Stranger Than Fiction:  Narrative Non-Fiction

Teacher: Katie Schofield

Stranger than Fiction: Narrative Nonfiction, Fall 2014

Course Overview


We’ve all heard Mark Twain’s famous quote that “Truth is stranger than fiction.”  Truer words have never been spoken! From a serial killer on the loose at the 1883 world’s fair to a “traffic jam” on the top of Mount Everest, non-fiction narrative can tell stories that fiction writers can’t even imagine.


Narrative non-fiction is what writer John McPhee calls, “The Literature of Fact.” In this course we will read stories about a range of topics, including surviving in the Alaskan wilderness, Guatemalan murder mysteries, and living forever.  The only connection between these diverse works will be their basis on real life and real events.  Authors use true events, people, scenes, and setting to create interesting and beautiful stories.  These stories may borrow the “tools” of fiction (characters, plot, theme), but can teach us lessons only found in non-fiction.  You will find that narrative non-fiction is truly stranger than fiction. 


Great narrative non-fiction writer David Gran says,I love the magic of stories and the power of stories.”  Our essential questions connect to this quote and the other elements that make non-fiction so exceptional.


Essential Questions


How are stories powerful?

How is narrative non-fiction magical?

What defines a story? How does non-fiction use the “tools” of literature?
How do characters, plot, and setting interact and impact the story?

How do themes develop and emerge?

What is the truth?

Where do stories come from? Does life happen in story form?

How do you turn life into a story?




Unit I: What is narrative non-fiction?

- Elements of a story/narrative

- Identify and define challenging vocabulary

- Read short works of narrative non-fiction including:

David Grann, The Storyteller’s Storyteller: “A Murder Foretold” and “Trial by Fire”

Malcolm Gladwell: “The Art of Failure” and other stories


Assessments: Vocabulary quizzes and writing, class discussions, small group presentation


Unit II: Into the Wild

-       Read and analyze Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

-       Identify and define challenging vocabulary


Assessments: Visual representation project (literature map of setting or characters) of Into the Wild and corresponding analytical essay


Unit III: Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

-       Read and analyze The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

-       Identify and define challenging vocabulary


Assessments: Perspective and Bias, letters/responses from the Lacks family, researchers, or another  major stakeholder


Unit IV: Final Independent Project

- Read an independent nonfiction book from a list of diverse and valuable options (ex: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Into Thin Air, A Walk in the Woods, Nickel and Dimed)

                  - Complete reading journals

                  - What would you change if this was fiction?

                  - Identify and define challenging vocabulary


Final Assessment (non-revisable): Essay on major themes of independent reading book



While this course challenges all students to think critically about the essential questions and read rigorous texts, the honors option allows students to explore even deeper. To receive Honors credit for the course, students must complete the following work:

-                    Read, respond, and analyze thoroughly all parts of “Invisible Child” from the New York Times.  Project details                     TBD.

-                    Read a more challenging book and complete a more demanding final project.

-                    Complete extension requirements on in-class or out of school projects. 

-                    With other Honors students, collectively organize exhibition night projects, and display one piece of work. 

-                    Maintain a grade of 80% or higher in all strands, hand in all work on time and to high standards, and act as a                     consistent classroom leader.



Assessments will be graded based on the 4 English strands:

Composition (25%): Citing evidence, creating a thesis or argument, expressing ideas persuasively, using proper conventions, spelling and vocabulary, using new and challenging vocabulary, adapting writing for different contexts, reflecting, summarizing and connecting

Analysis (40%): Determining theme, analyzing theme’s development, analyzing character development, analyzing words and vocabulary in the text, determining and analyzing the author’s point of view or “truth,” analyzing how the author unfolds an analysis or series of ideas or events, reflecting on essential questions using the text, using evidence to form an opinion/argument

Oral Expression (10%): Participating frequently and orally in class discussions and small group discussions including Socratic Seminars, coming prepared to class discussions or presentations, effectively presenting small and major assessments, posing questions, and responding thoughtfully to diverse perspectives

Work Habits (25%): Completing all assignments on time, from homework to final assessments, effort and diligence in writing and reading in class and at home, using time effectively, increasing writing stamina and writing over extended time frames, overcoming challenges

**I make every attempt to grade small assignments within one week and major assignments within two.  Please have patience if a big project requires more time- I read every piece you hand in thoroughly and thoughtfully, sometimes to an extreme. **



All major projects, with the exception of the final project, are eligible for revision.  Work must be handed in on time to be eligible.  After receiving back your project with comments, you have two weeks to: 1) meet with me outside of class to discuss your goals for revision and 2) revise/edit your work incorporating the expectations from our conversation.  Revision is an excellent opportunity to grow as an English student.  Do not feel limited to revising work after it is handed in. I encourage you to constantly revise as you work, and check in with me throughout the semester.


POLICIES (see student handbook for extended explanations):


Class Expectations

In order for this course to be a meaningful experience for all of us, please:


·                 Come on time and prepared.  Always bring your writing materials/journal.

·                 Listen to others in class with engagement and respect.  Be kind.

·                 Don’t be shy about sharing your thoughts or writing!

·                 Ask for help when you need it.

·                 Complete assignments on time and with effort.

·                 Do NOT use phones or electronics in class (except with teacher permission or special arrangement).  If I see one, you will            take it to Tina’s office.


Students are encouraged (but not required!) to bring their own computers to class when given notice in order to guarantee consistent technology access. 


Academic Honesty

Plagiarism is claiming someone else’s words or ideas as your own. That means:

-       copying/ pasting something from the internet, another source, or another student without quote marks and citation

·                 paraphrasing something from any source without citation

·                 submitting work that has already been submitted in another class


When in doubt, CITE!  If it’s in the gray area, it IS plagiarism.   You will not receive credit for plagiarized work.  For more information on the Academic Honesty policy, please refer to the student handbook.  Please know that I must take cases of plagiarism to Dr. Arnold with the first offense.


Late Work Policy/Extra Credit Policy

In order for an assignment to be eligible for revision and to receive full credit, it must be turned in on time.   If you need an extension, you must communicate with me at least 24 hours in advance of the class when the assignment is due. 


Late work is accepted up to two weeks after the due date, but the grade will suffer.  You have one week to hand in work with only a work habits penalty and two weeks to receive credit in all strands.


At the end of the semester the lowest work habits grade is dropped to account for emergency circumstances.  If you are failing the course due to missing work, you may complete the honors project for extra credit but I will not create additional work.


Saving Work for Exhibition Night and POLs

You may request permission to use any of the four major pieces of writing from the course during Exhibition Night, POLs, and digital portfolios.  However, I will only approve work for exhibition night or POLs if you bring me the original version with the original rubric and notes.  Do not just save it on the computer.  If you think that one day in the future you may ask me for a college rec, please continue to save any work with my comments so that I can write about your exceptional work.


Extra Help

Please come see me for extra help! I am available on Tuesday afternoons from 3-4 pm or by appointment.  Contact me at

Tom Hinkle,
Dec 8, 2014, 8:22 AM