Enhanced English Teacher

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Using Nonfiction texts with Novel Assignments

April 17, 2009 by Tara Seale · 8 Comments · 21st Century Literacy, class assignments, English Resources, To Kill a Mockingbird, Twitter, Videos and iPods

I am trying to introduce nonfiction text with each novel that we are reading in 9th grade English this year.  It is not always easy because I have to substitute the time we would use for close reading of novel passages to cover the nonfiction texts that complement the novel.  I always feel short of time to cover all that I need to cover.

Mortimer Adler said, “In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”

I like to think of Mortimer Adler’s quote when I am stressed that my class may not cover all required readings for the year.  This quote becomes my litany to allow myself and my class to enjoy the novel and absorb it slowly as we spend time considering the significance of specific words, sentences structure, meaningful paragraphs, and thematic chapters in the novel.

We are currently reading To Kill a Mockingbird (TKAM), and I have selected key passages to delve into to and connect to nonfiction text.  We read the start of Chapter 4 in which Scout deliberates over the inadequacies of the Alabama education system.  Students understood the themes present in the passage as they identified with Scout’s description of “endless Projects” and her account of “inch[ing] sluggishly along.”  We also looked up educator John Dewey and the Dewey Decimal System to understand the allusions and references to “Group Dynamics.”

After exploring the passage and discussing its purpose and tone, we related the chapter to an excerpt from Malcolm X’s autobiography called “Learning to Read.”  Although, we read a longer excerpt than the one I have linked.  First, students looked at the date that Malcolm X was born.  They quickly realized that it was most likely the same year that Scout was born.  We discussed the difference and similarities between our fictional white protagonist and what we could infer about a young Malcolm X.  The discussion was rich as I watched my students make connections with the novel and the life of Malcolm X.  We discussed the irony of Malcolm X’s new world of learning opening as he served a prison sentence.

I plan to continue adding pieces to the education theme.  I have asked students to keep their notes, and we will create a class Google Doc next week so that they can compile what they have learned from our class discussions to share with one another.  We watched Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talks video “Schools Kill Creativity.” Students took notes on the video, and we discussed major points of Robinson’s presentation.  I am leading up to a synthesis essay in which I will ask students to pull from all of the sources we have used to write about the relevance of their education in today’s world.  With all of the 21st Century jargon and discussion on the web of how education must change, and we are cheating our children, I would like their opinion.  I think it will be interesting to find out what they have to say.

For once, my students who do not like to read are actually perking up because they may get to fight back by collecting ammunition that is relevant to their lives and frustrations with school… and just maybe I can get them to think critically, read closely, and produce great writing.

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8 Comments so far ↓

  • Using Nonfiction texts with Novel Assignments | Enhanced English … | My Digital Ebook

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  • max weismann

    We are a not-for-profit educational organization, founded by Mortimer Adler and we have recently made an exciting discovery–three years after writing the wonderfully expanded third edition of How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren made a series of thirteen 14-minute videos on the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost.

    Three hours with Mortimer Adler on one DVD. A must for libraries and classroom teaching the art of reading.

    I cannot over exaggerate how instructive these programs are–we are so sure that you will agree, if you are not completely satisfied, we will refund your donation.

    Please go here to see a clip and learn more:


  • Tara Seale

    I just followed your link to the clip. I agree completely with the statements by both Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren, this clip is a treasure. I recently read an excerpt from Adler’s book, How to Read a Book, to my class at Modern English Readings to teach my students how to annotate. I own and recommend the How to Read a Book, and I agree with Adler’s statements in the clip. My students tell me they would read if they could pick the books, but when I ask for a list of the books they would pick, the list is always light reading that does not challenge the mind. In the clip, Adler addresses the reasons why everyone should read challenging text. Thank you!

  • Tara Seale

    Sometimes I don’t write html correctly, but at least I managed to underline the book title.:)

  • News Affecting Alabama High Schools for 04/18/2009 « Alabama High Schools

    [...] Title: Using Nonfiction texts with Novel Assignments | Enhanced English … [...]

  • Candace Follis

    I’m very impressed by how well you blended the nonfiction into your unit! Are there any other units you’ve done this with that you’d like to share with a newbie? I’m hoping to weave more nonfiction in next year (thanks to the EC Ning, and this post) and I’m still nervous that I like the breadth of knowledge to do this unassisted! Thanks for sharing!

  • Tara Seale

    @Candace Thank you for your response. Please look around on my teacher assignment page for my English 9 class to see if there is anything that interests you English 9 Wiki. I will continue to write up my ideas and lessons on this blog as well.

  • Candace Follis


    Thanks for the link and I will be reading your blog from now on. I just wanted to say that up to this point, I had been sort of anti-wikispaces, but YOURS is very well organized and I’m impressed by it. Many I’ve looked at hold info that almost appears to be at a disadvantage by the way it’s formatted, but you have really utilized the space. Awesome!

    Thanks for sharing!

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