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Pairing informational texts with literary classics

MONDAY, JUNE 22, 2015 10:15 AM

According to the Common Core State Standards, by the end of elementary school, students should be reading fictional and informational texts in equal amounts. By the time middle school is almost over, their reading should be split about 55 percent informational and 45 percent fictional. And when students are finishing up high school, that split is more like 70/30, with the majority of students' days spent on nonfiction informational reading. Although some English/language arts teachers fear that this means spending less time on literary favorites, others have found that one of the best ways to handle this shift to informational texts is by pairing them with the literature they're already teaching in class. Here's how:

Finding a theme
Teachers love introducing students to literary classics like "The Catcher in the Rye," "Tom Sawyer" or "To Kill a Mockingbird," but not just because they're the educators' favorites. Classic literature has a lot of cultural and historical merit, and many literary works are referenced often in people's lives. So, the idea behind introducing informational texts as supplementary material for these literary favorites is that it allows students to still gain this important social and cultural knowledge. To use informational texts with literature, the first thing teachers must do is come up with an overarching theme for the unit. For instance, while reading Shakespeare's "Macbeth," teachers could tie the play in with texts and discussions about mental illness. And a unit surrounding George Orwell's "1984" could connect to the role the government plays in our lives.

The benefits of using informational texts
There are tons of resources teachers can use as nonfictional or informational texts, including news stories, scholarly articles and studies, editorials, letters, biographies, nonfiction books and more. One of the values of teaching with these types of texts is that it provides students with some relevancy between the literature and what's happening in the world around them. Plus, it helps students learn how to make connections between nonfiction books and their themes. Perhaps, as they progress through school, children will be better able to discern why reading a certain literary work is important. Some teachers say that students become noticeably more engaged when they're able to discuss and debate themes that are relevant to their own lives. 

"I was in a class once and the bell rang, and the kids wouldn't leave, because they were having a strong debate about whether privacy was more important than security," Suzane Thomas, an educator from New York, told The New York Times.