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.
I have two classes. One moves at a fairly advanced pace while the other requires a little more processing time. While I originally planned to have both classes produce digital copies of their informational writing projects, only one was able to do so. Each step of the research and writing process took a little longer for the second class than it did for the first and because both had the same final due date, one class was able to participate in digital publishing while the other did it the old fashioned way. Today’s lesson is for that first class. Maybe this lesson is a better fit for your students because, like mine, they’re ready for the next challenge and you have the technology to support such a project. In either case, students can create a published piece they are proud to share.
Today is day one of four in the publishing process.
Students pull out their research notebooks and join me in the meeting area. I explain that today we get to turn all of our hard work into a product that can be shared with others! I compliment students on their time and effort put into this month long project and tell them how excited I am to see their final work products.
I explain that they will create digital versions of their text using a site called StoryJumper and pass out a personal login sheet to each student. Rather than having them sit and watch me model how to use the site, I explain that students will learn how to use the website as we create an example book together in the computer lab. Students collect their notebooks, login sheets, and we head off to the lab.
*If you’ve never used StoryJumper before, be sure to check out my strategy lesson on using this site before incorporating it into one of your lessons.
When in the lab, I point students’ attention to the StoryJumper link on their Safari bookmark bar. I’ve found that bookmarking sites on student machines saves not only precious time, but also unnecessary headaches! Although it takes some time to set up initially, it is time that pays off big in the end. Once they find “StoryJumper,” they click on it and are directed to the student site. Students use their login code from their sheets to enter the site. Once there, they will see the screen names of everyone in the class. They find their own, click on it, and enter the class password. ( Whenever I have students use a website, I always create a student account for myself. This way I not only can see what the service looks like for a student, but it also allows me to project student versions of the site for my entire class. As I’m asking students to locate and log in to their own accounts, I’m doing the same for my own.)
I explain that for right now, their dashboards are empty; we’ve not yet started any projects and so there is nothing to show. Before beginning our example class book, I give a quick overview of the five main pages within the site:
- “home.” This is where you see links to create new books, read and edit existing work, or log out.
- “create.” This is where you start when you want to make a new book. There are several book formats from which to choose. I explain that we are using the blank format for this assignment, but you could choose any format if you’d like to create your own personal book for fun!
- “my.” Shows a thumbnail of every book you’ve created. It also has a link to create a new project.
- “explore.” This is where you can find other students’ work to either read or modify to make it your own.
- “help.” Here’s where you can go to get some of your questions answers should I not be available. However, I remind students to always start with an expert in the room - that could be me or one of their peers.
I ask students to click on the “create” page at the top left hand corner of the website and then “Build a book from scratch.” I point out a few tools and we start creating our book.
We create our first page by starting with a title box. After clicking on “text” students choose from several types of boxes; I choose the scroll. I point out the little white hand in the bottom, middle section of the box and tell students that this is used to move the box anywhere on the page. We practice moving it around until it is set just where we want it. Next, I ask students to click in the middle of the box where it says, “enter text.” We all type, “Rangers,” which is our district mascot. Then I show students how to manipulate the text by changing the font type, size, and alignment. We also change the box size by dragging a corner to the left or right.
I tell students that when creating their own book, they should think of how it will read - just like a read book. Some pages, such as page one, will be all by itself. Others will be part of a spread. I hold up an example of a published text as an example. I say, “When you’re choosing where to place your text, you first should decide if it will be a single page or part of a spread. Then consider what information will be on each page. Will your page be all text, nothing but text visuals, or a combination of both? That will make a difference in how you create each page!”
I show example pages from the published book of different types of layouts. Then we choose one and try to recreate it as a class. At this time, I tell students, we’re more focused on putting in our text. But, we can’t forget out our text features, as we’ll need to leave spaces to add those in later. We work together as a group to create text boxes of various sizes, typing made up text, and allowing space for different types of visuals.
Once I see that all students are able to create a page with some modeling, I tell them to go back to the “create” page, click on “Begin a new book from scratch” and start working. By this point in the period, they won’t get very far before it’s time to head back to class. However, they should have a fairly good understanding of how to put text on a page and create at least one page before we leave. While they are working, I’m up and troubleshooting issues as they arise.