March 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

“The Nonfiction Minute” Resumes September 8

iNK_nonfiction_minute_logoA nonfiction resource—popular with both teachers and students—will begin posting new essays on September 8 for the upcoming school year. The Nonfiction Minute features posts by a diverse array of award-winning children’s nonfiction authors toward helping teachers meet the challenge of exposing their students to more nonfiction.

The lineup of posts this fall will include “What is a Light Year?” by math and science expert David M. Schwartz; “Something is Rotten in Rome,” by Sarah Albee, a former editor for Sesame Street; and “September 11,” a poem by hands-on science presenter Vicki Cobb.

An audio file accompanies each brief post so less-fluent readers can listen or read along. Some of the essays include photos and videos, and each one introduces readers to the author and his or her work.

A different selection for each school day, a total of 170, will be published for 2015–16. But instead of posting them one by one, inkThinkTank, the nonprofit organization that created the site, will publish the whole week’s worth on Saturday afternoon so teachers have time to prepare how they will integrate the essays into their instruction. In a week with a holiday, four posts will be published instead of five. Older posts will be archived and searchable by topic.

The Nonfiction Minute was created to provide educators and students with easy access to “real-world material,” according to the site, which  received 300,000 page views by 90,000 unique visitors in 2014. Many students also visited the site independently and left comments on what they read, says Cobb, who is also  president of inkThinkTank. The organization is seeking funding to support the project in the future.

“As librarians, we have always known the value of nonfiction and work hard to collect and promote fascinating nonfiction to our patrons,” says Karen M. Sterling, a library media specialist at Pennridge North Middle School in Perkasie, PA.

Fiction books have long been prominently displayed in libraries and bookstores, Sterling says, adding that giving students greater access to nonfiction selections has been a greater challenge. Last November, Sterling created a professional development opportunity in which teachers at the school met virtually with four of the Minute authors. The teachers then brainstormed several ways to use the essays in their classrooms, including practicing close reading strategies, expanding “listening vocabulary” for English language learners and using the essays to develop “researchable” questions.

She has also worked on ways to organize the Minutes so students and teachers can more easily find what they need. “Whether a student thinks they prefer science, or history, or art, or math, the authors of the pieces in the Minute consistently demonstrate that exploring what we love and see around us is fascinating,” says Sterling. “By providing each Minute in audio all students have access, and if, as we have done in many of our classrooms, students and faculty read them regularly, the ‘voice’ of each author begins to shine.”

Linda Jacobson About Linda Jacobson

SLJ contributor Linda Jacobson is an education writer and editor based in the Los Angeles area.



  1. Thank you for sharing the word about the Nonfiction Minute! As a contributor, it’s gratifying to see Linda and SLJ spread the word about this opportunity.

    Writing these “minutes” (they actually run about three) is both rewarding and challenging. Rewarding, because sharing real world information with young readers is what we authors do. Challenging, because we distill big ideas into short presentations to capture both eyes (of visual learners) and ears (of aural learners.)

    On a personal note, as a nonfiction author, I count librarians among my biggest fans. Thanks to all of you for helping us reach out to young readers everywhere.

  2. Dee-lighted! This is what Colonel Roosevelt (he really didn’t like being called “Teddy”) would say when confronted with a new challenge – a river to explore, wild game to hunt, a canal to build, monopolies to bust. A new problem excited him enormously. As one of the Non-Fiction Minute’s authors, I’m dee-lighted that our new season will reach so many classrooms.

    A gratifying crowd of smart, dedicated teachers and librarians have enthused over The Non-Fiction Minute. They say that children need non-fiction to grapple with the complex and subtle real world, and to beguile their reading habits. They speculate that our little nutshells of fact are irresistible curiosity accelerators that encourage deeper looks, critical thought, and historical perspective. What these dear cheerleaders overlook is our dee-light in sharing our world of scientific and historic with young people. Non-fiction authors have seldom been big blockbuster stars but we know that we have the smartest, most receptive audience. The Non-Fiction Minute has been our way to share our fascinations directly with our readers. Talk about dee-light! We’re probably happier than kids, librarians, teachers and critics about our new season.

    Is writing a 400 (absolute limit) word squib about an historic or scientific subject easy? No. Every one of us loses tooth enamel over the process of reducing, polishing, smoothing, simplifying. How can we be so happy about such difficult work? Well, you’ve got me there. This is one of the mysteries of our factual pursuit. The only answer I can offer is that each Non-Fiction Minute is, for us, like sharing a secret with a best friend.

    So hurrah for another season and getting to more classrooms and students. But we’re not selfless educators or solemn pundits. Colonel Roosevelt would agree with us that a difficult challenge can make compulsive explorers “Dee-lighted!”

  3. The Minute has been a wonderful way to address the “new” emphasis on nonfiction in the CCSS. Authors of fiction have the great advantage of being placed together on library (and bookstore) shelves, an advantage the creators of nonfiction have not enjoyed. Subject area organization rather than shelving by author name makes the creation of a reader/author relationship over time much more challenging. Perhaps we librarians are, in part, responsible for students’ lack of experience with nonfiction and the subsequent emphasis in the CCSS.

    The Nonfiction Minute provides the opportunity for our students to become engaged with all facets of the real world. When we think about writing voices, consider the following: I know Jim Whiting is a master at leading us through a host of seemingly unrelated topics and magically connecting the dots. Andrea Warren is sure to let students into history by sharing the stories of history’s children. Dorothy Patent makes us take a closer look at our environment, and Sarah Albee finds the grossest – and funniest – moments of history to share. Alex Siy never misses as chance to show us the artistry of the science of the world. Each contributor has a unique voice, and over the course of a year, students begin to recognize, and often mimic those voices in their own writing.

    I am so grateful that these authors decided to share their talents in this way. Our school year would not have been the same without the Nonfiction Minute.

    • Many kids regard nonfiction as the literary equivalent of castor oil—something “good for you” but suitable for little else besides preparing reports. My fellow NFM contributors and I consider ourselves as storytellers who are as equally adept at weaving compelling tales as our fiction counterparts—and ours are true! Our goal is to show young readers the fascination—and fun!—of nonfiction.