. ~Brenda Kovich

Images in this post were created by Ron Leishman Digital Toonage.

Teaching Genres of Fiction and Nonfiction Cover

Ideas for Teaching Genre Studies with Folktales

Originally, people passed folktales, or traditional stories, by word of mouth. They often reflect the beliefs, values, and customs of a specific culture.

Folktales, which are a branch of fiction, come in various forms, such as fables, fairy tales, legends, myths, and tall tales.

Because these genres of fiction are short (and in the public domain*), they provide great opportunities for practicing reading and writing skills. Begin each folklore genre study by explaining purpose and elements. Next, shift to reading for a purpose. Finally, ask kids to write in that genre.

*Public domain stories may be copied and adapted freely. Therefore, you can create (or purchase) them at different reading levels, with emphasis on certain reading or writing skills. Project Gutenberg provides thousands of public domain pieces.

Fables

Fables are short stories that teach lessons, or morals. Many feature animals that can talk or act like humans. Clear character traits, simple settings, short plots, and apparent themes make them the perfect choice for the beginning of the year when teaching genres.

When teaching genres of fiction, explain fables as short stories that teach lessons and have animal characters with human traits.
8.5 x 11″ printable versions of these posters (without the logo) are available in my TPT store.

Author’s Purpose

Sure, fables entertain us. Additionally, each of these short stories teaches a lesson.

Elements for Teaching the Genre

  • Characters: Many times, animals represent different human traits. For example, a fox might represent cunning, while a dog illustrates loyalty.
  • Setting: Fables feature simple settings like the countryside, which represents ordinary life.
  • Plot: Like all good fiction, a fable begins with a problem or goal. The character then tries to solve the problem or reach the goal. Their actions cause a specific outcome.
  • Theme: An implied or stated moral provides a lesson for the reader. Through this, kids begin to understand how a character’s response to adversity (and how it affects the outcome) provide a story’s theme.

Examples of Fables

  • “The Tortoise and the Hare”
  • “The Fox and the Crow”
  • “The Three Little Pigs”

What to Teach with the Genre

  • Character traits – Animals and humans in fables have obvious personality traits. Ask kids to use adjectives to describe them.
  • Similes and metaphors – “Clever like a fox” and “he was a fox” take on new meaning after studying character traits with fables.
  • Theme – Obvious lessons provide great practice for beginners. Guide students to understand how the character’s actions affect the outcome to find a theme.
  • Narrative writing – Kick-start narrative writing with fables. Their clear character traits, themes, and plots make them easy to write.

Fairy Tales

In this genre of fiction, you’ll find magical stories with strong themes of good versus evil. Characters may include talking animals, witches, and royalty, but not necessarily fairies. In the end, the naive main character overcomes adversity to live happily ever after.

Fairy tales are magical stories with good versus evil and happily ever after.

Author’s Purpose

These entertaining stories teach children the difference between right and wrong.

Elements for Teaching the Genre

  • Characters – In this form of literature, you’ll often find good and evil characters. Many times a pure-of-heart protagonist faces adversity from others who wish to overpower them. In addition to humans, characters may include talking animals, magical beings, royalty, and mythological creatures (like dragons, trolls, and giants.)
  • Setting – Often, fairy tales are set in the countryside. However, characters may leave the safety of their homes and travel to a forest, castle, etc.
  • Plot – The goal of most main characters is to live happily ever after. To achieve this, however, they must overcome obstacles, like evil relatives, solving riddles, or defeating a dangerous creature. In the end, good prevails over evil, and the protagonist reaches their goal.
  • Theme – Fairy tales teach us important lessons about courage, kindness, and the value of doing the right thing.

Examples of Fairy Tales

  • “Snow White”
  • “Jack and the Beanstalk”

What to Teach with the Genre

  • Comparing literature – Hundreds of Cinderella folktales and parodies offer opportunities to identify similarities and differences.
  • Narrative writing – Continue writing stories with parodies. Following a similar story line with creative changes makes it fun and easy.

Legends

Legends are stories or accounts that have been passed down through generations, often through oral tradition. Tales in this genre of fiction are based on real events or people but often include exaggerations. Sometimes supernatural elements occur in legends.

