8 Nonfiction Book Excerpts Worth Teaching in ELA

Let’s challenge some nonfiction norms for a moment.

Who says that books written for adults can't be shown to students?
Who says we have to assign the entire book for teaching and learning to take place?
Why not show students small bits of the most delicious nonfiction to shown them what's REALLY out there?

Whether you’re pressed for time, don’t have enough copies, or aren’t so sure you WANT students to read the whole book, there are serious benefits to giving students even just ONE chapter of a fantastic nonfiction book.

Reading plenty of nonfiction authors boosts vocabulary and critical thinking, but it also helps introduce students to new writing styles so their own essays and nonfiction writing can evolve. Not unlike the perks of an “article of the week” program, giving students single chapters or small samples of different authors’ arguments and writing styles is immensely beneficial… and, even better, you may persuade some of those students to go GET the book and continue reading the REST of it. (Some books are so fascinating that they sell themselves!)

(Plus, according to my school librarian, we can legally photocopy up to 10% of a book and give it to students under “fair use” educational guidelines. That’s often about one chapter.)

Check out this starter list of 8 nonfiction books that can easily offer a good chapter for a short read!

  • These vary greatly in length, content, and difficulty.
  • I tried to avoid some of the commonly recommended ones (like I Am Malala, No Summit Out of Sight, Nickel and Dimed, Bird by Bird, On Writing, How to Read Literature like a Professor, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, and Freakonomics).
  • For even more ideas, you’re more than welcome to stalk my GoodReads shelves.

FREE Activity Page:
For any of these chapters (or other titles), you can use this "I Say/We Say" activity to help students independently and collaboratively react to a text! (There's also room at the bottom for you to add your own custom, text-dependent question.) Download it here!

Excerpt #1

Great Quote: “...the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play” (Gladwell 38).

Why I Picked It: It’s fantastic for showing students that dedication really does pay off, and that most celebs got where they are through serious investments of time and effort. (Growth mindset, anyone?)

FYI: This is a slightly long/difficult read for middle school, but not impossible. Gladwell uses a combination of (dry) storytelling AND statistics to make his points.

How to Teach It: Use this reading as your launchpad for a debate or discussion of what implications the 10k-Hour Rule has for teenagers. (For example: is it better for students to immerse in a skill/hobby, or should they be well-rounded?)

Excerpt #2:

Great Quote: “What factors inside our high schools would lead a senior to declare she is not really interested in books, pages, and words? What is causing readicide?” (Gallagher 5).

Why I Picked It: (Gasp) Yes, sometimes you can share parts of a book originally written for teachers! When students read all the statistics about how many students are bad at reading or don’t do it, the data may not only justify YOUR teaching practices but motivate them to not “be a statistic” themselves.

FYI: Since this chapter is critical of the American education system, you might hesitate to give this to students, but for me, the value here is in all of the data Gallagher gives.

How to Teach It: Perhaps teach this before a reading unit (or launch of an independent reading program); it could also be a debate-starter about what students should be required to read (and how often).

Excerpt #3:
Great Quote: “The simplest way to describe the development of HONY over the past five years is this: it’s evolved from a photography blog to a storytelling blog” (Stanton 1).

Why I Picked It: Yes, this book is more photos than text; most of the text is short photo captions (and not as long as the stories posted on HONY’s Facebook page). BUT, this book is a secret weapon for students who desperately need to see a diverse world.

FYI: Some pages are more appropriate than others. Preview and choose pages selectively if you teach in a conservative setting.

How to Teach It: This book is fantastic for multiple perspectives (right before To Kill a Mockingbird and walking in someone else’s shoes, perhaps?) and for INSPIRATION (like memoir, fiction, or poetry writing). Click here to see my memoir reading & writing unit!

Excerpt #4:

Great Quote: “The audience… suddenly grew silent as they took in his words. He was reaching their minds, but he could do that only after he had touched their hearts” (Gallo 44).

Why I Picked It: It talks about the great content AND style of storytelling, ranging from delivery to ethos/pathos/logos, all given through his examples and stories of real TED speakers.

FYI: Chris Anderson also has a really excellent book about how to give a TED Talk (and its ethos is better than Gallo’s), but Gallo’s book is an easier read for grades 7-12 in my opinion.

How to Teach It: Read this before your next speech unit (whether that’s WRITING speeches and learning what to DO, or READING speeches and learning what to CRITIQUE). For more public speaking lessons, check out my Intro to Public Speaking with TED mini-unit!

Excerpt #5:

Great Quote: “Students who graduated on schedule were grittier, and grit was a more powerful predictor of graduation than how much students cared about school, how conscientious they were about their studies, and even how safe they felt at school” (Duckworth 11).

Why I Picked It: Yes, I’ve seen Duckworth’s TED talk (below), but I find the book to be even better. It’s the ultimate argument in favor of hard work and why ALL students should try hard, even if they don’t feel smart.

How to Teach It: There’s more than one great application and infinite timing possibilities (new year?), but from a writing standpoint, this is a great chapter to raise the question, “How did the author gradually build her argument?”

Excerpt #6:

Great Quote: “Winning behavior is intentional, on purpose, and skillful” (Meyer 27).

Why I Picked It: Even if you’re not an Ohio State fan like me (O-H!), this book is still critically relevant for any class that needs to hear messages about perseverance, leadership, and self-monitoring behavior. I was so impressed by just the first few chapters that I wished I could buy a class set. It may also pull in some of my reluctant male readers.

FYI: Though there are anecdotes based on his 2014 championship football team, you don’t have to understand football to understand and appreciate this chapter.

How to Teach It: Time this strategically in a moment of perseverance or growth mindset, which could include the beginning of the year, the start of second semester, or any other time when such qualities in your students are lagging.

Excerpt #7:

Great Quote: “Take at least 20 minutes every day to be still and quiet. Reflect. Dissect your thoughts and feelings. Relive any mistakes from the day before. Decide how to be smarter and tougher, how to be more committed and considerate of others” (Beyonce).

Why I Picked It: This book is an anthology of chapters from different celebrities, which will appeal to many students. There’s something to be said for a book that gives wisdom straight from the mouths of experts!

FYI: Kind of like HONY, some chapters are better (and cleaner) than others, so hand-pick what you want YOUR class to read instead of just passing around the entire book. For example, Mario Batali’s chapter is great one and just has one swear word that you could easily Sharpie out.

ALSO, this book is from 2011, so there are some authors featured who are a little controversial now (like Bill Cosby, Matt Lauer, Donald Trump, etc.), but so many of the OTHER celebs are SO good that I can’t omit recommending this book anyway.

How to Teach It: There’s SUCH a range of stories in this book that you can either 1) find one that suits what you’re teaching now/next, 2) pick several to match to different students, or 3) choose a few to read at set intervals (like article of the week 2.0).

Excerpt #8:

Great Quote: “I accept [the Nobel Peace Prize] on behalf of a civil rights movement which is moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger to establish a reign of freedom and a rule of justice” (King 105).

Why I Picked It: We do a great disservice to Dr. King when we only teach his “Dream” speech. Each text in this book could be its own lesson, if not unit! You can’t go wrong with teaching any of these as your excerpt.

How to Teach It: The sky’s the limit. Annotate for grammar (parallel structure), rhetorical or literary devices (hypophora or allusion), or just the content itself. (For more teaching resources about reading, writing, or giving good speeches, click here!)

Want even more nonfiction ideas?
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