Teaching Nonfiction Reading Comprehension In Middle School

Utilize interactive activities to engage students in non-fiction reading.

Teaching non-fiction to middle school students involves far more than simply memorizing historically important dates and names. Students in middle school or junior high typically have the ability to grasp not only non-fiction facts but to understand period and cultural references as well as compare and contrast the material. Teachers should design a lesson plan which incorporates not only contextual reading but comprehension, writing, comparison and technology activities. Interactive projects give students the ability to showcase their knowledge of the subject matter. Student video productions depicting the non-fiction story demonstrate a thorough understanding of not just the text but the importance and cultural influences behind the words.


1. Devise a lesson plan which breaks the reading material into easy-to-complete portions. At the end of each portion, discuss what is read with the students and include a reading comprehension or writing activity before moving forward. Middle school students may have a more difficult time rehashing the unit as a whole. As students progress through the material, add activities such as a story map, story pyramid, Venn diagram and technology small-group project.

2. Create a story map to emphasize the time period, location and main figures of the non-fiction story. Draw text bubbles facing each other at the top of the page. Students list the main figures in one bubble and details about the setting in the other circle drawing. Titles of the five boxes you will draw beneath the circles will depend on the facts outlined in the story. Suggested titles include the problem of the story, two story-event boxes, problem resolution and a conclusion box.

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3. Print a story pyramid for students to complete as either an individual or group activity. Draw a pyramid shape with lines increasing from short to long. Number the lines and instruct students to write specific answers on each line. Sample line questions include: name of the main figure, two words describing the main figure, three words describing the setting, and four words describing an event in the story. Students can refer to the story pyramid when studying for quizzes and tests or when brainstorming before a writing assignment.

4. Instruct students to draw two overlapping circles to create a Venn diagram. Use the exercise to compare and contrast two figures, settings or events contained inside the text. The separate traits or facts appear in the individual portions of each circle and shared attributes are listed in the overlapping space. Students can use the information to write a compare-and-contrast essay about the non-fiction reading assignment.

5. Design a technology-based project so students can showcase their overall understanding from the learning unit. Students can work alone or in groups to create “commercials” for the text, promoting the material as if it were the trailer for a movie. A timeline video could involve students dressing up as the figures in the reading material and offering an oral mini-biographies in chronological order of appearance in the text.