Teaching genres? Tell kids that legends are folktales based on real people but exaggerated.

Author’s Purpose

Although legends inform us about people and events from the past, at their core, they entertain.

Elements for Teaching the Genre

  • Characters – Legends usually feature a real main character from history. However, as their story was retold, the character’s traits were exaggerated or altered.
  • Setting – The place and time of the story remain mostly as it was in history.
  • Plot – Like characters, the plot has been exaggerated or altered. Real or made-up events are now bigger and/or more exciting than in real life.
  • Theme – Although legends can have many different themes, they often focus on human behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses.

Examples of Legendary Characters

  • Johnny Appleseed
  • King Arthur
  • John Henry
  • Davy Crockett

What to Teach with the Genre

  • Social studies connection – Study legendary figures from your locale.
  • Halloween ELA – Ready for some scary stories? Analyze print and media that depict the headless horseman.

Myths

Myths are older than legends. They explain the beliefs, customs, and origins of an ancient culture or society. This genre of fiction often involves gods, goddesses, and other supernatural beings.

When teaching genres of fiction and nonfiction, explain myths as supernatural folktales that explain nature and society.

Author’s Purpose

Myths entertain, but they also explain societal and/or natural phenomena. Additionally, exaggerated character traits point out human strengths and weaknesses.

Elements for Teaching the Genre

  • Characters – Gods, goddesses, demigods, mythical creatures, and humans can be found in myths.
  • Setting – While some myths are set in common places long ago, many include fantastic locations. For example, in Greek mythology, some characters also reside on Mount Olympus (a kingdom in the sky), as well as in the Underworld.
  • Plot – Events explain things that people long ago didn’t understand. They may explain natural phenomena, like thunder or a solar eclipse. Additionally, they explore human relationships and struggles.
  • Theme – Like other fiction, characters’ reactions to adversity send readers away with a variety of lessons.

Examples of Myths

  • “Perseus and Medusa” from Greek mythology
  • “Mani and Sol” from Norwegian mythology
  • “Yorimasa” from Japanese mythology

What to Teach with the Genre

  • Characters from Greek mythology – Create a magnificent classroom display! Ask each child to research a different character, color a picture, and hang on a bulletin board.
  • Argumentative writing – After kids learn about characters from myths, ask them to write an opinion piece about which should be president or a persuasive piece on which to invite to dinner.
  • The Lightning Thief – Use your study of mythology as a springboard to this engaging parody. This full-length novel builds kids reading comprehension.

Tall Tales

These exaggerated and imaginative stories feature larger-than-life characters and events. We generally associate this genre of fiction with American folklore and the frontier. While similar to legends, tall tales are stretched to the point of unbelievable.

Tall tales are made-up, humorous folktales with lots of exaggeration.

Author’s Purpose

Undoubtedly, tall tales entertain. When retold, they fill us with wonder – and laughter.

Elements for Teaching the Genre

  • Characters – Exaggerated traits of humans and animals make them much bigger and stronger, cleverer, etc.
  • Setting – Most tall tales are set in the American frontier. However, like other elements for this genre, the setting is exaggerated. The trees are taller, buildings bigger (with fantastic features), etc.
  • Plot – Like other fictional stories, the characters experience adversity. Their responses, however, include unbelievable events.
  • Theme – Bravery and ingenuity resonate in these stories.

Examples of Tall Tale Picture Books

  • Pecos Bill
  • Miss Sally Ann and the Panther
  • Paul Bunyan

What to Teach with Tall Tales

  • Hyperbole – Your kids will love stretching the truth. Ask them to exaggerate characters, settings, and events to write their own tall tales.

Ideas for Teaching Genres of Fiction

Written forms of fiction include fantasy, historical fiction, mystery, realistic fiction, and science fiction. These stories consist of original works created by various authors.

Adventure

Adventure stories are exciting tales that follow characters on journeys or quests. These tales often involve danger, exploration, and the pursuit of a goal. While many stories use realistic elements, adventure can also be found in other forms, such as fantasy or science fiction.

