Just kidding, I already love research projects.  🙂  But I’m always looking for new and wonderful ways to teach non-fiction in the classroom.  As we know, there’s already a strong non-fiction emphasis in the Common Core and local state standards.

In an excerpt from an Educational Leadership article (December 2012/January 2013 | Volume 70 | Number 4
Common Core: Now What? Pages 80-82), the author states that “one reason reading nonfiction may be so important is that it helps students develop their background knowledge, which itself accounts for as much as 33 percent of the variance in student achievement (Marzano, 2000). Background knowledge becomes more crucial in the later elementary grades, as students begin to read more content-specific textbooks (Young, Moss, & Cornwell, 2007) that often include headings, graphs, charts, and other text elements not often found in the narrative fiction they encountered in the lower grades” (Sanacore & Palumbo, 2009).

It’s important that we are incorporating non-fiction reading into our classrooms in an engaging and unique way, in order to capture the learners attention and get them interested in non-fiction for a lifetime!

One of my best colleagues, Sarah, came to me with this recent research project that she had done with her students during library time based off of the book, I’m Trying to Love Spiders by Bethany Barton.  This story is told from the narratives point of view as she learns new facts about spiders in an effort to convince herself that she likes them… to no avail!


As the readers goes through the text, he/she is constantly learning the good, bad, and gross facts about spiders… and in a playful way!  Barton uses lots of non-fiction features such as labels, captions, and comparisons to engage the reader.  For example, when I read this to my 3 1/2 year old, he was able to relate (and laugh) at the fact that spiders don’t chew well – and neither does his sister!


So let me set up the lesson for you and how you can do this with your elementary students (K-6)!

Lesson Overview

This research lesson encompasses many of the Core anchor standards for Reading and Writing:


Key Ideas and Details:


Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

Craft and Structure:

Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.


Text Types and Purposes:

Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:

Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

Grades K-2 Implementation

This project was done in whole group for Grades K-2 and individually for grades 3-6.  In the younger grades, upon reading the mentor text, I’m Trying to Love Spiders, the students then voted on topics to research.


Anchor Chart to show student group brainstorm session for research


Circle Map graphic organizers for each class were hung in the library throughout the duration of the project.

Students were put into small groups and encouraged to research their topics using various print and digital sources.  Some of my favorite digital resources for research include the Internet Public Library, World Book for Kids, and Wonderopolis)  Each student published the facts that they thought were most interesting.  In first and second grades, those students then chose one type of nonfiction text feature to publish along with their fact (a “feature” meaning a comparison, diagram/label, timeline, table, graph, etc). And they were compiled on one large “page”.



Grades 3-6 Implementation

The upper elementary grades read the mentor text with the teacher.  They then chose their own topics and used  World Book Encyclopedia online as well as online periodicals on the Tennessee Electronic Library to research.  Each class voted on how many facts and text features they thought were appropriate for one published page in the book.  Most classes agreed that around six “dash facts” and three to four nonfiction text features (want to know what a “dash fact” is?  Check out my Wonder Bubble unit here).  Each of their individual pages were compiled into one published class book that will be barcoded and circulated in the library.




Other mentor texts to use


Barton only has published, I’m Trying to Love Spiders, but there are other non-fiction mentor texts that can be used in a fun and cheeky alternative to basic non-fiction fact research.  Here are some of my new favorites and tried and true favorites as well:

I, Fly: The Buzz About Flies and How Awesome They Are by Bridget Heos

What If A Shark Had a Party? by Alexsei Bitscoff and Camilia de la Bedoyere

I (Don’t) Like Snakes by Nicola Davies

The Disgusting Critters Series by Elise Gravel

What If You Had Animal… Series by Sandra Merkle

Earmuffs for Everyone by Megan McCarthy

The Fly Guy Presents… Series by Tedd Arnold

Diary Of A… series by Doreen Cronin

I’d love to see your student work if you try this in your classroom!  Tag me on Instagram @cjayneteach or tweet me @CJayne_Teach!  Also catch the replay of the Periscope I did on this topic where I preview all of the titles listed above.

Thanks for reading!


[All images in this post are copyrighted by the Author/Illustrator/Publisher.  Images of student work are copyrighted by Sarah Svarda and C. Jayne Teach, 2016 and may not be used without credit back to this original post.  All Right Reserved.]