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 love days like today! It’s one of those days where students experience the fruits of their labor. As adults, we savor times like this, don’t we? How much more powerful for a student!
As students enter the class, they see their pieces of writing spread out all over the room. This gets them wondering about our agenda for the day! I instruct them to clear their desks of everything but pencils and their sticky note pads before going any farther. Once I have their attention, I tell them how proud I am of all their hard work. For sticking through this project even though it was a long one and especially when things didn’t quite work how we planned. They all made it through and should be proud of themselves for sticking it out! I believe it is important to share your work even if it's just as a celebration for a job well done. This project is even more so because it was designed especially for sharing. Informational texts were written to teach and today their texts will do just that!
I explain that today they will have the opportunity to share their work with the whole class without saying a word. This brings great joy to my quiet friends who were looking a little squeamish at the first mention of “share.” I tell them that we are going to do a gallery share. I ask if anyone has ever been to a museum and only a couple had. I tell students that in an art museum, people walk around paying close attention to the pieces of art and do so without much conversation. The artists aren’t there to present their work - they simply let their work speak for itself. And that is just what we will do!
Around the room are your pieces of art - the chapter books you’ve worked so hard to create. You will find a piece to begin with, read it, and leave a thoughtful note. I demonstrate what their notes should look like. At the top of each note, write a “C” and circle it. Beside this letter, you will write a complete sentence that compliments some part of their work. When you are fnished, write an “L” and circle it. Here you will write one fact that you learned. I tell students to only use one sticky note per booklet and to leave their notes where appropriate.
Students begin reading each other’s work and the room goes silent. They are completely engrossed in what they are reading and I enjoy watching them learn! This may go so well that you’ll want to rearrange the rest of the day’s schedule to allow for more time!
When our sharing time is up, I ask students to return to their desks for some reflecting. I ask each student to share one thing he learned. When all have spoken, I ask students to raise their hands if they heard a fact from their own project shared with the class. Nearly all hands are raised. I ask them, “How does that feel? To know that you were a teacher today and that someone learned something new because of work you did? That has to be a great feeling, right?” The smiles across students’ faces says it all!
Had I not needed to document today’s activity for this project, I would have jumped in and been a participant in the share myself. I think it would be wonderful for a student to open up his work and have positive feedback from not only his peers, but also his teacher. So often the feedback students receive in writing is focused on what needs to be fixed and the mistakes they’ve made. I would have loved to tell each student one thing I found amazing about their work and even better - one thing I learned from each!