When teaching this genre of fiction, begin with a definition. Explain that we can categorize it within fantasy, realistic, historical, or science fiction depending on its characters, setting, and plot. Continue with an adventure novel. And don’t forget to do some writing!

When teaching genres of fiction and nonfiction, read adventure stories. Kids love exciting tales that include danger, a journey, and/or risk-taking.
8.5 x 11″ printable versions of these posters (without the logo) are available in my TPT store.

Author’s Purpose

The writer seeks to entertain with thrilling escapades.

Elements for Teaching the Genre

  • Characters – Protagonists in adventure stories may be lost or looking for something. They range from everyday people to experts or royalty.
  • Setting – Adventure stories take place in forests, on islands, and in far-away lands. Most authors choose mysterious, unknown terrain in the past, present, or future.
  • Plot – The character seeks to solve a problem, such as rescuing an endangered person or finding treasure. To accomplish this, they encounter danger or solve puzzles.
  • Theme – Often, adventure stories teach lessons about ingenuity or resourcefulness, bravery, perseverance, or friendship.

Acclaimed Adventure Novels

  • Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner (550L – New York Times Notable Book of the Year 1980) – A boy named Willy enters a dogsled race to win $500 for taxes on his grandfather’s farm. Read this exciting book with younger or less able readers.
  • Call It Courage (830L – Newbery Medal 1941) – Mafatu, the son of the chief of Kikueru Island, is afraid of the sea. After being labeled a coward, he leaves in a dugout canoe to conquer his fear. Kids love this classic story. Because of its old-fashioned language, less able readers may struggle with this book.
  • Island of the Blue Dolphins (1000L – Newbery Medal 1961) – Karana is stranded alone on an island. This story is based on the true story of a Native American girl, Juana Maria, who lived alone on San Nicolas Island for 18 years.
  • Hatchet (1020L – Newbery Medal 1988) After a plane crash, thirteen-year-old Brian struggles to survive in the Canadian wilderness. Don’t be misled by the Lexile level. This book’s engaging content and contemporary style make it accessible by average readers in grade 4 and up.

Writing Activities

Use picture books without words to inspire kids’ writing:

  • Journey by Aaron Becker (Caldecott Honor Book 2014) – A lonely girl uses a red marker to draw a door on her bedroom wall. Stepping through it, she embarks on an exciting journey. Two more books in the series, Quest and Return, also provide great opportunities for storytelling and writing.
  • Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg (Caldecott Medal 1982) – When Peter and Judy play a board game, it comes to life – and throws them into thrilling adventures.

Fantasy

In fantasy, imaginative tales take place in worlds or settings different from reality. These stories often include magic, mythical creatures, and fantastical elements. In this genre of fiction, anything is possible, and the rules of the real world can be bent or completely changed.

Instead of introducing author’s purpose and elements, begin teaching the genre by reading several fantasy picture books aloud. Ask kids to determine author’s purpose and elements of each story. Then create class definitions.

Afterward, grab a big stack of fantasy picture books from your school library. Instead of assigning worksheets, let kids pick up books that interest them and read independently.

Finally, pick a full-length fantasy book to read aloud or as a novel study.

Fantasy stories cannot take place in real life.

Author’s Purpose

Fantasy entertains.

Elements for Teaching the Genre

At least one element in fantasy must be fantastic, or not possible in real life.

  • Characters – People, animals, and creatures in fantasy range from average to superhuman.
  • Setting – These stories may be set in real or imagined places.
  • Plot – Although many stories contain incredible or fanciful events, some chronicle the everyday escapades of an imaginary creature.
  • Theme – In many fantasy stories, bravery appears as the central message. However, like other forms of fiction, they may feature lessons of friendship, good versus evil, growing up, etc.

