Compare And Contrast Fiction And Nonfiction Essay Idea

Focus Question: How does knowing the difference between key ideas and details of  fiction and nonfiction affect how we read a book?

Post two sheets of chart paper on the board; label one “Fiction” and the other “Nonfiction.” Ask, “What is fiction text?” Write students’ ideas under the appropriate heading. (Examples: make-believe stories; stories that have characters, setting, and events; stories in which animals talk)

Ask students, “What is nonfiction text?” Write students’ ideas under the appropriate heading. (Examples: books that are true, books that tell about facts, books that are about real people) “How can nonfiction text be organized? (comparison, cause/effect, or sequence)

Tell students, “I am going to read a book to you. Decide if it is a fiction book or a nonfiction book.” Read aloud Lost in the Woods. Ask partners to discuss whether the book is fiction or nonfiction. Tell students to refer to the chart of characteristics. Have students state a key idea or detail that indicates if the text is fiction or nonfiction. Explain that this is a fictional text, even though it has photos. Ask, “What makes this a fiction book?” (It is a made-up story. The animals act like people.) Ask, “Why did the author choose to write about this topic using fiction rather than nonfiction?”

Tell students, “I am going to read another book. Decide if you think it is fiction or nonfiction.” Read Owen & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship. (Don’t tell students the title.) Ask partners to discuss whether the book is fiction or nonfiction. Again, have students refer to the chart of characteristics. Also, have students identify key ideas and details that support that the text is nonfiction. Discuss. Explain that although this book has characters, a plot, and a setting, it is a nonfiction book. Ask, “What makes this a nonfiction book?” (It is a true story.) Ask, “Why did the author choose this format to tell about Owen and Mzee?”

Display a variety of fiction and nonfiction books. Have students choose a book to read. Some books may require that students read them from cover to cover, while other books may lend themselves to a skim-and-scan method of reading, with which you may need to help students. While students are deciding if their books are fiction or nonfiction, walk around the room to determine whether students understand the differences between the two kinds of texts.

On a sheet of paper, have students write whether they think their book is fiction or nonfiction and why. Encourage them to provide evidence from the text to support their choice and to indicate how the nonfiction texts are organized. Ask partners to switch books and to read each other’s book. Have partners discuss whether they think the books are nonfiction or fiction. You may wish to have students repeat this activity a few times with different partners.

Encourage students to share which type of book they think they have and why they think so. If anyone disagreed with his or her partner, discuss why the partner disagreed, and go through the book to decide if it is fiction or nonfiction.

Ask students if they would like to change any of the ideas they listed on the chart at the beginning of the lesson. For example, students have discovered that fiction books may have photos and that nonfiction books may have characters, a setting, and a plot. Point out that some books may have characteristics of both fiction and nonfiction.


  • For students who need additional practice, suggest that they ask themselves the following questions:
    • Could the story really happen? If the story could not happen, it is fiction.
    • Did the story really happen? If the story really happened, it is nonfiction.
    • How is the story organized? If it has characters and a setting, it may be fiction or nonfiction. If the animals are talking, it is fiction. If it is organized by comparison, cause/effect, or sequence, it is nonfiction.
    • If the story could happen but did not, it is probably fiction.
  • Give students copies of magazine articles and stories with no illustrations. Have students read the text and determine if it is fiction or nonfiction and tell why.
  • Have students who are ready to move beyond the standard choose one of the texts as a mentor text and write a fiction piece and a nonfiction piece that mirrors the mentor text. Discuss how the writing process differs depending on what students are writing.

This interactive guide provides an introduction to the basic characteristics and resources that are typically used when students compose comparison and contrast essays. The Comparison and Contrast Guide includes an overview, definitions and examples. The Organizing a Paper section includes details on whole-to-whole (block), point-by-point, and similarities-to-differences structures. In addition, the Guide explains how graphic organizers are used for comparison and contrast, provides tips for using transitions between ideas in comparison and contrast essays, and includes a checklist, which matches an accompanying rubric.

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