If asked to think about a text read in school, most of us would immediately picture a play, novel, or poem. Teaching fiction is a central part of teaching English Literature, but you should never underestimate the importance of teaching non-fiction.
Most English teachers like to read fiction, and it can certainly seem like the most accessible type of writing. Literary classics such as Alice in Wonderland and The Chronicles of Narnia have stood the test of time for a reason. They’re engaging, exciting and can transport the reader into another world. Fictional universes such as Lord of the Rings’ Middle Earth are so iconic that characters such as Legolas and Gandalf are instantly recognisable. Many works such as Harry Potter and The Hunger Games have also been adapted into hugely successful films that make the books even more accessible. Shakespeare has been adapted so many times in fact that there are more adaptations than originals. Be that as it may, some students just won’t respond well to this type of writing. However, the same students who find anything fictional to be unappealing may find working with non-fiction text a lot more engaging. After all, there’s a big difference between using words to talk about reality instead of fantasy. By incorporating a greater range of non-fiction prose, you’re going to appeal to a wider range of students.
Non-fiction writers arguably use language more directly and purposefully than fiction writers. Most non-fiction is considerably shorter, and the aim of the piece tends to be unambiguous. Taking writing cues from such texts can be extremely beneficial for students who will be expected to write in a similar manner for their own exams. If you’re focusing on non-fiction, you can take the opportunity to improve your student’s writing. You can even have your students write quick articles based on nothing more than what happened to them the previous day.
Finally, keep in mind that non-fiction writing is how we receive most of our information about the outside world. You might be teaching English, but considering non-fiction text provides a valuable way to expose your students to the outside world. Not that GCSE or A-Level students will be completely unaware of what’s going on, but you can still broaden their horizons. Non-fiction can be written one day, printed the next morning, and then studied by your students on the same afternoon. Fiction just doesn’t present that sense of immediacy.