Fantasy Picture Books

  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  • The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
  • The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch
  • Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett
  • The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka

Acclaimed Fantasy Novels

  • The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo (670L – Newbery Medal 2004) A mouse named Despereaux falls in love with Princess Pea. His journey takes him to a dark dungeon and beautiful castle. This book works well for younger or less able readers.
  • Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (680L – Newbery Honor 1953) This classic story of friendship features a spider named Charlotte and a pig named Wilbur. It also works for younger or less able readers.
  • The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (740L – Best Books for Young Adults 2006) This present-day story involves a boy named Percy (who is actually Perseus of Greek mythology). Through his exciting adventures, kids learn about many mythological characters and creatures. Although the book is long, its contemporary style invites average readers to expand their reading horizons. Furthermore, students may continue reading six more books in the Percy Jackson series.
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (740L – Newbery Medal 1963) Meg Murry’s scientist father, who was studying tesseracts (wrinkles in time), is missing. Meg travels to other worlds and encounters The Black Thing. This classic story of good versus evil mixes science fiction and fantasy. Although the Lexile sounds manageable, this book’s style makes it difficult for middle grade readers.

Historical Fiction

Historical fiction combines historical characters, settings, and/or events with realistic fictional characters and/or events. While kids can recognize the time period, much of the story may (or may not) be made up.

Although actually a sub-category of realistic fiction, historical fiction is also recognized as one of the main genres of fiction.

As you read short passages and/or novels, encourage kids to identify realistic and historical elements. Then ask them to write their own stories.

When teaching genres of fiction and nonfiction, include historical fiction. Its set in a time from the past with real and/or realistic characters and events.

Author’s Purpose

Historical fiction entertains while also informing us about historical time periods.

Elements for Teaching the Genre

  • Characters – Real and/or realistic characters can be found in historical fiction. Often, an author mixes the two.
  • Setting – Although the time period can be recognized, the story may be set in realistic instead of real places.
  • Plot – Characters have realistic goals and problems. They react in believable ways and experience true-to-life outcomes.
  • Theme – As with other genres of fiction, themes vary. Kids can determine the lesson from how a character’s actions affect the outcome.

Historical Fiction Picture Books

  • Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco
  • New Shoes by Susan Lynn Meyer
  • Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki
  • The Gardener by Sarah Stewart
  • A Storm Called Katrina by Myron Uhlberg
  • Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story by Leslea Newman

Acclaimed Historical Fiction Novels

Pair these stories to meet the needs of all kids in your class.

Mid-1800s America

  • Meet Addy by Connie Porter (700L) – Addy Walker’s family plans a dangerous escape from slavery. This American Girl book is short and easy for your younger or lower readers.
  • A Family Apart by Joan Lowery Nixon (820L – New York Times Bestseller) – The Kelly children head west on an orphan train to find new families. Part of a series, this story focuses on 13-year-old Frances. It works well for average to high students in upper elementary.

World War II

  • Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (670L – Newbery Medal 1990) – The Holocaust affects the life of a Danish girl, Annemarie Johansen, in 1943. Her family risks their lives to shelter Annemarie’s best friend. This beautifully written book tackles a difficult topic in a way that’s appropriate for upper elementary students. If you choose this novel for your class, you won’t be sorry.
  • Elephant Run by Roland Smith (750L – Best Books for Young Adults 2009) – During World War II, Nick Freestone’s mother sends him from England to Burma to escape danger. There, he lives with his father on the family’s teak plantation. Unfortunately, the Japanese invade Burma, and Nick sets off on a series of dangerous adventures. Longer and a bit more difficult than Number the Stars, it’s appropriate for high average to high readers in fourth and fifth grade.

Humorous Fiction

Humorous fiction makes you laugh through low and/or high comedy. Low comedy uses jokes, inappropriate situations (like farts or someone’s hair on fire, as in the picture below), and farce (exaggeration). Conversely, high comedy stretches your intellect with wit and satire (making fun).

When teaching genres, explain each type of humor through picture books. Then read a funny novel aloud to your class.

Humorous fiction is made of funny stories that make us laugh. Teaching genres with humor makes it more fun.

Author’s Purpose

Generally, authors write humorous fiction for one purpose: to make us laugh. Satire, however, can make people think differently about social issues. Consider using political cartoons to expose kids to this concept.

Elements for Teaching the Genre

  • Characters – Personalities can range from serious to quirky to silly.
  • Setting – Most times, humorous fiction takes place in an everyday setting.
  • Plot – As in other types of literature, goals or problems motivate characters in funny stories. Along the way, however, they may find themselves in absurd predicaments, have dumb misunderstandings, and experience surprising events (whammies!)

