5 Kinds of Nonfiction

5 Kinds of Nonfiction

Created by author Melissa Stewart, the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction classification system helps librarians expand and balance their nonfiction collection to provide a broad array of titles that appeal to different types of readers. It also helps students select books they like, predict the type of information they will find in a book, and use the books for specific purposes.


Active Nonfiction (Type 1 of 5 Types of Nonfiction)


  • Highly interactive and/or teaches skills for engaging in activity
  • How-to guides, field guides, cookbooks, craft books
  • Clear, straightforward language
  • Expository writing style
  • Best used for: Engaging in an activity or learning a new skill; perfect for makerspaces
Browseable Nonfiction (Type 2 of 5 Types of Nonfiction)


  • Eye-catching design, lavishly illustrated
  • Short blocks of straightforward text
  • Can be read cover to cover or by skipping around
  • Great for shared reading
  • Expository writing style
  • Description text structure
  • Best used for: Engaging readers quickly by offering interesting or unusual facts; text features make it easy to find specific information; the emphasis is on the book’s design and visuals; use later in the research process to add interesting detail
Traditional Nonfiction (Type 3 of 5 Types of Nonfiction)


  • Survey (all about) books
  • Overview of a topic
  • Often part of a large series
  • Clear, straightforward language
  • Expository writing style
  • Description text structure
  • Best used for: An overview or introduction to a topic, use early in the research process to build understanding
Expository Literature Nonfiction (Type 4 of 5 Types of Nonfiction)

Expository Literature

  • Focused topics presented creatively
  • Strong voice and rich, engaging language
  • Innovative format
  • Carefully chosen text structure
  • Expository writing style
  • Books about specialized ideas, such as STEM concepts
  • Best used for: Providing more depth or interesting perspective, ideal mentor texts for writing workshops, nonfiction read alouds
Narrative Nonfiction (Type 5 of 5 Types of Nonfiction)


  • Narrative writing style
  • Tells a story or conveys an experience
  • Real characters, scenes, dialog, narrative arc
  • Strong voice and rich, engaging language
  • Chronological sequence structure
  • Books about people (biographies), events, or processes
  • Best used for: Understanding a past time or place, a person, or a process; nonfiction read alouds

Explore Books

To assist librarians in identifying titles from each category, Lerner used the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction system to classify the nonfiction on our website. Some books may contain elements from two different categories; these are blended nonfiction titles. Note that books that deliver factual information but use fictional elements, such as invented dialog or scenes, talking animals or fictional characters—are not included in this classification system. They are referred to as “informational fiction” instead. To learn more, read the educational resource 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing Instruction with Children’s Books from Stenhouse Publishers or visit the educators section of Melissa’s website.


5 Kinds of Nonfiction Overview Flyer

Download the overview flyer to learn more about each of the 5 kinds of nonfiction. Key features of each kind of book are highlighted along with the best uses for each!

Overview Flyer →

5 Kinds of Nonfiction Checklist Flyer

Download the audit checklist flyer to learn how to evaluate your personal bias, your students’ preferences, and your collection makeup to determine what categories of the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction you need to build up in your library.

Checklist Flyer →

5 Kinds of Nonfiction Poster

Download and print our 11 x 17 poster and hang it in your classroom or library for a useful reference tool highlighting each type of nonfiction at a glance.

Poster →

About the Creator

Melissa Stewart: Portrait

Melissa Stewart

Creator: 5 Kinds of Nonfiction Classification System

Nonfiction author Melissa Stewart started classifying the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction in 2017. Learn about the system’s benefits for librarians, educators, and students in her professional book 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing Instruction with Children's Books, co-authored with Dr. Marlene Correia, Director of Curriculum and Assessment for the Freetown-Lakeville Regional School District in Lakeville, MA. Melissa also gathered a helpful collection of essays and nonfiction writing activities in her book Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep: 50 Award-Winning Children’s Book Authors Share the Secret of Engaging Writing.


Book Trailer: Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep

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Updated 2024-02-27 07:57:29 -0800. MK946-0920.