Defining Nonfiction


The beginning of the school year often begins with a discussion of the broad genres of fiction and nonfiction.  In hopes to be a better nonfiction teacher I have finally started reading this text.

Did you know…

  • that all writing was nonfiction at the beginning of time?
  • the genre of fiction was not found in print until the 1400s and was defined as “an invention of the mind.”
  • it wasn’t until 1909 that the genre nonfiction was created to classify any book as being “not fiction.”
  • teachers in grades 1-12 were asked how they define the word nonfiction and most said “informational texts.”
  • nonfiction often requires MORE background knowledge than reading fiction does.

Here is the best quote from the beginning of this text:

  • We wouldn’t argue with telling students that nonfiction texts offer information.  But when we tell students that nonfiction means true, then we have created a potential conflict for them because there is a great deal that is classified as nonfiction that happens to be inaccurate, untrue, and occasionally even deceitful. p. 16

Here are some warnings about telling students nonfiction means TRUE:

  • we excuse them from the task of deciding if the text is accurate, free of biases, or contradicts their thinking.
  • we imply that their job is simply to learn and absorb the information in the text.
  • The author is not offering the TRUTH, but one vision of the truth.

So, reading nonfiction is about challenge and change!  Readers must:

  • question the text
  • question the author
  • question their understanding
  • possibly change their views

The authors recommend this definition of nonfiction:

Nonfiction is the body of work in which the author purports to tell us about the real world, a real experience, a real person, an idea, or a belief. p. 21

What is your definition of nonfiction?  Are you willing to change it?



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