Picture Books That Introduce Types of Humor

  • Dog Breath by Dav Pilkey – Hally Tosis was a dog with a problem: bad breath. Teach low comedy in the form of inappropriate, or taboo, situations.
  • Old Black Fly by Jim Aylesworth – Written in verse, this story involves a pesky fly who annoys everyone (low comedy) until – splat! What a whammy! This book also uses high comedy in the form of irony.)
  • The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieska and Lane Smith – Although they tend to be pretty dumb (in a good way), these stories poke fun at classic fairy tales (and that’s satire, or high comedy.)
  • No, David! by David Shannon – If your students are mature enough to handle a bare butt, read this story. Naughty David is a young boy who is always getting into trouble (and that’s funny.) But the whammy at the end, David running down the street with no pants, will really get kids – and you – laughing.
  • The Web Files by Margie Palatini – This parody of Dragnet offers lots of humorous elements to discuss: parody, wordplay, and more. Try reading it out loud using different voices and sounds. Your kids will love it!
  • My Daddy Is a Giant by Carl Norac – Using figurative language, the author exaggerates the dad’s characteristics (and that’s farce.)

If you want to read more humorous picture books, just ask your librarian or students for recommendations. You’ll find lots out there!

Humorous Novels

Instead of a novel study, read aloud. It will really lighten your days.

  • How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell – Billy Forrester accepts a bet to eat one worm per day. He eats them with ketchup, mustard, horseradish, and even fries them.
  • Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar – Each chapter focuses on a different student or teacher at Wayside School (which was built thirty stories high with one classroom on each floor instead of with thirty classrooms on one floor, as planned.)
  • Matilda by Roald Dahl – In this farce, a precocious child named Matilda Wormwood grows up with an uncaring set of parents. As school, the headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, terrorizes her. In the end, Matilda’s teacher, Miss Honey, rescues her.

Mystery

Mystery stories revolve around solving a puzzling event or crime. These stories often involve a detective who investigates clues to solve the mystery.

Because mysteries use critical thinking and CSI (crime scene investigation), you can create a huge unit of study around them.

Mysteries are stories with puzzling situations or crimes that need to be solved.

Author’s Purpose

Mysteries entertain – and make you think.

Elements for Teaching the Genre

  • Characters – Many times, the main character is a professional or amateur sleuth.
  • Setting – The setting often includes a crime scene.
  • Plot – Solving a crime or figuring out a puzzling situation drives the plot. The reader races to collect clues, trying to solve the mystery before the author divulges the solution.

Getting Ready for Mysteries

Before teaching the genre, practice powers of observation and making inferences. Encourage kids to pay attention to detail with memory games, sensory activities, picture-based observations, drawing and journaling. Practice inferencing skills with short, specific situations.

Reading Short Stories

Next, analyze and map short mystery stories. For each, kids identify the mystery, collect clues, disregard red herrings, and crack the case.

Learning About CSI with Mystery Activities

Add engaging activities such as secret codes, invisible ink, and fingerprinting. Then try some logic puzzles.

Reading Mystery Novels

For better readers, use The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (950L – Newbery Medal 1979.) In this puzzle piece mystery, sixteen heirs play a game devised by Sam Westing. Unfortunately, the clues turn out as red herrings. Or are they? Advanced readers – and those up for a challenge – will love this book.

Average readers will enjoy The Maze of Bones (610L) by Rick Riordan. In the first book of The 39 Clues series, two orphans, Amy and Dan Cahill, also follow clues to collect their great aunt’s legacy. Lots of action engages kids and encourages them to continue reading the series.

Writing Mysteries

As you wrap up your genre study, ask kids to write mysteries. You can choose from short picture-based clues, paper bag mysteries, or full-blown mapped detective stories.

Simulating a Mystery in Your Classroom

For the grand finale, stage a mystery in your classroom!

Realistic Fiction

Realistic fiction presents events, characters, and settings that could exist or happen in the real world. It portrays situations that are plausible and relatable, even if the specific events or characters are fictional.

