“You can almost see their brains turn on,” Dave Crumbine says of his students reading nonfiction


Nine years ago, I hatched a plan to help my students fall in love with nonfiction. I asked colleagues to clip interesting nonfiction articles so I could laminate them and place them in bins on the students’ tables. I imagined that my students would peruse the articles when they had a free moment, and fall in love with nonfiction naturally over time.

My plan flopped. My colleagues had plenty to do without clipping articles for me, and I sincerely doubt my students would have read them in their free time anyway.    

Today, my classroom is a vastly different place. My students pore over Newsela articles several times a week. They ponder, laugh, gasp, question and share articles with each other. Their ability to analyze nonfiction and their understanding of the world have soared.

My students start fifth grade with very little prior knowledge about history and current events. I teach at KIPP Academy, a charter middle school in southwest Houston. The majority of my students are Latino or African-American, and 92 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price meals.

In my classroom, students have to earn the privilege of using Newsela. There are some fundamental skills — such as basic grammar and spelling rules — that they must master before I give them the Newsela class code.

We read Newsela articles in many different ways. We read some articles together. Sometimes I read half of an article aloud and students read the rest on their own. Other times, students select and read articles independently in class or at home. After finishing an article, each student takes a quiz, either a Newsela quiz or one I create. They’re working toward a goal of reading 20 articles per quarter and scoring 70 percent or higher on each quiz.

Some students gravitate toward fiction more than nonfiction at first, but I think we find fiction fascinating when it seems real. Once students realize that nonfiction gives us all the reality we could want, they’re hooked. You can almost see their brains turn on. I love this moment.


Dave Crumbine is a fifth-grade English teacher and Vice Principal at KIPP Academy in Houston, Texas. He has taught for the past 17 years, 15 of which have been at his current school, and is one of 50 teachers featured in the book American Teacher: Heroes in the Classroom by Katrina Fried. Originally from Connecticut, Dave adores his wife and children, loves cleaning, and punishes himself with grueling Shaun T workouts. 

Written by Erika Dunham

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