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’re several days into our informational writing unit. Students have selected a topic, done some prewriting, and narrowed their focus to four chapters of information. Now comes the real work - researching. But, before we can start this process, we need the right tool. Just like with any task, you must have the right tools in order to do a job well. So in order for students to have the most success collecting information, they need a great tool. I created this research notebook for just that. I’ve tried other methods in the past (one page graphic organizers - not enough space, index cards - ugh never again, you know the drill...) and decided to try something new. Today students receive their notebooks and we spend the period learning how to use it and getting it ready for our research tomorrow.
Students complete the front cover with basic info - their names, research topics, and their four chapter titles. They find these written in their writing notebooks, which I’ve asked them to pull out and have beside their new packets.
We take a “walk” through the entire booklet. Just like when reading a new text, we take a moment to look through the booklet and talk about what we notice. There are basically two types of pages repeated four times. I point this out to students before explaining each page type:
Note collection sheets (even numbered pages). These pages are lined for students to write the notes they feel are important while researching. When they come to a great fact while reading books and searching the internet, they will write each on the appropriate chapter’s page. We take a minute to rewrite our chapter titles at the top of each page so that they are ready to go for tomorrow
Structure and Text Feature sheets (odd numbered pages). These are going to be used later in the research and writing process. Once students have collected data, they will decide what type of text structure each chapter will follow (compare and contrast, description, etc.). They also will make notes about the types of text features they will include with each chapter. The expectation is that each chapter contains at least two features. They must be appropriate and varied. Meaning they must match the information provided and structure of the chapter. Students also cannot choose the same two features for every chapter. I want to see more than an illustration and caption for each.
For now, these pages are off limits. I only want students focusing on the note sheets and marking in these areas.
Once students understand the purpose of each page, I do a little modeling using my own research topic: bellybuttons. Using the Kidtopia site, I do a quick search for information that would fit one of my chapters. Skimming through the selection, I see a fact that would work well and read it aloud. I ask my students which chapter they think would fit it best. They tell me the chapter and I switch over to the digital copy of my notebook on the SmartBoard. I flip to the specific chapter they’ve suggested and write my new fact on the page. I go back to the website and keep reading until I find something else that interests me. When we determine in which chapter it belongs, I head back to my notebook. I point out a few times that I don’t keep taking notes where I left off last - I have to pay attention and make sure that I write each note in the chapter it belongs. So I turn the page and do just that. I continue modeling until I get a sense that students understand the process and can do it independently.
Students close their packets and place them in the writing section of their binders. I explain that we will use them tomorrow when we start day one of internet research!