Ask kids to look for believable characters, settings, plots, and themes as they read novels from this genre of fiction.

Realistic fiction are stories with imagined but realistic characters and plots.

Author’s Purpose

Realistic fiction entertains readers through issues that occur in everyday life.

Elements for Teaching the Genre

Believable characters, settings, and plots characterize realistic fiction. Themes often reflect real-life lessons like personal growth and friendship.

Notable Realistic Fiction Novels

  • Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (660L – Newbery Medal 2001) – In this heartwarming story, Opal Buloni moves to a new town with her preacher dad. After finding a homely stray dog, Winn-Dixie, Opal develops friendships. The contemporary style, engaging events, and reading level of this book make it accessible by most fourth and fifth graders.
  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio (790L – numerous awards) – Auggie, a 10-year-old boy with a facial deformity, enters school and learns to cope with difficult situations.
  • Frindle by Andrew Clements (830L – Phoenix Award 2016) – Nick Allen, the class clown, comes up with a new name for a pen: frindle. This causes trouble in his class, but as time goes by, it gains national attention.
  • The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes (870L – Newbery Honor 1945) – A girl in Maddie’s class, Wanda Petronski, becomes the target of ridicule for her funny name and faded dress. After Maddie decides she will no longer “stand by and say nothing,” she learns that Wanda has moved away. In a twist of events, Wanda’s drawings of one hundred dresses illustrate forgiveness. This short book is easy to read. It encourages kids to speak up when others are bullied.

Science Fiction

In science fiction, the author imagines the effects of futuristic science and technology. Adventures may involve advanced technology, space exploration, time travel, or encounters with extraterrestrial life. These stories often ask questions about the potential consequences of scientific advancements.

Why not take a different approach when teaching this genre of fiction? Choose a specific topic (e.g., robots) and read a variety of literature.

When teaching genres of fiction, include a little science fiction. These stories are based on imagined advances in science and technology.

Author’s Purpose

In addition to entertaining (which it does quite well), science fiction invites the reader to imagine futuristic ideas.

Elements of Science Fiction

  • Characters – They may include everyday people, scientists, aliens, etc.
  • Setting – Most of the time, authors set these stories in the future. Sometimes they occur on Earth; other times, in space.
  • Plot – Science fiction often incorporates adventure with exciting problems or goals and thrilling events.
  • Theme – While universal themes occur in these stories, they also teach lessons about good and bad effects of innovation.

Example of a Topic-Based Science Fiction Unit – Robots

Books

  • The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot by Margaret McNamara – This picture book, a parody of “The Three Little Pigs” sets the stage for your robot adventure.
  • Cog by Greg Van Eekhout – Five robots set out on an adventure to rescue their inventor.
  • The Wild Robot by Peter Brown – Roz the robot is stranded on a remote island. As she adapts to her new environment, she makes friends with the animals. Unfortunately, her mysterious past comes back to haunt her.

Movies & TV Shows

  • WALL-E (Pixar 2008)
  • The Jetsons (Hanna-Barbera 1960s)

Writing Prompts

  • Compare and contrast the robots in the three stories.
  • Do you think we’re already in the age of robots? Why or why not?

Projects

  • Craft: Build a robot out of recycled materials.
  • STEM: Use a kit to build and program a robot.
  • STEM: Use items found in the classroom to create a robotic hand.

Ideas for Teaching Genres of Nonfiction

In upper elementary grades, we recognize several genres of nonfiction. These include (but are not limited to) argumentative texts, biography, informative texts, and narrative nonfiction. Although teachers rarely count it as a genre study, social studies and science books provide great avenues for studying informational text.

Biography is usually the only nonfiction genre study taught in elementary classrooms. However, you can incorporate both reading and writing into your units on argumentative and informational texts, as well as narrative nonfiction.

Argumentative Texts

Yes, argumentative writing is a genre of nonfiction. It includes both opinion and persuasive pieces. What’s the difference? Written in first and/or third person, opinion writing states an opinion and supports it with reasons and evidence. Similarly, persuasive pieces include an opinion supported with reasons and evidence. They, however, are directed at the reader and use second person to call them to action.

