Sunday, October 31, 2010

Creating Interest in Writing Informational Text

One day after school this past week, two teacher-friends stopped by my room. they commented on the display along the counter under the windows. Information books about changing leaves, Ziploc bags of multi-colored leaves and handheld microscopes line a long section of the workspace. Nearby, an easel holds a chart reading, "What do we know about leaves changing colors?". The kids' observation notebooks, colored pencils, and blank books sit in baskets near the lamp that gives that corner of the room a soft glow.

We talked a little about how excited the kids are to be observing and researching and learning about things like this. Before the leaves fell into our classroom lives, we spent time learning a little about bees and other insects. And spiders--I can't forget the spiders.

After this visit, it occurred to me that while I have been reading aloud lots more informational text this year and have provided a space and time for the kids to observe and research things they find interesting, I haven't had kids writing informational texts. Mr. A. is on my grade level team, and we often plan together. I told him what I had noticed and that one goal I had for the year was to make sure I was having the kids learn about and write informational text throughout the year, not just during one grading period or unit of study. He agreed and mentioned that he had noticed the same thing with his kids. Early in the year, we had both spent lots of time teaching our kids that writers get ideas in many ways, including things the writer knows a lot about. I think that we were hoping that this would be enough to propel some of our young writers into writing some informational text of their own--after all, the kids seem to be drawn naturally to the informational texts we've made available in our classroom libraries.

"I guess I expected they'd be more excited," I said. "I have all this stuff here, we read information texts--it's what they talk about and are excited about. But they just don't show an interest in writing any of it themselves."

"I've noticed the same thing. I was thinking about doing something,"commented Mr. A., "but what?"

We decided to start small--after all, our kids are pretty small. Besides, we aren't really looking for research reports here. We just want our young writers to become more aware that if they have an interest in something and know some things about it, they can use that as an idea for writing. We also wanted to keep the plan simple enough that we would not get overwhelmed, and we reminded ourselves that this is not the only time this year we'll address informational writing in writing workshop.

Within a few minutes, we had come up with a plan. We thought the key would be to link to things we had already studied with the kids and things that were happening  in our classrooms.
  1. We both had done mini lessons on writing for different purposes and have been adding to it. We decided we needed to add something to that list that would help the kids develop an awareness they can write to tell others what they know. In my class, the kids called it writing "to teach others".
  2. We agreed that a mini-unit was needed to help the kids get started. Our unit will only last about a week, and will focus on 2 main learnings:
  • how to decide on a topic--we thought having the kids talk about things they know a lot about would be the way to go. During mini lessons on this, we would the kids to think of something they knew at least 4 or 5 things (a "handful" of facts) about. We planned to share examples (kids and teachers) over the course of 2 days.
  • how to put one kind of information on each page--The plan is to use information text written at the level of most of the kids. These texts would either have 1-2 sentences on each page, with each page containing a different kind of information or would be patterned text that carries one concept across several contexts. This would allow kids to see how
In my room,  we are on step two of the plan and have talked about how to decide on a topic. The first day nothing new happened. But on the second day, during sharing, T. showed us her work.

"I'm just starting an information book--it's about dragons. I only have the page where they breath fire. But I know some other things about them too and I'm not done."  (Don't worry--I know dragons aren't real. The important thing here is that they kids are starting to try something other than narrative writing, and that they are thinking to themselves, "what do I know about? What am I interested in?")  A couple others have started books about leaves and one is writing about insects. C. told me he's going to talk to his grandpa to learn more about semi trucks because he wants to "make a book of them".

This may not be a huge step, but I think that we are succeeding in developing awareness and opening up some possibilities for our writers. I can't wait to see what happens next.


  1. Okay, first of all, LOVE the photo. Hope to see mote if them in upcoming posts. :). Second, what do you mean this may not be a huge step? It's significant. You are changing their lives as writers. I'm going to have to follow your lead in a second grade class I'm working in. I notice the one genre they haven't delved into is informational writing.

    The reflective nature of this post is lovely. You make thinking through teaching seem so natural. Thanks for taking the time to share.

  2. I love that you are talking and thinking about informational text in both reading and writing. My kids are "knee deep" in informational writing right now. I am thinking of extending and deepening by doing a series of mini lessons on the "teaching others" portion you mentioned. My kids are right now just writing what they know... which seems to be obvious to the audience. I want to challenge them to teach the reader something new. Not sure yet how to work that.
    Maybe our classes could continue our trend, and send books back and forth to eachother!?

    L. Moore