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.
We’ve come to the end of our information collecting stage. Students have a large set of facts for each of the four chapters within their informational project. They’ve analyzed their notebooks to ensure it is cohesive and made notes about possibly moving certain facts from their original chapters to more appropriate places.
I tell students, “Earlier this week, you looked closely at your collected research and made notes about facts that either needed to be moved to a more appropriate chapter or removed altogether. Since that time, you’ve conducted more research and hopefully added additional facts that work well in each chapter. Today we put your notebooks on the chopping block! Rather than using up all of your erasers and spending days rewriting all of your work, we’ll use scissors instead. We’re going to cut your drafts apart and rearrange the sentences into cohesive paragraphs. Some of you will have a lot of cutting and some of you may have very little. But all of you should be able to finish at least two chapters today and have your entire book finished by tomorrow. Let me show you how.”
Before class, I transferred my digital notes to a piece of chart paper making sure they weren’t perfectly organized. I had my sentences color-coded (just like the students did in a prior lesson) and pointed out the sentence coded as my lead or main idea. I cut this sentence out first and glued it onto another blank piece of chart paper. Then I read over my remaining sentences and picked out one that would best follow my intro sentence. I cut it out and glue it onto the paper just under my topic sentence. I continued this until all sentences from my rough “draft” are cut and glued in a cohesive order onto my new page. I explained that this is exactly what students will do with their chapters starting with the first. If they finish one, they move on to the next until either all are finished or our working time is up.
Students return to their work area and begin working. While I walked the room - intending to offer support - I was transfixed by their thoughtfulness! I scrapped my original plan of conducting writing conferences during this time and instead watched them work! It was impressive to see them not only put so much thought into their “chopping” and rearranging, but to do it so quietly!
When our work time is over, I have students talk about their thought process with their writing partners. Not only does this help their own thinking, but it can also help guide their partners to see the process in a new way. Students then collect their chopped pieces and place everything into their binders. We spend our work time tomorrow completing this process and getting ready for editing.