Using Non-Fiction Texts to Analyze Fiction

In preparation for the Common Core exams and college and career readiness, students need to practice using one text to talk about another. One way to do this is to have students use one non-fiction text as a lens to analyze a story or poem. Purposefully pairing our fictional texts with non-fiction texts is a great way to get students engaging in the type of high-level reading and writing skills they need to be successful in the future. This type of rhetorical reading and synthesis provides deep insight into the great stories and poems we have grown to love.

So how can we use non-fiction texts as a lens to analyze fiction? First, purposefully select a non-fiction text that can be used as a lens to analyze a story or poem. We recommend researching a writer in order to learn what has influenced or motivated him/her to write.

Many stories and poems have a purpose beyond entertainment. Take the novel Lord of the Flies by William Golding, for example. This fictional story was partly motivated by Thomas Hobbes’ philosophy on the state of nature. Although Golding’s story was influenced by the historical and political times in which he lived, Golding is curious about what a group of young boys would do if law and order is removed. Students could use Hobbes’ argument as a lens to analyze this experiment. Students can examine what happens to a society when the central power is removed and no longer keeping "man" from quarreling. Here is a sample prompt.

The theme of Lord of the Flies as described by William Golding, "is an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature." In this story, Golding explores the ethical nature of individuals and the power they have to shape society regardless of law and order.

Write a paper in which you analyze the "defects of human nature" in the novel Lord of the Flies. Explain how the ethical nature of the boys erode any sense of law and order on the island. As part of your analysis, use Thomas Hobbes’ concept of the "state of nature" to examine the boys’ behavior. Using examples from the text, show the struggle between the desire to be good and the overwhelming force of evil.

Another way to use non-fiction texts as a lens to analyze fiction or poetry is to synthesize ideas from two texts by the same writer. For instance, students can read William Golding’s "Why Boys Become Vicious" before they read Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Students can use the argument that Golding makes in "Why Boys Become Vicious" as a lens to analyze his novel. Specifically, students can point to places in the story where they see Golding’s argument that he makes in his article, "Why Boys Become Vicious."

Let’s look at two more examples. Students can use Elie Wiesel’s 1986 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech and his stated motivation for living as a lens to analyze Wiesel’s Night. Students can identify events in his memoir that illustrate and convey his life message that is revealed in his acceptance speech. Here is a sample prompt.

Summarize the argument Elie Wiesel makes in his 1986 Nobel Peace Prize speech. What does he say about apathy and inaction? What lessons did he learn as a holocaust survivor and what does he want the world to understand? How does he use his holocaust memoir, Night, to illuminate his message? Does he successfully convey his message through his story, Night?

This last example pairs a drama and a poem together. Students can use Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun to answer the question posed in Langston Hughes’ poem "Harlem": "What happens to a dream deferred?" They can use examples from Hansberry’s 1957 play to support their position on deferred dreams. They could also work to answer this question: Why did Lorraine Hansberry title her play, A Raisin in the Sun? A final option would be to study the Harlem Renaissance and analyze where Hansberry’s work reflects the style, attitude, and beliefs of this powerful movement in African American history.

This type of lens work--using one text to talk about another--will develop the rhetorical and analytical skills students need to be ready for Common Core expectations and college level reading and writing.

Think about the stories you teach. How can you use non-fiction to raise the level of rigor and increase student motivation?

The Conversation

Mrs. Wosika Mrs. Wosika 10/16/2013

In teaching The Outsiders, CCSS has allowed for me to think beyond the literary aspect of the novel, and focus on the social issues evident in the story. For example, I have incorporated critical reading strategies using non-fiction articles on juvenile curfew, substance abuse, stereotyping/prejudice and how the teenage brain develops. We have also watched short videos on a variety of these topics as I continue to look for ways to not only engage my students but tie in common core standards.

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