Colleen Cruz taught me daily in an Advance Small Group during the 2013 August Writing Institute.
Our focus was on:
- How to teach kids to write informational writing
- How to design a curriculum unit
- You will write a professional article for teachers
Here are my notes:
How To Teach Teaching Nonfiction Writing:
The two most important aspects are structure and elaboration.
To move toward having strong structure and elaboration, we brainstormed a topic by:
- Listing kinds, parts, types
- Listing pros / cons
- Listing similarities / differences
- Listing cause/effect; if/then; problem/solution
- Now, using all these lists, we created the table of contents for our information writing piece!
Past Process: pick any topic, take lots of notes, organize notes, draft, research some more to fill in holes.
Process NOW: Start from a grounding in a topic you already know, pick something related to that topic, draft a table of contents after brainstorming all angles of the subtopic, revise table of contents, write a flash draft, now research to fill in the holes, revise, edit and publish.
Note: This is a big shift in how to approach the teaching of nonfiction. It matches what real nonfiction authors do – they start with a topic they know and research into that container. Start from a place of knowledge, build your structure, draft quickly, then research to fill in the holes.
Nonfiction Writing Research Moves
- Teach what a reliable source is
- Make a research plan - can use a T-Chart and list chapter topic and the plan for research
- Notetaking – provide lots of options for how to do it and let students choose
- Teach Students to follow these steps:
- Read text
- Think hard about it and make sure you truly understand it
- Now decide what to write and write it down
How the new 3rd grade NF Unit was Written
Bend 1 – Organization: five sessions written on organizing info
Bend 2 – Reaching to write well; now you are making something through your writing
Bend 3 – Moving toward Publishing; revising, editing, preparing piece for others
Bend 4 – Transferring the skills used to write a long piece to a writing a short piece; how to do it quickly, in a short amount of time.
An Overview of How a NF Unit Might Go:
Immersion to see an overview of possible structures
S picks topic of interest that you want to teach others about
S brainstorms all they know about topic (kinds, parts, reasons, pro/con, compare/contrast)
S drafts a table of contents based on present knowledge
S plans out what to research based on the holes in the table of contents
T teaches how to take notes (3 steps)
S drafts, starting with best part first (out of order is OK)
T teaches to revise for structure, elaboration, craft (I think the writer is trying to ___. He does this by ___. He does this because ___.), purpose/meaning, and language
S edit for readers
T teaches ways to make it public
I’m looking forward to guiding my students to write nonfiction by following this unit structure during the 2013-14 school year.
When Writing Curriculum:
Know your kids and write for them
Decide what the goals of the unit are
Decide on the bends of the unit
An awesome unit is like a story; it gets progressively more exciting. It should build and build and build.
How to Design Good Teaching Points (Because it is easy to do poorly!)
Session #7 in 3rd NF Unit – Making Connections within and across chapters
◦ TP = Today I want to teach you that writing chapters is like making a paper chain. The order needs to make sense and transitional words are used to hold it together.
This is a good TP because it is explicit, gives a concrete example, connects to things in real life, students can relate to it and it includes the content and the process.
Try it: #16 In this session you will teach that when info writers are editing, they keep a close eye on the way they use paragraphs.
◦ TP = Today I want to teach you that writers edit their work by using paragraphs. We indent to show a new part is beginning just like how the department store hangs signs so you can find the part of the store you want to shop in.
Colleen made me realize how GREAT the new Writing Pathway book is that comes in the new Writing Units of Study kits.
History of Writing Pathways
Years ago we laid out lots of narrative writing and it led to a continuum for personal narrative.
When CC came out, we decided to make continuums for opinion and information.
COOL STUFF in the book:
◦ Learning Progressions – we can SEE where a kid is. Rarely is a kid on grade level for all skills. This helps to see where they are.
◦ Rubrics with points can be used to show growth
◦ Helps a teacher teach the exact steps that the kid needs and not just grade-level skills
Colleen also encouraged US to write this week about a topic that we know lots about. What is it that people in your building go to YOU for help? Write about it!
Tips for My Own Nonfiction Writing:
Think about weight and angle
◦ When something matters, it takes up more space. The most words should be on the parts important to you.
◦ It is not important to draft in order of the table of contents. Instead, start with the most important part.
The mentor text you use should match the genre you are writing.
Have a goal as a writer; ex: I will write a chapter a day.
Audience – Who am I writing for?
Colleen’s Favorite Nonfiction Mentor Texts
Structure – Deadliest Animals (least to most), Cats vs Dogs (compare/contrast), Amazing Journeys (3 animals on a journey) ALL National Geographic for Kids have great structure!
Elaboration – Elephants by Bloom
Craft – Oh, Rats!
Language – The VIP Pass to Major League Baseball Game; Time for Kids Natural Defenses.