Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Add to Your Classroom Library with Free and Appealing Nonfiction

During a field trip several years ago, I watched my students pile off the bus at a rest area. Instead of heading to the snack machines as I expected, however, they stood around a brochure display stand, trading travel pamphlets and discussing tourist attractions with enthusiasm.

Intrigued, I began to gather brochures for my classroom. In no time, I had amassed a collection that students were reading with enthusiasm in their spare time. They traded stories about trips they had taken in the past and decided where they would like to go in the future. They discussed shopping at outlet malls in other states, dreamed about visiting the beach, and learned all sorts of offbeat tourist trivia. The pamphlets were doing exactly what they were designed for — stimulating curiosity and sparking imagination.

Over time, I have developed an even greater appreciation for these throwaway tourist leaflets. In addition to being easy to find, they are free. It is possible to pick up a class set with very little effort. They are not only brief, but also written to appeal to a wide range of readers with a wide range of reading experience and ability.

Best of all, I’ve discovered that travel brochures lend themselves to many different learning activities. And although my collection of travel brochures is still one of the ways I make my classroom as rich in a variety of printed materials as possible, I also now use them to help my students develop critical reading skills.

I begin this process by obtaining class sets of brochures about a specific place or attraction. I prefer to use ones that are about a place that appeals to most students because they will read carefully if they are learning about a place they would like to visit. Pamphlets about Disney World and cities such as Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and New York are attention-grabbers. Weird attractions such as alligator farms and anything to do with dinosaurs are also popular. So are theme parks, harbor cruises, petting zoos, and national parks.

Here are some of the questions I ask students to consider and be ready to discuss with the rest of the class after everyone has had time to read their pamphlets.

What does this brochure reveal about our social values?
What makes the brochure attractive?
Which methods of persuasion does the author use to entice people to visit?
What are some possible negatives about the place that are not mentioned?
At what point do you think the truth about the site could be exaggerated?
What sorts of careers do the people who work there have?
How did your ideas change from reading this brochure?
What advice do you have for people who want to travel to this place?
What information in the brochure did you find irrelevant?
How did the brochure appeal to your emotions?
Did reading the brochure change your thinking about the site?

At the end of our work with brochures, my students enjoy activities that appeal to their creativity. Here is a list of some of the more creative activities I’ve come up with that lend themselves particularly well to travel brochures.

Write a brief character sketch of the person who wrote this brochure.
Create a graphic organizer displaying the reasons why you want to visit the site.
Imagine that you have already visited the place and describe it in a letter to relative.
Use your imagination to add a new feature that would appeal to future visitors.
Create a budget for a trip to the site.
Plan what you would like to do there. How long would you stay? What would you do each day?
Make a storyboard to illustrate yourself on a visit to this place.
Invent a new feature that would appeal to visitors to your site.
Imagine that you overhear two visitors talking. Write their dialogue.
Collaborate with classmates to create a video clip of a typical day at the site.
Create a timeline of things visitors should do on a one-day visit, two-day visit, etc.
Create a comic strip depicting a visitor’s adventures at the site.
Write a letter asking to be considered for summer employment.

Like many other teachers, I have been dismayed to learn how little many of my students know of the world around them. Travel brochures bring the world to the classroom. If part of what good teachers do is enlarge their students’ lives, the practical reading material found in those throwaway leaflets can unlock at least a small part of the world around them.

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