Strategies for teaching fiction: how can your students benefit?

By Phoebe Troup

01 Apr 2022

Learners raising their hands in class

"There is no doubt fiction makes a better job of the truth." - Doris Lessing

It’s no secret that children should be reading independently outside of the curriculum. Reading strengthens literacy, exposes learners to crucial academic vocabulary, and provides valuable information about the world. Studies have shown a positive link between enjoyment of reading and scoring well on reading assessments.

So why fiction? Reading a variety of fiction and non-fiction texts is important, and it’s crucial to encourage learners to pursue their own diverse interests. One thing’s for certain though: both at home and in the classroom, fiction has become the most prominent genre for young readers. Here’s how you can help learners make the most of fiction.

Fiction is a great escape

It can be difficult to get the ball rolling with extra-curricular reading habits, especially for reticent readers. However, if you’ve ever lost yourself in a book, you know good fiction can do the work for you. The mystery, wonder, and excitement of a story will draw your readers into a world of imagination, turning reading time into a privilege instead of a chore.

  • Keep the pressure off – learners are more likely to enjoy their escape into fiction if they don’t think of it as a trial or assignment.
  • Try designating a weekly class trip to the school library where each of your learners can choose a book. Or consider rifling through the shelves at your local charity shop to get learners a book or two of their own. The National Literacy trust has found that learners who own books read more frequently and are more likely to enjoy it.

Narrative is a framework for understanding the world

The narrative arc of fiction is a framework for understanding the wider world. Reading fiction texts gives young people a template for recognising cause and effect, and more broadly, change over time – events, political movements, historical trajectories, environmental processes; the list goes on.

  • Directly teaching the narrative arc early on will show dividends across the curriculum. You can start with a simple plot diagram:
Graphic showing the arc of a story
  • Ask your students to plot out the action of their favourite books or films, work together to identify the climax of a short story read together in class, or set a creative writing task asking pupils to plan their own narrative arcs.
  • For a home-learning solution, see BBC Bitesize for an online lesson on narrative arcs in fiction.

Expand academic vocabulary through fiction

Our comprehensive vocabulary curriculum teaches academic vocabulary through original fiction and non-fiction and develops literacy for reading, writing and oracy.

Learners put themselves in others’ shoes

It has been proven that reading literary fiction gives us the ability to better recognise and understand other people’s emotions.

Dennis Carter describes fiction at the primary level as “a vehicle for developing understanding and wisdom about the human condition”. Learners can see the cruelty of the Magisterium through the eyes of an indignant Lyra, feel the poignant loneliness of Anne of Green Gables, or sense Sophie’s fear as she hides inside a Snozzcumber from a deadly giant – all practice for empathising with the experiences of others.

Present your class with an option of texts to read at home. Ask learners to read a chapter every week, and group them up for classroom discussions about their chosen text. These literature circles allow learners to share and compare their reactions to a text, encouraging them to think about what they’re reading.

Fiction sparks imagination

The endless possibilities of fictional worlds nurture your learners’ creativity, working wonders for their problem solving. In fact, evidence suggests reading fiction improves the brain’s ability to keep an open mind as we learn new information: learners who read stories will develop better critical thinking skills than those exposed to solely factual texts.

Reading scaffolds other subjects

Choosing fiction texts that complement the curriculum encourages learners to engage with their studies. Science fiction can represent complex processes in a simple and digestible way – reading Jurassic Park teaches learners about DNA, for example. A fictional representation of the life of Anne Boleyn gives a memorable representation of historical events.

  • Each term, curate a list of books related to the topics you plan to study in class, and ask learners to debate, present, or write a response to one of these texts. In the case of less-credible science fiction, you could even ask them to re-write passages themselves to correct inaccurate information.

The imaginative landscape of a fictional text encourages learners to pick up a book and read, providing a fundamental framework for developing understanding of the world around them.

But the benefits of fiction to literacy, creativity, empathy and critical thinking need to be paired with other reading, especially non-fiction.

Improve literacy through bespoke fiction texts

Bedrock's original fiction and non-fiction immerses learners in rich vocabulary and grammar skills.