8 Nonfiction Texts That Will Captivate Middle School and High School Students

April 25, 2018

At any grade level, it is easy for English class to be solely a study of fictional literature, but students should be equally immersed in rich nonfiction as well. Here's nonfiction recommendations, many of them memoirs and biographies, that will captivate your middle and high school students.
At any grade level, it is easy for English class to be solely a study of fictional literature, but students should be equally immersed in rich nonfiction as well. Here's nonfiction recommendations, many of them memoirs and biographies, that will captivate your middle and high school students.

1. Night by Elie Wiesel
While perhaps the most well known piece of Holocaust literature, this literary nonfiction is also a coming of age tale. Elie's struggle with his relationship with his father, with his faith, and with his own identity are ones most teenagers face. Wiesel tells his story in simple language and remains fairly objective even in the most painful moments. To supplement my unit on Night I use variety of resources to help students make a personal connection with the Holocaust, such as assigning them the identity of a real Holocaust victim and looking at how food (or lack of) was used as means of control in the ghettos and camps. As not to limit my students knowledge of the holocaust and genocide to a single experience, I also use excerpts of Night as part of a larger unit on genocide.

2. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey
I love teaching the non-fiction book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, by Sean Covey with secondary students. This is a self-help book that provides students with 7 “habits” that will enable them to be more successful and independent individuals. It also helps students to establish clear goals, as well as the steps that must be taken to accomplish these goals. Throughout the book, Covey uses different text structures, specifically compare and contrast and problem and solution, to give students a better idea of the various habits being addressed. This is when I implement my Digital Text Structure Flip Book & Interactive Graphic Organizers in order to have students take notes on the different types of text structures being used, in addition to identifying the examples given in the book.
*Recommended by Lyndsey, Lit with Lyns

3. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
This book made me fall in love with biographies, which I never thought would happen! As a teacher who completely identifies with students who stray away from nonfiction - and especially from biographies - I was stunned at how rich this book is and how quickly it drew me in. I consistently recommend this novel to my advanced freshmen because it is a more complex text, but it's engaging for both boys and girls. I run a book club in my classroom, so students can read any novel they wish. However, this book is always one of my top recommendations during our nonfiction month. For differentiation purposes, it pairs well with other novels (Night, Between Shades of Gray, Salt to the Sea, and All the Light We Cannot See, just to name a few) as a literature circle option. When we study WWII through literature, students engage in self-generated research questions. Unbroken offers a plethora of extension options: eugenics, the Olympics, POW camps, survival at sea, and nihilism, for instance. At the heart of the book is an underlying thematic question to explore with teens: How did Zamperini survive the atrocities he faced, and why are some people more resilient than others?
*Recommended by Melissa from Reading and Writing Haven
At any grade level, it is easy for English class to be solely a study of fictional literature, but students should be equally immersed in rich nonfiction as well. Here's nonfiction recommendations, many of them memoirs and biographies, that will captivate your middle and high school students.

4. The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore
It took many years to implement literature circles effectively in my American Literature class, but now that I’ve done them for a while, I love how they get students to take ownership of their reading and learning. I always include several nonfiction books and recently added The Other Wes Moore. My students are falling in love with this book, and it has a special appeal to my reluctant readers who often need books that have real-world connections. The book, a memoir and biography, tells the stories of two men, both named Wes Moore, who lived within minutes of one another in Baltimore, Maryland. The power of their alternating stories stems from their divergent life paths which occur because of the varied influences in their lives and choices that each makes. No doubt, this compelling novel leads to rich discussions as my students think about their own decisions, and how those choices will affect their own futures.*Recommended by Kim, OCBeachTeacher

5. A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah
Beah's memoir, A Long Way Gone, makes abstract, unpleasant, complicated and relevant topics-- war, genocide, child soldiers-- approachable. His affection for American hip-hop gives readers so far removed from his experiences of war in Sierra Leone a way to connect to him...and a little levity in a book brimming with difficulty. Students come to care about Beah. They learn from his experiences, and make connections between his experiences, their own lives, and and current events.

6. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
I first introduced Into the Wild to a group of students who were struggling to connect to the canonical literature in the course. They were tired of reading bleak stories of the past; they wanted something modern they could relate to. Into the Wild delivers, with a young man in search of meaning, who chooses to travel across the country so he can find it. It's almost a modern version of On the Road. This was a very popular read in my class, with plenty of good fodder for discussions and writing connecting the book to students' own lives.
*Recommended by Betsy Potash from Spark Creativity

7. Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt
Angela's Ashes is well-written and gives students an insight into life in both America and Ireland during The Great Depression. Although the story is very sad there are humorous parts to it. I use this text with seniors as part of our non-fiction unit along with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Into the Wild. While reading Angela’s Ashes, we do some research in the library about the time-period of the novel. It’s interesting to compare the firsthand account in the memoir with articles written about the time-period. After reading, I have students write their own memoirs. I find that students really enjoy reading memoirs like Angela’s Ashes because it’s something that really happened to someone. Often when we read realistic fiction novels (Speak, Monster, etc.), my students will ask me if the book was based on a true story and they get mad when I tell them it’s only fiction.*Recommended by Tammy Manor, Juggling ELA

8. How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg
How They Croaked interests even my most reluctant freshmen readers, and it especially appeals to boys - score! The book is actually a series of mini biographies broken down into bite-sized chunks. Each chapter tells the story of how a different famous person - e.g. - King Tut, Henry VIII, Edgar Allan Poe - croaked. The details are humorous, intriguing, suspenseful, informative, and well-written. I use excerpts from this text in my genre unit, my Shakespeare unit, and (my favorite) during my reading strategies unit. Reading a chapter from How They Croaked is the perfect way to help students practice nonfiction and informational text summarizing skills. Because of the book's design, teachers can easily incorporate differentiation by allowing students to choose the person or chapter they would like to read. I like to expose students to a fraction of this book because they often want to check it out from the library and read more!
*Recommended by Melissa from Reading and Writing Haven

You can find all of my resources for teaching nonfiction skills here.

You Might Also Like

2 comments

  1. I'm always looking for new books to include in my classroom library. These are fantastic recommendations!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you for the recommendations! I've had The Other Wes Moore on my WTR list forever...I need to get that book! :-) I have an Audible subscription, and, luckily, my students this year really like to listen to audiobooks. I have low-level freshmen, so hearing it as they read really pulls them in and helps them get a better understanding of the text. Plus, the narration is so much more engaging than my daily "performance." Hehee! Right now, I'm going to go check out How They Croaked; it sounds perfect! Thank you, again!

    ReplyDelete