Argumentative texts are essays written to persuade or give an opinion.
8.5 x 11″ printable versions of these posters (without the logo) are available in my TPT store.

Author’s Purpose

Argumentative pieces are written with the intent to persuade the audience.

Ideas for Teaching Argumentative Writing

In fourth and fifth grades, kids scaffold from one- to five- or six-paragraph argumentative pieces. Instead of teaching this as a single unit, consider spreading it throughout the year. That way, you can incorporate argumentative writing in your other genre studies.

For example, ask students which character from Greek mythology should come to dinner or become president. The engagement and creativity with pieces like this will astonish you.

More Ideas

  • In your science fiction unit on robots, ask kids to develop an opinion of which features a robot should have. Additionally, they can argue about recent advances in AI are good or bad.
  • For National Library Week (or anytime), ask them to persuade classmates to vote for the literary character of their choice.
  • Present kids with argumentative prompts related to holidays. For example, should the groundhog see his shadow on February 2nd? Why or why not?

Biography

A biography tells about a person’s life. It details about their background, experiences, achievements, and significant events that shaped their life. This genre of nonfiction can be about famous individuals, historical figures, or ordinary people who have made an impact in some way.

To plan the perfect biography unit, begin with picture books. Then ask kids to research one person. Finally, for the grand finale, present a living history museum in which kids pretend to be the person they researched.

Biography, a genre of nonfiction, is the factual account of a person's life.

Author’s Purpose

Biographies inform and (hopefully) entertain.

Reading Short Biographies

To get kids started with biographies, grab a big stack of picture books (30-40) from your school or public library. Check the grade levels to be sure they’re not too easy or too hard for your students.

If you don’t have access to biography picture books, purchase one or two collective biographies. For example, Amelia to Zora (famous women) and Akira to Zoltan (famous men) by Cynthia Chin Lee each provide 26 one-page biographies. Use a knife to take the books apart. Then display the pages on a table or counter, inviting kids to read about the lives of different people.

Reading About One Person

Next, ask each child to choose one historical figure to research. They may read a variety of biographical articles about the person and/or a full-length biography. If you’d like, limit kids’ research to a single group of people, like abolitionists or inventors.

Presenting a Wax Museum

For an exciting culmination to your unit, ask each child to write a monologue featuring ten facts about the person. Then, on a chosen day, invite classmates and/or parents to come to your living history museum!

Informative Texts

This genre of nonfiction gives the facts. They range from directions (how-to) to research writing. Smaller pieces are generally called articles or essays.

An informative text (essay, article, book, or website) provides factual information.

Author’s Purpose

This genre of nonfiction informs, as its name implies.

Research, Research, Research

It’s time for fourth and fifth graders to move away from simple how-to writing. Instead, they will conduct research. This requires kids to read and write informational texts.

To read, they must understand content presented in different formats (articles, books, websites), as well as forms (text, images, graphs, maps.) By fifth grade, kids must be savvy enough to locate reliable information quickly from any and all of these.

To write, students must understand the basic composition of nonfiction writing (introduction, body, conclusion), as well as text structures (description, sequence, compare-contrast, cause-effect, problem-solution.) Furthermore, kids in fourth and fifth grades should have a grasp of effective writing strategies, such as using active verbs, transitions, and citations.

That’s a lot. Obviously, you can’t teach it all in one project.

Some skills, like discriminating between text structures and reading graphs, may be taught as a part of the general curriculum. Others can be integrated into research projects.

Here’s the caveat: Jumping into a big research project overwhelms kids – and teachers. Instead, start small. Target research skills. Repeat. Then support and scaffold with larger and larger projects.

Example 1

Use the social studies textbook to gather information on a specific war. In this project, kids:

  • discuss why the textbook is a reliable source
  • use the index to locate pages
  • take notes on who, what, when, where, and why
  • organize information (using phrases, not sentences) with a box (topic sentence) and bullets (detail sentences)
  • write it out in paragraph form
  • revise – add transitions, use concrete nouns and active verbs, elaborate

Repeat short activities like this many times throughout the year.

