Moving to the Common Core this year has caused big change in our instruction. I’ve challenged myself to rethink how I teach non-fiction so that students gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the genre. For this reason, I reworked my reading and writing non-fiction units so that they are completely intertwined and cohesive. You’ll find those lessons that focused mainly on reading skills in the unit called, “All About Non-fiction” while those centered around writing skills in this unit called, “Informational Writing.”
In this sister unit, students apply what they’re learning about non-fiction text structures and features to their non-fiction writing. They’ll spend four weeks choosing, researching, and writing about the topics of their choice. Their completed projects will be a four-chapter book complete with text features. Most of the lessons included in this unit are ones that introduce a step in our writing process. While I’ve listed each as lasting one day, oftentimes each would carry over several days in my classroom. You decide what works best for your students and pace the lessons accordingly.
Students come together in the meeting area. I explain that by the end of the period, they will have a complete picture of how their writing projects will be organized. They’ll choose the structure of each chapter and the text features meant to help readers better understand their information. In order achieve our goal, we will complete three separate activities.
We begin by reviewing yesterday’s lesson and activity, which we started as a whole group. Students worked in small groups to read short texts and determine their structures. Today, groups complete the activity by reading the two remaining example passages and matching each with their correct text structure type. During this time, I work with a small group at the front table. As we did the bulk of this work yesterday, I only give students about ten minutes to complete the task.
At the end of the work time, students return to the meeting area. I take a quick poll of the class to see which structures were chosen for the last two passages. Choosing one of the example texts, I then model how to complete step two, which is selecting text features.
I read I think aloud letting students listen in on the selection process. I refer to the text feature anchor chart as I think about which features would best support this type of text reminding students that several features support more than one type of structure. I write down two features I believe would help support readers in understanding the text and explain why I think so. Then I ask the class to help me select others and then mark these on my model sheet.
I explain that their next task is to complete the same process with their writing partners. For each of the five passages, they will decide which features would best support that type of text and record these on their sheets. Partners have 20 minutes to work together. Should they finish early, they should begin their independent reading.
For the final part of today’s lesson, students return to the meeting area. I again model the process using my example topic, which I have used throughout the unit. Beginning with chapter one, I share my notes and consider which text structure would best fit that topic. As I choose a structure, I record it on my page. Then I move on to choosing the text features that will work best with a specific topic or group of facts. When I come to my third chapter, I ask the students for their input so that I’m able to see if they understand the process. Once I feel they are ready to begin working on their own projects, I have them return to their desks to work independently. I remind them to use their small group and partner practice work as guides when choosing both a structure and features for their piece.
As students work, I confer with those who struggled during steps one or two.
At the end of the work time, I ask students to share with their tables. Taking turns, they each share their chapter titles, chosen structures and features, and then explain their thinking behind those choices. I encourage students to ask questions of each other when something is unclear or when they’re interested in what is shared.
When finished, I ask students to turn in their notebooks so that I can review their work before tomorrow’s lesson.