Celebrate: Challenging Presumptions

This week I chose the last read aloud of our nonfiction unit. I wanted it to showcase the genre and lead into the next unit on advocacy. I wanted a book with a strong narrative and a supporting expository text. I wanted a book that could foster an understanding of advocacy. Nonfiction reading lends itself to advocacy thinking. It’s natural to read about an issue or an event and react. Thoughts of “that’s not right” are the immediate response to mistreatment or abuse.

Looking through my pile of books I chose this:


Many of my students had The One and Only Ivan as a read aloud in third grade so I thought the “true story” would be an interesting choice. We could look at the narrative portion of the picture book and then compare it with the expository article in the back of the book. A perfect pairing of the ways nonfiction can go.

But an interesting thing happened on the way. During the narrative portion, students who knew The One and Only Ivan story stopped me saying, “Wait, you left something out,” and ” Yeah, that’s not the way it goes.”  Those comments led to an explanation of true versus real versus imagined.

Ok, that’s solved I thought. Nice that we clarified that.

We started reading again. Then we got to the page that showed the two baby gorillas in the dark, damp crate, and they stopped me again.

T: How could the writer know how it looked?

Me: She imagined how it might have looked and felt and then she wrote it, and the illustrator drew it.

S: Wait, I thought this was true.

J: How could the writer say this is the true story?

Ah, what a slippery slope the nonfiction world presents. They are entirely correct. Nonfiction doesn’t always mean “true.”

With that, I handed it back to them asking, “What do you think? Should this be called the true story?” Better them debating than me explaining. They wrote in their notebooks and then turned to their reading group to discuss.

I thought the text would be a good ending to nonfiction. I thought it would be a good segway to advocacy because of the people who protested Ivan’s situation in the mall. Little did I know that it would get us to reexamine the very nature of nonfiction and introduce our argument writing unit.

It’s remarkable. What we don’t see. What we don’t know. The unpredictable outcomes students offer us.

This week I celebrate the power of read aloud, writers like Katherine Applegate, and students who challenge what I presume.

Thank you to Ruth Ayers, who asks us to celebrate each week. Connect with others who celebrate here.

13 thoughts on “Celebrate: Challenging Presumptions

  1. I love how you embrace the fact that your students are always questioning. This is how they roll. And you embrace that about them.

  2. This is such an incredible account of learning where students really are in their thinking and developing understanding. It emerged from them. Was facilitated by you. And allowed to deepen by the time you gave it. Wonderful post.

  3. Have you read Beers & Probst’s Nonfiction Notice and Note? I love how they approach nonfiction. “Fiction invites us into the writer’s imagined world; nonfiction intrudes into ours and purports to tell us something about it.” We need to approach nonfiction with some skepticism. What is the author’s bias? I think your kids have demonstrated that approach. Powerful lesson!

  4. This also touches on a lesson in examining history texts, who wrote it & what is their background, what stereotypes do they bring to their words, etc.? I like that you threw away the assumption and listened to the students’ queries, Julieanne. They’ve made good points, haven’t they? I wonder if there are questions to ask in every n-f book?

    • You are so right! We need to look at POV. The writer’s lens colors every word. And it is so important to teach students this. Just because it is in the newspaper doesn’t mean it’s TRUE. Citizens need to be critical consumers of information!

  5. We’re doing this work in out class now – always on the lookout for the author’s stance or bias. I think this is a critical piece of our teaching lives. Our kids now more than ever, need to know how to sift through bias.

  6. What a fantastic teaching moment. We are doing a unit in third grade called “Read Like a Scientist” which also calls on students to question as they read. Your students are truly questioning the text, the author, and more here. It’s great that they are becoming informed consumers by practicing this questioning of what they are seeing.

  7. Thank you for posting about this! My students struggle with the real vs. fiction. It’s tough to work through. I love the idea of using this book as a read aloud. It certainly sparked lots of questions and thinking. LOVE this, Julieanne! Thank you!

  8. We’re busy talking about nonfiction and fiction and biography in our book club right now. Love the questions your students ask. “Nonfiction doesn’t always mean true.”
    There’s a lot to think about in your post. Kudos to you for a classroom that thinks and questions!

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