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.
It’s time to research! Because of our computer lab schedule, I arranged to do internet research first before using texts. This worked out well, actually as it gave me extra time to gather materials for students to use in the classroom now that I have a list of their research topics.
Before heading to the lab, I give students a quick overview of what we’ll be doing once there. I explain that before they conduct their own research we’re going to do some practice searches together. I want to be sure that they understand what makes a website “appropriate” and how to avoid sites that aren’t. I ask them to bring their notebooks and pencils with them to the lab.
This year I found a new site called Kidtopia.info. It is a Google search engine specifically for kids and research. Once on the site, kids can choose between browsing various categories and searching for specific topics. I’m asking that students start their research on this site only.
Before turning them loose, I find it important to demonstrate safe internet searching as a class. So we begin by using my topic as a model. We type it in the box and then I begin discussing how to navigate the search results page.
At the top of most web searches are “featured” or “ad” pages. As I tell students, we aren’t here to buy - we’re here to learn! We skip over these completely by scrolling past them. Using Kidtopia, these are easy to identify because they are highlighted in gray.
Next, I explain that they want to look for sites that appear to be geared towards kids. This helps save time and frustration. A way to do this is by reading the website page name or the website address. I show students specific sites from my example search. Towards the top of my results, two have sites that have “kids” in the website address: kidshealth.org and uskidsmag.com. We should probably start our search in one of these two.
At the same time, I point out that just because a site has a kid-friendly term in it, doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for our search. For example, after clicking on the kidshealth.org site, we learn that it just gives us information about appendicitis. While it might have had information somewhat related to bellybuttons, it’s not mainly about bellybuttons. We need to keep looking.
We spend a good amount of time clicking on sites, determining if they are appropriate, and locating important information.
Once I feel that students are ready to research on their own, I turn them loose. I walk the lab offering help when needed.
When our scheduled time is up, I have students collect their belongings and return to the classroom. We return our research notebook in our binders for use tomorrow.