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.”
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’m trying something new this year. We require students to complete a writing project each quarter that features a different type of writing. In years past, we’ve had students complete an informational report on a specific subject, such as animals or states. This year, I’ve given my students complete choice in the topics they’d like to research. But in addition to those research reports, I’m requiring them to include appropriate and relevant text features. Many are used to including pictures of their topics, but I’m asking them for more this year. I’d like to see tables of contents, glossaries, maps, and diagrams. They get to choose their features, but they must push themselves to think of more than just illustrations and captions.
To get them ready, I’m giving them a little practice. Kind of like a dress rehearsal for their big performance. We come together in our meeting area to discuss today’s activity. We briefly discuss the 11 text features we’ve learned about that are listed on our anchor chart. I have a few students choose one from the chart and tell me where it is found in a text and how it is helpful. For example, if a student chooses “map,” then he would tell me that it could be found within the text itself and probably near where an author is talking about an important place. It helps the reader by showing him where the events in the passage take place. I then ask leading questions that require students to think about what types of features would best support certain kinds of information. Such as, “Imagine you are reading information about how blood flows through our heart. The entire page was covered in just text - only words. What could the author have included to help you better understand how that process worked?” Students mention illustrations and photos, but I keep asking for answers until someone says, “ a diagram.” Yes! I then ask why a diagram would be more helpful than an illustration or photo with captions? In a round about way, he was able to explain that a diagram shows a process or how something works and has labels to show you different parts. Perfect! Yes, this would be a perfect text feature to add to this type of text. I then explain that during today’s workshop, students will practice adding precise text features to a text.
Students receive a booklet on the human body that contains nothing but text (see my reflection for more information). They are to read the text, consider which features would best support a reader’s understanding of it, and then decide where to place them. This includes something for the front and back covers. I explain that it might be wise to read the booklet first before drawing anything on the front. I want their features to be meaningful and relevant - not just something they felt like drawing about the body as a cool cover.I encourage students to use their vocabulary booklets or the anchor chart as supports, if needed. Once I see students understand the task, I set them to work.
Students go back to their desks and begin working. During this time, I walk the room providing assistance when needed and conduct conferences.
When all students are finished, I have them trade their completed books with someone at their table. Students read their peers’ work paying special attention to their added text features. If time, I have them exchange books more than once so they see multiple versions of features. Then they have a quick discussion about the features they included and why they made those choices. Before the end of the period, I explain to students that they will keep these booklets in their binders as reference for when they create their own informational books.