Why Teaching Fiction Matters
Research tells us that reading proficiency is highly correlated with the amount of reading that students do. More reading results in higher reading achievement, and higher achievement in reading leads students to even more reading and more learning! One way to increase students’ volume of reading is to provide them with reading materials that they find interesting, that are of varied genres, and allow students to connect to the events in the stories.
In this article, I will describe my experiences as a classroom teacher and a district curriculum specialist with fictional texts and how I used these engaging texts as a doorway to teach students complex comprehension standards.
The first step in this process was ensuring students had access to fictional texts with the following attributes:
Contained diverse characters
Allowed for cross-curricular content connections
Attention-grabbing covers and illustrations
I wanted students to be engaged with the readers I was using for small-group instruction, like the way they were engaged with books from the school library and retail bookstores. The attributes listed above are what I used as criteria for choosing readers for my classrooms.
After the fictional texts were selected, myself and the teachers I worked with were able to focus on two very important elements of any literature lesson: story structure and close reading.
I want to point out that teaching students to recognize the structure of stories in the classroom lays the foundation for developing more complex reading comprehension skills. If you have ever taught students how to determine the theme of a story or even summarize an entire story, you know how difficult it can be for students to respond correctly if they lack a basic understanding of the story.
In the grades that I taught and in the schools that I worked with, story structure is what we tackled first before moving on to the complex literature standard for the week. The focus was simple. In grades K-2, students were taught to identify the characters, setting, events, problem, and solution within a story. In grades 3-5, they were taught to identify the main and secondary characters, setting(s), main events, conflict, and resolution of the fictional stories they read. Now, all of this happened with plenty of modeling at the beginning of each school year, but I found that it made my life, and the lives of my teachers much easier throughout the year.
With this foundation of learning being completed at the beginning of lessons, we were able to move swiftly through certain skills like determining the theme of a story, making inferences, and summarizing stories.
This is a great recommendation for any teacher wanting to simplify the more complex literature standards we are tasked with teaching yearly.
Close reading is another powerful way to explore fictional text. This is not the same as rereading. Instead, students dive into a small component of the text. They use the mechanics of the text—sentence structure, word choice, language features—to deeply comprehend the author’s work. This also allowed my students to then read for a purpose. Something that was easily transferable to nonfiction text.
By returning to a short text or a small excerpt from a longer text, my students were able to dig deep to reveal layers of meaning created by the author. A few of the more common questions that were asked of my students during this time were:
What is the author telling me?
Are there any hard or important words?
What does the author want me to understand?
How does the author play with language to add to meaning?
This time with my students also allowed me to teach a very important skill, once again used for more types of texts, annotating. When students learn how to annotate text, the likelihood that they will return to those annotations increases. I always found that the most difficult part of my literacy block was getting my students to go back into the story or text to find an answer to a question. To this day, I still don’t have the magic answer for how to get ALL students to complete this task that seems so easy to us educators. I can say that requiring my students to annotate the text with close reading strategies helped.
Involve Parents & Caregivers
Research also tells us the importance of involving parents and families in students’ reading development. Every practice you have just read about can easily be transferred into the home. Rather than assigning my students a reading log each night to complete, you know the ones where they read for 20-30 minutes each night and then write two sentences about what they read, then get their parents or caregivers signature. Well, most of my students completed that on the bus ride to school and had a classmate sign. To ensure they were engaging with meaningful reading each night, I assigned them a graphic organizer to complete each night or throughout the week with longer stories. During parent conferences, I found that it served as a good discussion starter in the home and made the work at home purposeful.
I hope you find the information in this article helpful and would like to learn more about what you have read. If that is the case, then you will hear more about why teaching fiction matters in the classroom and how it can be used to produce more proficient readers on September 21st, 2022 during my live webinar.
Join Alan Becker for a free on-demand webinar on Why Teaching Fiction Matters.
For students, fiction is everywhere! In the classroom, in the library, on the television, on their devices. Teaching how to navigate fictional text effectively in the classroom will allow students to practice their comprehension of fictional story structures in any environment. In this webinar, we will examine and experience the joy and engagement that fiction text brings to students while providing the key purposes for using it during instruction.
In this webinar, participants will:
Discover the features that students look for in fiction text for maximum engagement.
Learn how fictional story structures are produced and how to use them for comprehension.
Acquire engaging strategies to use in the classroom immediately when teaching with fictional text.
Watch the on-demand webinar at your own pace.