College and Career Readiness Anchor Standard 2 states that students must write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization and analysis or content. When planning how to teach them how to write informative text on a topic (W1.2) I kept the Anchor Standard in mind and tried to find ways to make sure that their writings were organized and in topic. In previous years I had noticed that many students added superfluous or irrelevant sentences to their essays, diminishing the quality of pieces that would have met the standard and rubric requirements otherwise. Discussions about the relevance of different sentences and why or why not they belonged in a paragraph solved the problem at a particular writer's conference, but it rarely became internalized and the problem recurred in future writings. I had heard discussions of the advantages and graphic organizers and decided to try to use them systematically this year.
In the beginning of the lesson, I told my class to take out the graphic organizer we had completed the day before. I had some copies of one I had done available for kids who had been absent or lost theirs. I explained that we were going to start writing an informational paragraph together but that each one would finish by themselves.
We started by having a group discussion to come up with an opening sentence. I reminded them to feel free to use any of the ones we had heard or to come up with their own one. For those who wanted to use the common one, I repeated it, then had them repeat it, and then we started writing. I wrote under the document camera while they wrote at their desks. I find that shared writing and modeling a skill or strategy like this is very powerful when introducing a new skill.
When I finished writing that sentence, I got up to help those students that I new take a long time to write. I wanted to check that they had started with a capital letter, and I wanted to write a bit for them so that they would not lag behind. This is important because I want them to continue working on capitals and periods, but they also need to listen to the structure of the text type, so that they can write good paragraphs when their writing skills develop further. It also prevents the kids who write quickly to get bored as they wait for the slower ones. This is one of the many occasions when one has to balance writing and language standards.
When most were done, I called on volunteers to give me one of the key details from their graphic organizer. And we repeated the process previously described. Then I reminded them that they would finish by themselves. I also reminded them of the importance of having a closing sentence.
Early finishers should check their work for adjectives, add them if they didn't (referring to the list from day 2 if they needed), check for spelling of words we had studied and those on our word bank (created on day 1). Once they were sure they had done the best they could and fixed their mistakes, they could do any activities from our menu, or log onto Lexia.
As the children worked on their writing, I circulated with a dry erase marker and a clear transparency to help them revise (see reflection).
To make my conferences efficient, I went to the fastest (who may not always be the best writers) students first, and then to the average students, giving the slow writers a chance to work independently before I went to them. This is usually the path I follow, but, of course, this plan is not at all rigid. My route depends on what is happening in the classroom.
While my helpers collected the work, I reviewed what we had done and the importance of sticking to the graphic organizer so that we don't add irrelevant details.