Each week our school has professional collaboration time. This is a time when each grade level team meets to collaborate on topics decided by the team. We prepare homework, choose or create common assessments, plan our art instruction, help each other with technology related matters, vent, share resources and a myriad other things. One of our goals for the year was to make sure that, as we transitioned to Common Core standards in writing, we continued to improve our scores.
One day, with this goal in mind, we were choosing the theme for our weekly instruction and the daily prompts. The previous year we had had success having our students write descriptions of different people. We wanted to blend that success with W.1.2 and have them write in informative paragraph with a topic sentence, some key facts and a closing sentence, which we started learning about in a shared writing lesson (the first in the unit). This was basically the same as we had been doing last year, but we wanted to add rigor to it by having the students learn the facts from a website (W.1.7. Participate in shared research and writing projects), and make sure we included L.1.f (Use frequently occurring adjectives), which our District has added as an item in the writing rubric.
After brainstorming, we came up with the idea of doing an Author study for our weekly writing cycle and selected Jan Brett as the subject of our informational paragraph about a person. This lessons, and the related lessons for Days 2, 3, 4 and 5 can be modified for any author, as long as you find kid friendly sources of information for them.
I explained to the class that we were going to read about a great children's author, and that we would write an informational paragraph about interesting things we learned about her. I showed them some books by her, and promised we would get to read them during the week.
After the brief introduction of Jan Brett (it's helpful to generate interest if you've already read one of her books), I explained that we were going to find out interesting information about her by visiting her website and that we would record the information on a graphic organizer. I asked the class to draw the oval for the main idea in our graphic organizer (in the resource section you can see a clip of how they make these, to avoid excessive photocopying).
Since they already knew what the paragraph was going to be about, we discussed possible topic sentences, reminding them that they would contain the main idea for our paragraph. After hearing a couple, I told them to go ahead and write the topic sentence of their choice on the graphic organizer. Counting to three and telling them to show their work (see resource section), provided me an easy way to see who needed help and who was ready to go on.
At the end of the session, my class put their organizers in the folder they keep in their desks with work that needs to be completed later. I told them that the next day they would use it to write an informational paragraph. As they left for recess, I asked them for a "ticket out the door": they had to tell me something they had learned about the author. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they had all retained some information; clearly they had been more engaged than I thought.