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 Project.”
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.
Big day ahead! Although this lesson requires little class time and even less instruction, it’s a pivotal point in our writing project process. Yesterday, students brainstormed ideas of nonfiction topics they believed were interesting enough to study for a month. Today they must choose their final topic and begin a prewriting activity.
We begin by coming to the meeting area with our writing notebooks and colored pencils. I explain to students that they are going to narrow their lists of potential topics to just three. I ask them to scan their pages and circle their top three choices with their colored pencils. I remind them again that they must truly be excited by the topics they choose. They’ll spend the next several weeks working with them and cannot change their minds once chosen. So whatever they select must be something they love!
I have students stay in the meeting area to do this and only give them a few minutes to complete the task. Once all are finished, I tell them that the next step is to talk to their partners. I want each student to name the three topics he chose and then explain why he chose each. Then, have a conversation with your partner about what you think might be the best topic for you. If you can explain your thinking and even answer questions about your thinking, then you’ve probably chosen wisely. If you can’t tell your partner why this topic interests you or why you think it’s the best fit, then it may not be the best choice for you. Once they’ve chosen a final topic, they should star it.
Students go back to their desks and begin talking to their partners. While students are working, I walk the room and offer support where needed.
When all have chosen their final topic, I make a list on a chart and ask them again to help me organize topics by category. This helps them to identify other students in the room who have chosen similar topics. It will come in handy later if students need help finding information or need to work in small groups.
To end the day, students make exhaustive lists of everything they know about their topics. Again I challenge them not to stop after the initial ideas are exhausted. Take a break, spend a few moments thinking, and then get back to writing. We won’t share our writing again today, but will use this writing tomorrow as we move on in the process.