When I first heard that with the shift to CCSS we would do about 50% narrative and 50% expository text, I got very upset. I started ranting and raving: "What happened to instilling love of literature in our children?!" "How are we going to form lifelong readers?!" Then (fortunately) I had a flashback to high school and college: pouring over textbooks, discussing with classmates, collaborating with peers in projects, trying to understand, checking out journals ... and loving it. I came to understand that CCSS opened the opportunity to bring this joy of reading to learn to my first graders. I am having a lot of fun with this: planning units and lessons I hadn't done before, and enjoying seeing my kids working hard by themselves, and in groups, and developing the ability to read to learn and access information from complex text. Studying “close reading” during Collaboration time with my colleagues has been particularly helpful. I find that my students have risen to the higher expectations implicit in the way they are expected to interact with complex expository text.
In this lesson, students worked in heterogeneous groups of three to gather facts about different kinds of homes (W.1.7 Participate in shared research and writing projects.). They recorded the facts in a graphic organizer, and then used it to individually write an informational piece that they published in the form of a book(W.1.2 Write informative/explanatory texts in which they name a topic, supply some facts about the topic and provide some sense of closure. W.1.5 With guidance and support form adults, focus on a topic, respond to questions and suggestions from peers, and add details to strengthen writing as needed. ). Although the samples and resources in this lesson are about homes; the ideas can be adapted to any topic.
I told the class that they would make a book about different kinds of homes and showed them a sample. In the resource section you can see the house that forms the cover, and its inside. I wanted them to be motivated and engaged in the project because this leads to their best efforts and high quality work. Then I explained that before they could start writing they would have to learn about different kinds of homes.
I wanted to build excitement, access prior knowledge, and have the children bursting with ideas when the time came to write their books, so I sent a "family project" home. In this lesson, students wrote about homes, since it was the expository text for the week, in our adopted anthology; however, the strategies and activities described can be modified for any topic.
The weekend before the lesson, I sent a note home telling them to have family conversations about different kinds of homes. I included conversation prompts, a walking activity and a compare and contrast activity. I send "family projects" home about every two months. They are voluntary, free of cost, and earn the kids some "extra credit" (which can be a treat or a Certificate of Participation).
Students got in heterogeneous groups of three. My seating arrangement is such that students of low, medium and high levels are sitting close to each other and a simple chair rearrangement leads to this kind of grouping. I passed out a variety of books and small post it notes. I explained that I wanted them to work together to find interesting facts about different kinds of homes, and that they should mark those facts with a post it note, so that they could use them later to complete a graphic organizer. (R.I.1.Identify the main topic and retell key details of a text. R.I.5. Know and use various text structures(e.g.sequence) and text features(e.g. , headings, tables of contents, glossaries, electronic menus, icons) to locate key facts or information in a text. R.I.6. distinguish between information provided by pictures of other illustrations and information provided by the words in a text. R.i. 7 Use the illustrations and details in a text to describe its key ideas.) I told them that while I distributed the materials, they could start talking about what they already knew about different kinds of houses. (We had already done some work with Speaking and Listening Standard 1 (Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse about grade 1 topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups) and they are getting better about staying on topic and being productive. I circulated helping as needed (see reflection and video in the resource section).
College and Career Readiness Anchor Standard 10 talks about reading and comprehending complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently. The goal is to empower students to read a broad range of texts widely and deeply. We can start doing this from the early grades by challenging our students to gain information from books above their reading level. To do this I use our science and social studies textbooks (both above most first graders reading level), a variety of books from the library, and books from www.readinga_z. These sources allow me to give my class a range of reading levels and formats from kids to choose from www.timeforkids.com ; www.zoobooks.com and scholastic magazines are some other examples of good sources for expository selections on many topics.
I then told my students to read a selection from their anthology on the same topic; and complete a graphic organizer with main idea and some key details taken from everything they had read. I emphasized the need to start working on the graphic organizer because it would soon be time to write. My students draw their own graphic organizer (See clip in the resource section for directions). I wanted to make sure that part of the reading was done independently, and the majority of the class was able to read and comprehend the Anthology selection (See Reflection). If the Anthology hadn't had a relevant selection, I would have looked for a book at a level that was accessible to most of the class.
I called my lowest group to my table to help them with the Anthology selection and then circulated helping with the graphic organizer. You can see a clip from the mini lesson in the resource section. I try to ensure all my students have access to the same content and activities. At the same time, I need to reteach some foundational reading skills to those who are still reading below grade level. I meet with them daily for targeted reading instruction, and I use opportunities such as this one for an extra small teaching opportunity.
To get ready for writing, I told the class to stop and listen for directions. It was important to have their full attention and to make sure they didn't continue to read. I then asked volunteers to share their main idea. I selected one and wrote it on the board so that any student who didn't have one could use it. I then told them to start writing their informational paragraph, and not to worry if they didn't finish during this session, since we were going to follow the whole writing process. While they were writing I circulated giving some editing suggestions.
At the end of the session, I reminded them that they would have time to work on their final drafts later and that we would have writers' conferences and take our time so that the book would be something to take home proudly. I let them know that the ticket out the door was going to be to tell me how their writing was going. I only "ticketed" every fourth child since listening to every child would take too long. The sampling gives me an idea of how much more time they will need, and every student needs to think about their work since they don't know who will have to tell me their "ticket"
In the final part of the lesson I asked the class to reflect on their writing. With the shift to Common Core, I am making a conscious effort to increase my students metacognitive abilities. I believe that leading them to a greater understanding of their thinking and learning will translate into development of critical thinking skills and give them ownership over their own learning. I wanted them to think about how they were doing in their writing because we are working towards making them effective self editors, and getting them used to reflecting on their work, will help them read it with a critical eye.