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Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

12.07.12Rainforests, Euthanasia and Embedding Non-fiction

Those of you who have been to our reading workshops are up-to-date on “Embedded Non-fiction”—the idea of teaching non-fiction by combining it with a novel.  Rather than reading de-contextualized articles to practice reading non-fiction—the Civil War today; the naked mole rat tomorrow—you’d choose topics that develop and add depth to topics raised by the novel you’re studying, thereby providing more background knowledge to assist in comprehending the novel and more context—especially emotional context—to understand the non-fiction.

I saw a great example of non-fiction embedding in Dave Javsicas’ class at Troy Prep today.  His seventh graders were reading Lord of the Flies which is set, as you probably know, on a deserted tropical island after a plane full of a group of school boys crashes there.  Today Dave read an article about tropical rainforests—lots of juicy scientific detail but also a great opportunity to ask “how do you think it felt to be living in a place like this in your woolen school uniform and after having lived all your life in England?”

Last year Dave used the final scenes from Of Mice and Men as a prompt to read an article about euthanasia—was it moral? legal? under what circumstances? How did that help make sense of the right or wrong in what George does to Lenny at the end?

Anyone else have any great embedding moments recently?

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5 Responses to “Rainforests, Euthanasia and Embedding Non-fiction”

  1. March 13, 2013 at 1:45 am

    For a 5th grade unit, the anchor text was Esperanza Rising. While reading this as an anchor text, every Monday our team dedicated the literacy block to a non-fiction close read. Topics covered were articles related to immigration law, short reads on the Great Depression, social classes, migrant farm workers grape strike and Cesar Chavez. Each week the close read non-fiction article was tied to an upcoming part of the corresponding anchor text. It helped to build prior knowledge and have engaging conversations around some of the characters experiences.

  2. Matt Wheeland
    January 23, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    Ah, I get embedded reading now. Thanks Doug. I’m guessing reading articles, over time, can become disjointed in the minds of the students whereas the book provides cohesiveness. It’s probably easier to review to content that way too. Instead of asking, “Remember that one article? No, not that one, the other one,” you can say, “Compare this concept to our fictional book, on page 64.”

  3. Jeff McAlpine
    February 6, 2018 at 9:24 pm

    Love this approach. I’ve been trying to sell this approach to reading teachers at my school, and this blog helps tremendously. As a science teacher I had the opposite issue. I always had a huge emphasis on nonfiction text, but I found that this approach was incomplete. I supplemented my nonfiction topics with excerpts from fictional texts.

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