Example 2

Research an animal. In this project, kids:

  • use two high-quality websites (like National Geographic Kids or San Diego Zoo); discuss why they’re reliable
  • create a simple works cited (“Webpage title.” Website title.)
  • take notes on physical characteristics, habitat, and habits (keeping each on a separate page and noting which site they came from)
  • organize the notes with five sets of boxes and bullets (introduction, physical characteristics, habitat, habits, conclusion)
  • write as a five-paragraph essay
  • revise

Example 3

Use a packaged research project. In this project, kids:

  • choose reliable resources
  • create a works cited with a suggested format (e.g., Author’s last name, Author’s first name. “Article Title.” Publication Title. Date.)
  • use pages from the packaged research project to take notes and organize information
  • write
  • revise

Example 4

Let kids select their own research topics. In this project, kids:

  • select a variety of reliable resources
  • take notes on cards or templates
  • create works cited with suggested format
  • organize with boxes and bullets (or outline)
  • write
  • revise

How much research should kids at this grade level conduct? A lot. You can integrate small projects into multiple subject areas or for special occasions (like Women’s History Month.)


AI in Fourth and Fifth Grades

Now to address the elephant in the room. What about AI?

First, teachers can use AI to generate some decent multi-paragraph examples. After pointing out structural features, specific language, transition terms, and elaboration, critique the piece together. Can the verbs be improved? Is it too wordy? Work with your class (or in small groups) to revise it.

Second, teachers can use AI to generate essays on the same topic kids have already written about. Then they may compare and contrast the two pieces.

In conclusion, AI provides helpful tools to help kids write better. It, however, should never replace student writing (or even act as a starting point.)

Narrative Nonfiction

In narrative nonfiction, authors write with a story arc (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action) instead of a hamburger (top bun – introduction, meat – detail paragraphs, bottom bun – conclusion.) This genre of nonfiction is actually written in fiction structure. It provides a great opportunity to discuss mixed purposes and structures.

A narrative nonfiction piece is a factual account of an event written in story form. You probably already teach this genre of nonfiction as personal narrative.

Author’s Purpose

This [mixed] genre of nonfiction informs, but it can also entertain.

Nonfiction Narrative in Fourth and Fifth Grades

Don’t let the name scare you. In all likelihood, you already teach this genre. But you call it something else: a personal narrative. As a matter of fact, biographies are also nonfiction narratives.

The good news is that you probably won’t need to work too hard on this genre of nonfiction. Just define it and use its name when your students read or write personal narratives, historical accounts, and biographies.

Teaching Genres of Fiction and Nonfiction in Your Classroom

In a nutshell, fictional stories express ideas while nonfiction pieces inform (or persuade). As you’re teaching genres of fiction and nonfiction – and indeed, anytime your students read or write – focus on the two sides of writing. When kids explore the continuum between expressive and informative writing, they comprehend each piece much better.

Fiction generally follows a story arc. It begins with exposition, which introduces the characters, setting, and situation. Rising action occurs as the character works to reach a goal or solve a problem. Then, at the most compelling part of the story, it reaches climax. After that, falling action wraps up the plot and explains the outcome.

Normally, nonfiction pieces use a format that can be compared to a hamburger. In the introduction, or top bun, the author states the main idea, or thesis, and touches on key supporting details. The middle provides the meat of the essay, which elaborates on each main detail. At the end (or bottom bun), the writer often restates the thesis and key details.

Whether you’re teaching genres or using a reading series, emphasizing these structures will help reading comprehension.

Anytime your students prepare to read, ask, “Can you identify this piece as fiction or nonfiction?” Once they can discriminate between exposition in literature (characters, setting, and situation) and introductions in informational text (claim and supporting evidence), they can easily spot the difference.

Understanding the author’s purpose, as well as the difference between genres of fiction and nonfiction, sets the stage for greater reading comprehension.

About the Author

Brenda Kovich enjoyed teaching for more than 35 years. During that time, she was named teacher of the year in two school districts and earned National Board Certification as a Middle Childhood Generalist. Currently, Brenda supports upper elementary teachers by blogging and creating instructional materials.

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