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ReadWriteThink Connections: English Journal Vol. 105, No. 4 (March 2016)

ReadWriteThink, created by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the International Literacy Association (ILA), provides free instructional practices and digital resources that support effective reading and language arts instruction for all learners. Most articles in English Journal include connections to ReadWriteThink lesson plans and other resources.



Nonfiction: A True Story
The best nonfiction books for teens defy simple distinctions between the dryness of fact and the pleasures of fiction. They draw on photos, interviews, and archival documents to bring the past to life or introduce readers to previously untold stories. In this podcast episode from, you’ll hear about new nonfiction books that explore, among other things, the role of women in the NASA space program, the Civil Rights Movement, and the experiences of Arab American youth in the post-9/11 era.

"Why doesn't anyone know this story?": Integrating Critical Literacy and Informational Reading
Over the past year, conversations on social media have drawn new attention to the lack of diversity in children’s and young adult literature. Statistics can help us see the problem, but they don’t capture its effects on readers’ lives and dreams. As illustrator Christopher Myers put it, if books function as maps that help young people decide where they want to go, our too-white literature offers young people a flawed cartography.
Even if they are few in number, diverse books do exist. Tune in to this podcast from to hear about recently published YA titles that celebrate diversity in a range of genres. There’s something for every reader here: comic book superheroes, civil rights history, love stories, humorous essays, poetry, artwork, and stories of suspense.

Using Nonfiction to Enhance Our Teaching of Literature 
This lesson invites students to explore the things relevant to a character from Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun, such as Mama’s plant, to unlock the drama’s underlying symbolism and themes. Students explore character traits and participate in active learning as they work with the play. Students use an interactive drama map to explore character and conflict, and then write and share character-item poems.

Using Service Learning to Teach The Other Wes Moore: The Importance of Teaching Nonfiction as Critical Literacy
In this lesson from, students analyze their own schooling experiences by imagining what their education would be like if service learning was a requirement for graduation. They engage in a preliminary classroom debate—either agreeing with the proposed change in curriculum, opposing it, or taking a middle-ground stance—before they have all of the facts. From here, students research service learning and work in groups to prepare informed debates. At the end of this lesson, students reflect on the implications of making uninformed vs. informed arguments as well as what it takes to build a strong, successful argument.

Teaching Good Kids in a m.A.A.d. World: Using Hip-Hop to Reflect, Reframe, and Respond to Complex Realities
This lesson begins by playing the chorus of rapper Kanye West’s “Diamonds from Sierra Leone.” Protest songs serve as a means to combat social ills and cover a wide array of topics, including racism, sexism, poverty, imperialism, environmental degradation, war, and homophobia. This lesson makes a connection to popular culture by asking students to work in pairs to research and analyze contemporary and historic protest songs. After learning about wikis, each pair posts their analysis of the protest songs to a class wiki, adding graphics, photos, and hyperlinks as desired. The class then works together to organize the entries. Finally, students listen to all of the protest songs and add information and comments to each other’s pages.

More Than a Reading Assignment: Using Nonfiction Texts as Mentor Texts
This lesson from provides an introduction to the use of factual information in creative writing. Students first examine texts to identify how a published author incorporates facts in fiction writing by reading and questioning the books Diary of a Worm, Diary of a Spider, and Diary of a Fly (Cronin). After conducting inquiry on their own to gather facts on a topic decided on by the class, students use their facts to write several diary entries collaboratively that will contribute to a class book modeled on the mentor texts. Finally, students peer review each other’s work, and revise and edit their own writing before using the Multigenre Mapper interactive to publish their work.

Using Nonfiction to Advocate for Change
Learning from past mistakes can help prevent one from repeating those mistakes. The purpose of this lesson is to educate students about the past and prepare them to become concerned and active students. Students study the experience of European Jewish citizens during the Holocaust. Through a reading of a novel set during the Holocaust period, students gain a better understanding of the social injustices and atrocities that occurred. Students then research the experience of the Cherokees during the Trail of Tears and the Japanese Americans during World War II. To compare these three events, students use an online Venn diagram tool. Students write about their reactions to these events in journals and discuss them during class. Critical thinking is encouraged to allow students to come to their own conclusions about these events.

From the Scroll to the Screen: Why Letters, Then and Now, Matter
In “The Correspondence Project: A Lesson of Letters,” students practice writing effective letters for a variety of real-life situations, such as responding to a prompt on a standardized test, corresponding with distant family members, or communicating with a business. They begin by reviewing the differences between business and friendly letter formats, using examples and a Venn diagram. Next, students write two letters, choosing from a list of prompts that include letters for varying audiences and purposes. After completing drafts and revisions, students complete their final versions using an online tool.

Emotional Truth with Fictional Images: Reading and Writing Nonfiction Comics in the Secondary Classroom
Certain kinds of texts ask for both descriptive and instructional writing: comic book scripting requires the writer to give the artist detailed, descriptive instructions while also crafting exciting dialogue and otherwise rich language. In this lesson from, students encounter an authentic writing experience designed to get them thinking about their choices as writers and how they can best get their mental images out of their head and on the page. After exploring how comic books are made and learning terms and techniques associated with the medium, students write their own comic book scripts. They then pass their script to another student, who draws the script as close to form as possible based on the information the writer provided. Although students interact with story elements such as plot, character, and setting as well as with the writing process in brainstorming and drafting, the major focus of this activity is on revision.

Navigating Nonfiction through Drama: Using Choral Reading to Create a Transaction with the Text
Connecting literature to students’ lived experiences in the school and classroom, this lesson provides an opportunity for students to learn about situations of intolerance and discuss ways to move to a more ideal world in which acceptance is the norm. Starting with the picture book Whoever You Are, students discuss embracing diversity. The class then compares the ideal to realistic situations that they face in their own school as well as those portrayed in the books Weslandia and Insects Are My Life. Students then study, create, and perform two-voice texts that shows how they can move closer to the ideal of accepting all types of diversity.

Using Memorials to Build Critical Thinking Skills and Empathy
In this lesson, students will develop their understanding of writing and local history by creating their own historical markers. They begin by studying historical markers in their own communities and then draft content for an unmarked historical location.

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