Non-fiction and Informational texts

The nonfiction and informational texts in this unit are selected to continue to broaden students understanding of how authors deal with the theme of the American Dream and the issues of disillusionment that are all too often paired with it. In this section of the unit, emphasis is placed on building students’ skills for analyzing and interacting with nonfiction and informational texts. The activities below, while easily adapted for any text (even fiction and poetry) lend themselves perfectly to the kinds of nonfiction and informational texts students are often reluctant to read, but which are now stressed by the Common Core Standards and college courses.

Common Core Standards

RI.11-12.1. Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
RI.11-12.2. Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis; provide an objective summary of the text.
RI.11-12.3. Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequence of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas, or events interact and develop over the course of the text.
RI.11-12.4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term or terms over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10).
RI.11-12.5. Analyze and evaluate the effectiveness of the structure an author uses in his or her exposition or argument, including whether the structure makes points clear, convincing, and engaging.
RI.11-12.6. Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text in which the rhetoric is particularly effective, analyzing how style and content contribute to the power, persuasiveness or beauty of the text.
W.11-12.1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
W.11-12.2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
W.11-12.4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1–3 above.)
W.11-12.5. Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.
W.11-12.9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
W.11-12.10. Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes.
SL.11-12.1. Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11–12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
SL.11-12.2. Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) in order to make informed decisions and solve problems, evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source and noting any discrepancies among the data.
SL.11-12.3. Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, assessing the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis, and tone used.
SL.11-12.6. Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating a command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Suggested Student Objectives

  • To explore the themes of The American Dream in depth from many different angles and points of view and through nonfiction and informational texts.
  • To help students explore and understand the rhetorical choices (concerning style, tone, or word choice, for example) the authors make and how these choices help to convey the meaning of the text.
  • To to utilize sound logic and evidence in order to encourage students to quality, agree, or disagree with the authors’ arguments.
  • To understand persuasive and rhetorical elements (such as audience analysis) in order to analyze the text and in order to use these elements in their own writing and speaking.
  • To improve writing skills by providing a variety of writing assignments related to the texts.
  • To improve text analysis skills and comprehension by understanding cause and effect, the differences between fantasy and reality and past and present.
  • To provide students with a springboard to choose a concept of the American Dream for themselves.

Suggested Additional Readings

A Streetcar Named Success by Tennessee Williams
Robert Frost and the American Sleeper (author unknown)
Excerpts from Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville
Excerpts from Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

Resource Links

Analyzing a Text:

(The following link will bring you to the downloadable document.)

A Streetcar Named Success by Tennessee Williams

Robert Frost and the American Sleeper:

Information/background on Alexis de Tocqueville (which students should read as an introduction to/overview for his texts):

Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville (full text):

Excerpts from Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich


Note: When planning lessons related to the following activities, please consider that each activity (identified by an asterisk *) requires multiple days to complete.

Some of the following activities have been adapted from the document Analyzing a Text (see resource link below.)

*During and after reading each text, students should identify and analyze (through writing and discussions) the problem or question that motivates the author? They should also take the time to discern from what context is the author writing.

*Explain (through text annotation, discussion, and formal writing assignments) what assumptions and/or biases the authors bring to their texts.

*Write an essay that evaluates/qualifies, agrees with, or disagrees with the argument is the author putting forth? Students should focus on what contradictions they find in each text and between texts and how do these contradictions affect their understanding of the text?

*Analyze, discuss, and write about the texts through the following prompts: What evidence does the author use to support his or her assertions? Why?

How is the text structured? How does the structure affect your understanding of the theme or argument?

*During and after reading each text, students should identify and analyze what rhetorical choices (concerning style or word choice, for example) the authors make. How do these choices help to convey the meaning of the text? They do not need to consider all rhetorical strategies in their analysis.

*Students should respond (through discussion and writing) to the following prompts: What do you think are the key passages in the text? Why are they important? How do they work with the rest of the text to convey the author's meaning?

What assumptions do you bring to this text? To what extent has the author considered your needs as a reader?

*Synthesize at least three of the readings in order to write an essay that addresses the following prompt: What are the causes and effects of disillusionment in regards to the American Dream, and how is this relevant to our own lives? Make sure to cite any and all information used from the sources and to use quotes appropriately and skillfully. Although you will be using information and ideas from sources, your argument(s) and ideas must be central.

*Choose at least two of the informational texts in order to conduct group discussions or write an essay that establishes how each author uses different techniques and approaches to establishing a similar controlling idea about the American Dream. They should use the writing process to draft, edit, and revise in order to produce a final product that is free from errors and which exhibits control over stylistic conventions expected from a college level essay.

*Identify and analyze (through discussion and writing) instances from the readings that they object to, disagree with, and or can argue against, and they will use sound logic and evidence to provide rebuttals to the readings (when necessary). This activity can be conducted through a variety of approaches, including whole class or group discussions, double entry journals, writing an argument essay, and/or close reading.


The teacher will monitor and critique/evaluate class activities while providing assistance and feedback when necessary. Students will be assessed through a variety of evaluative tools/assignments. These include but are not limited to questioning during whole-class or individualized close readings which checks for understanding/comprehension of the texts' complexities an multiple meanings, homework assignments which reinforce skills developed during class activities and instruction, frequent quizzes, tests/exams, and thematic essay assignments which reinforce skills required for the Common Core English Standards, the English Regents Exam, and the above activities. Teachers should feel free to adapt any of the above activities to fit essay assignments or lessons that span multiple days. At the very least, a variation of the rubrics used for the English Regents should be used for evaluation and to provide students with feedback and validations of grades.

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