Fascinating Facts


Creative Non-Fiction

If you spend much time on this unit, you'll inevitably learn a great deal about the geography of the world. However, the main purpose of this unit is to give you opportunities to practice a variety of reading and writing skills. The way you'll do this is by imagining that you've visited a foreign country, then describing your adventures in a letter to a friend.

This type of writing lies somewhere between fiction and non-fiction. The text, Fascinating Facts, is non-fiction (based on facts and real events), but the letter you write will be based, in part, on your own imagination.

Here is an example:

Let's say that you've picked the country of Algeria. In the reading, you learn some facts about camels, including:

Instead of simply "regurgitating" (repeating) these facts, you could weave them into a narrative, something like this:

Dear Felipe,

Greetings from Algeria!

I've just returned from a 4-day camel-trekking tour, and I've fallen under the spell of the Sahara. Perhaps it was the magic of the dunes, or the hospitality of our Berber guides. In any case, Algeria has really captured my heart.

The trip was not without hazards. On the third day we were caught in an epic sandstorm. For hours, I huddled next to my camel, Samia. The sand swirled in rivers all around us. Our guide, Khalil, had shown me how to wrap a scarf around my head, but still I could hardly breathe. Samia, on the other hand, seemed mostly unfazed. Camels have three sets of eyelids that help to keep the sand out of their eyes, and they can shut their nostrils to keep the sand out. These things make them extremely well-adapted to the desert.

After several hours, the wind abated, and we continued on our journey. As we rode through the desert, Khalil taught me more about camels. I learned that the camels here in Algeria are called dromederies, because they have only one hump. (Two hump camels are a called Bactrian camels).

That evening, we set up our tent in a beautiful palm-tree oasis . . .

That story is clearly fictitious (I've never actually been on a camel trek in Algeria). Nonetheless, the story is realistic, because it's based on things that could happen in the real world.

Likewise, the letters you write should artfully weave true facts into your imaginary journey.

Using Other Sources

You are welcome to use other sources in addition to the reading from Fascinating Facts. For example, while I was writing the sample letter above, I wanted to keep it as realistic as possible, so I Googled some things I was curious about, such as:

That last search gave me the best results, because—by including the word "blog" in my search—I increased the likelihood that Google would direct me to some personal blogs written by people who had actually been caught in sandstorms in Algeria. And Google, in fact, delivered: It directed me to some wonderful blog posts, including this one:

Our Camel Trek into the Sahara Desert, by John Widmar

. . . Omar advised that we come down [from the roof] and take shelter but I really wanted to see what this sand storm was all about. The darkness that was once off in the distance was now at our doorstep. The once still air began to whip up very turbulently. Sand was now being blown everywhere in a quite strong steady warm wind. What looked like rivers of sand began flowing down the roads of this small village. It was quite the site. Sand was everywhere and the sustained winds seemed to be growing even stronger. After uttering a few expletives we soon learned the hard way that it was better to contemplate our impending doom quietly as to not get loads of sand crunching in our mouths.

Once the sand had blasted us for several minutes, our amazement finally subsided to common sense and we took shelter back down stairs. After another hour or so, the sand storm seemed to still be going full force and night was fast approaching. We wondered whether our trek was going to be cancelled. But then Omar introduced us to our guide and told us that it was time to go.

He armed us with scarves to keep the sand out of our faces and showed us the proper technique on how to wrap them. After some very quick instructions we hopped onto our camels. The camels rose up from the ground very quickly nearly throwing you off if not holding on tightly. The camels were larger than we’d imagined and we felt like we were riding really high off the ground. But it didn’t take long to get a feel for it. With the sand storm still going strong, we went off into the Sahara. It was just the two of us on our camels led by our guide into the Erg Chebbi desert.

Visibility was poor. The sun was an opaque glowing ball in the distance so there would be no magical Saharan sunset for us tonight. But instead we were treated to watching these mountainous dunes shape-shift right before our eyes. Rivers of sands streamed down valleys then up and over slopes. Peaks in some areas steadily pealed away while others were being built up. Even while we continued to be whipped around by all this sand, it was all still an astonishing sight.

It was almost dark but after going up and over one last dune, there was a small tent camp. Thank goodness. We hopped off our camels and quickly sought refuge inside a tent. Oh, the simple joys of being able to talk without getting a mouthful of sand! It was beginning to cool off rapidly and was actually becoming rather chilly. Our guide presented us with the requisite mint tea and started to prepare dinner. The hearty chicken tagine we feasted on for dinner was good but the novelty of eating it in the middle of a Saharan sandstorm made it that much better.

After dinner our guide reappeared with some drums and attempted to give us lessons in Berber drumming. He was quite good! We had trouble trying to keep up with him during our drum circle desert jam session but it was fun to try.

It was well past midnight and time to close our eyes back in our camp beds with the sand storm still not letting up. We were exhausted and slept like rocks.

This account inspired some of the details that I included in my letter—and, in truth, it was hard to keep my sample letter short, because I wanted to include so many more of these rich details.

If you, too, find yourself inspired, keep writing! What's a camel trek really like? What other adventures did you have in the desert? Were you robbed by bandits? Did you get lost? This is creativive non-fiction, and the only thing limiting you is your own imagination.

Instructions for the Quiz

Answer the Questions.