Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Writing to Inform

Our kids have been waiting and waiting and waiting all year long for us to get to the nonfiction writing unit. The time has finally arrived! We've worked for three weeks and are in the middle of publishing our nonfiction books.

When we began our unit, we talked about thick topics and thin topics. Nonfiction writers write their books to teach the reader, so they should choose a topic that they know a lot about and consider themselves experts on. Thick topics are those that they know a lot about - they could get up and talk and talk forever about those things! Thin topics are those that they may not know a lot about. They may know a few bits and pieces of information, but not enough to teach the reader anything. To start the unit we brainstorm examples of thick and thin topics for us and zoom in on a thick topic.

After choosing a thick topic, we start making notes and jotting down everything we know. We start by working in our notebooks and just listing things, but then we shift to a note facts page and start organizing our thinking. We cut the notes apart into strips, sort them into categories and glue them down to keep everything organized. This is an important part for kids. If students only have two or three notes for that category, we discuss if that category should be included. If students have only 1 or 2 categories of information, we go back and think about if the student truly is an expert on this topic or whether we need to go back and choose a different topic.

(Here's my example - my topic is Disney World)

Once our notes are organized, then we start drafting paragraphs and think about what text features we could add to really teach the reader and help them understand. We talk with partners about what would be helpful and what vocabulary words unique to the topic might need to be explained. We use a planning map to help us jot down what order the information will go in and what text features we might use. 

Then it's time to work on the final copy. We let the kids bring in photographs from home, but all other text features need to be hand drawn. Publishing can take a while for this unit simply because there's a lot to do! But the results are usually fabulous. Here is my nonfiction book that I made as a sample.

front cover

table of contents

text page - there is a definition for the word resort in one of the sentences

text page - the pictures are from a Disney World brochure that I cut up! I added the captions myself. I also included a pronunciation guide in the text.

maps - I drew them myself. I don't include anything in my samples that they can't do.

more text with photographs

a table to organize information

photographs with captions

the back cover - it truly is the Most Magical Place on Earth!


Here's a fun game for skills review called Heartbreaker. I can't remember where I found the idea from, but this is an easy game to create and can be used for all kinds of skills practice. 

To Make The Game Pieces
Come up with three types of game cards - Win __ Points, Lose ___ Points, and Heartbreaker cards. You can write these on heart cut outs, index cards, or scraps of paper. 
The win points cards can have all kinds of number values…2, 17, 146…whatever. The number is up to you. The same goes for the lose points cards. Choose any value…lose 5, 19, 44, 723 points…whatever. The heartbreaker cards have different things written on them, like take half the other team's points, lose a turn, give 100 points to every other team, etc. 

To Play The Game
To play, lay the heart cutouts face down on the table or place them face down in a pocket chart. Then choose some skill to review. Today we reviewed cause and effect. The team that got the correct answer got to choose a heart. They kept a running total of how many points the earned or lost. I also randomly award points throughout the game also (Suzie raised her hand, her team gets 10 points, etc.). You can end the game when you choose. ,When the game ended today I told the kids we'd take the winning team's number of points and have that many extra minutes of recess.

This is a fun game that the kids really enjoy because the point totals can change quickly due to the number value on the cards. Plus the cards can be used for a variety of activities. Tomorrow I'll use the same set of cards for a fact and opinion review activity. Have fun!