Teaching the Two Sides of Writing – Fiction and Nonfiction

Teaching the two sides of writing is the essential piece in your ELA block. First and foremost, kids must understand structures of fiction and nonfiction writing. Fiction writing uses a story arc. Nonfiction writing is built like a hamburger. Once they know this, their reading and writing improve.

Teaching the Two Sides of Writing

When you’re ready for teaching the two sides of writing, just stretch your arms out wide. On the right, we find the fiction, or literature, side. In most cases, we use a story arc to organize these pieces. On the left, we’ll place nonfiction. Many times (with the big exception of personal narrative, including biography), informational texts use a structure similar to a hamburger.

When you teach the two sides of writing, kids understand that the fiction side is usually written with a story arc, and the nonfiction side uses a hamburger.
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Additionally, you can discuss how the right hand side holds expressive writing, while the left side includes informative. For example, literature and personal narratives express with sensory details and figurative language. On the other hand, argumentative and informative pieces use technical terms.

When kids understand the two sides of writing - expressive and informative - they become better readers and writers.

When Kids Read

Before reading, train kids to ask, “Which side of writing is this?”


If it’s the fiction side, they should expect a story arc. The beginning will introduce the setting and characters. Soon after this, the character’s goal or motivation will be established. As the character tries to reach the goal, obstacles will get in the way. The character struggles along; this is rising action. When the goal is met (or not), we reach the most exciting part of the story, the climax. After that, the action falls, and the plot is resolved.

How helpful is this for finding answers in text? If kids want information about the characters or setting, they should start at the beginning of the story. For the character’s goal, look just after the beginning. When you need to know what problems the character faced, look in the middle. Answers are easy to find because the plot is predictable.

To summarize, kids just need the main parts of the story arc.

  • Write a sentence to explain the characters and setting. A dog was crossing a bridge.
  • Explain the goal. He was carrying a bone home to bury it.
  • Tell the obstacle. Looking down, he saw a dog carrying a larger bone.
  • Express the climax. As he opened his mouth to grab the bigger bone, his bone fell into the water.
  • Provide the resolution. The poor dog now had no bone.

Look at the way the character reacted to obstacles to find the theme. In this case, the dog tried to grab a bigger bone. This shows that he was greedy. Kids will quickly see that the moral is “Don’t be greedy.” The theme of “greed” can be taken away.

Reading comprehension improves when kids recognize the story arc as the main structure used for literature and personal narratives.


If the text is on the nonfiction side, kids should expect a hamburger. The first paragraph is generally introductory, but it many times includes the main idea. The following paragraphs support the main idea with details. Each of those paragraphs likely has a topic sentence, which expresses the main idea of that paragraph and states one key supporting detail. The final paragraph is really important. It almost always has a thesis statement, which clearly expresses the main idea. The conclusion may also list all of the supporting details.

To discriminate between the two sides of writing, show kids how nonfiction text structure can be compared to a hamburger.
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Knowing this structure will help kids answer questions. To find the main idea, look in the first and last paragraphs. Details can be found in the middle. To summarize, students should include the main idea and key supporting details. Drawing a stool like this can help.

A stool can illustrate how to find a main idea in nonfiction writing.

When Kids Write

Teaching the two sides of writing improves writing too. Before beginning a piece, stretch out your arms and help kids figure out where it should fall.

The Fiction Side

Yes, this piece uses a story arc. Kids write the exposition first. This introduces characters and setting. Then they divulge the character’s goal and set them in action to achieve it. Of course, obstacles are expected. This builds tension, which all high quality stories have. Finally, at the climax, the character meets the goal (or not). The story quickly wraps up with a resolution.

Knowing that a piece is on the narrative side also tells kids to use expressive language and dialogue. Using sensory language helps their audience experience the story. Sprinkling in figurative language connects with readers’ personal experiences. Dialogue pulls the audience into the story. It also divulges characters’ motivations.

After students get comfortable with basic story writing, start working on 12 strategies for improving narrative writing.

The Nonfiction Side

To write argumentative and informative pieces (including research papers), kids build a hamburger. In the top bun, they introduce the topic and express the main idea. Each hamburger patty provided a key supporting. The bottom bun restates the key supports and the main idea.

Since it’s on the informative side, this piece contains factual (or at least supported by facts). Language and tone are generally more serious, specific, or even technical. Unless the piece is opinion-based, children don’t use “I” or “you.”

Getting Started with the Two Sides of Writing

Why not begin your school year teaching the two sides of writing? Just stretch your arms out wide. Explain that fiction is on the right and nonfiction is on the left. As the year goes on, add all sorts of terminology to both sides. Kids will soon be talking like writers and reading like pros.

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