Friday, October 18, 2019

Nonfiction Smackdown!

Since 2019 marks the 10th Anniversary of this blog, on Fridays this year, I’m updating and re-running past posts that sparked conversation or that I think still have a lot to offer people teaching or writing nonfiction. The original version of today’s post appeared on October 30, 2015.

I’ve attended a lot of nErD camps and EdCamps in recent years, but one of my favorites was held at Dedham Middle School in Dedham, MA, in 2015. It was sponsored by the Massachusetts School Library Association and organized by a committee led by teacher-librarian Laura D’Elia. I came away with so many amazing ideas. One of my favorites was the Nonfiction Smackdown!, brainchild of beloved teacher-librarian Judi Paradis, who worked at Plympton School in Waltham, MA, until her untimely death earlier this year.
In this activity, students in grades 3-8 read two nonfiction books on the same topic. They can be two narrative titles, two expository titles, or one of each. Students evaluate, classify, and compare the titles, recording their thinking on a Nonfiction Smackdown! worksheet like this one:

Note: You can find a more printable version of the Nonfiction Smackdown! worksheet on my pinterest Reading Nonfiction Board

When students are done, they can share their responses with classmates. Or the worksheets
can be hung around the room or placed in a folder, so that other students can use the information to help them select books in the future.

The fun activity gets kids reading and thinking and sharing. It’s great!

Here are some possible book pairings:

For Intermediate Readers
Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sara Levine
Who Owns These Bones? by Henri Cap, Raphael Martin, and Renauld Vigourt

Flying Deep: Climb Inside Deep-Sea Submersible ALVIN by Michelle Cusolito
Otis and Will Discover the Deep: The Record-setting Dive of the Bathysphere by Barb Rosenstock

A Seed Is the Start by Melissa Stewart
Seeds Move by Robin Page

For Middle School Readers

Death Eaters: Meet Nature’s Scavengers by Kelly Milner Halls
Rotten: Vultures, Beetles, Slime and Nature’s Other Decomposers by Anita Sanchez

Dog Days of History: The Incredible Story of Our Best Friends by Sarah Albee
Made for Each Other: Why Dogs and People Are the Perfect Partners by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Eye Spy: Wild Ways Animals See the World by Guillaume Duprat
What If You Had Animal Eyes? by Sandra Markle


  1. What a great exercise! Love this and these pairing are fun too!

  2. I do this on my own and with my kids when we homeschooled but not as fun and as systematic as your it and will save this to recommend to others.

  3. Thanks or including DEATH EATERS! <3