Teaching informative writing to students is one of the most important types of writing. Why you might ask? Think about the last thing you wrote. Was it a story to entertain? Was it trying to persuade someone of something? Or was it to teach about something?
Most often when we write as we get older, it’s to share information. In order to do this effectively, we have to learn how to research and cohesively put our ideas down so your reader can read, understand, and learn something. There are SO many valuable skills wrapped up in this unit, from teaching students how to take good notes to transferring those notes into an informative piece of writing. Being able to teach a topic to another person means we REALLY need to be an expert on the subject. In this post, you will learn some fun, effective, and engaging ways to teach your little writers how to master informative writing.
Don’t Underestimate Modeling
Just like with every other type of writing, modeling is going to play a HUGE part in student success. It’s important to remember that you’ll be exposing students to unfamiliar skills and it’s always best practice to SHOW them exactly what goes on in your brain when performing these skills. If students have never researched a topic in depth and took notes on the matter, it will be super important to explicitly model each and every step so that students can successfully implement it as well. Some important things I make sure to model throughout this unit are: how this writing is different from narratives, as well as how to write strong introductions, hooks, and a powerful conclusion.
The first thing I like to do when beginning this unit is to hype it up for students. Engagement is key and this unit is no different! I begin by telling students that they are going to be able to be an EXPERT teacher on their favorite topic. I tell them that these experts write and publish pieces so everyone can learn about the topic. I ask students if they are up for the challenge of a brand new style of writing that they may have never used before in order to teach people about their favorite thing. By setting the stage, it stirs up excitement for them and prepares them for something new. Get as creative as you need to in order to get your students excited about this unit!
The Power of Brainstorming
Just like other writing units, we move through the writing process and practice honing these skills during our writer’s workshop. Begin by brainstorming topics for students. Explain that it’s best to research a topic they already know a lot about, that they would like to learn more about.
When beginning this unit, I typically have students begin by researching animals. This is because most have some background knowledge of at least one animal, and there are typically tons of books and other resources where they can find information about them. Circle maps are a great way for students to brainstorm what topics they are already experts on and it can live in their writing folder throughout the entire unit in case they run out of ideas.
How to Take Notes
Teaching students how to take notes is a HUGE piece of this unit. It is important to explicitly model how to research and effectively jot down information to use later. In primary grades, I like to use a simple note catcher to help them as they research and learn more about their topic. I begin by modeling for students how to complete the note catcher using the research. I explain to students that I like to try and find 2-3 different sources while researching so we know we’ve gathered enough information about the topic. We discuss A LOT about how we are going to become experts about our topic and utilizing many different resources is how that is going to happen. Check out this completed example below! You can also see some student’s working through this stage with their own note catchers too.
Some other important topics that can be tied in with this unit are teaching the differences between facts and opinions, the difference between fiction and nonfiction, as well as how to utilize text features to help us learn. Each of these skills helps students throughout the researching phase and will help add to their writing skills.
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Utilize ALL the Resources
Collecting research should be fun and exciting! There are so many ways for students to collect research and the resources you can find are plenty! Non fiction books are one of the best places to start in my opinion. This book display is something I set up to help get students excited about this unit.
Before beginning the unit, I typically head to the school and public library to collect ALL the books. I’m talking between 30-50 books to provide students with tons of choices and different books on different reading levels. The National Geographic books for kids are my FAVORITE because they vary in difficulty so that there are lots of opportunities for all different readers.
Of course books are amazing resources, but they aren’t the only ways to collect interesting research. There are a number of different apps and websites students can use to research as well. Utilizing technology here is great to keep students engaged, as well as allow them opportunities to interact with various devices and research in different ways. Go to the computer lab or use the devices already in your room! You can set up a good schedule to have students alternate device research vs book research, so they can have experience exploring information through texts AND technology.
Here are some great sites we love to use!
PebbleGo and Epic are my FAVORITES to use. They are both great tools for non-readers who are working on this skill, because they’ll read information to the students. Epic allows you to create collections of books for students to search through, or choose from a ton of premade collections. PebbleGo is made for research and gives students all kinds of information to extend their learning such as videos, timelines, and other activities. They even have modules in Spanish to support your ELL students.
Transfer the Knowledge
The progression of this unit depends on how your students are working through the different skills and steps. For example, brainstorming typically takes about 1 day to do. Whereas the researching and note taking can take up to 3 days. I set guidelines for the students so they are working hard to research and collect data during the allotted time. They are aware that they need to complete their note catching graphic organizer with AT LEAST two sources, such as a website and a book. The expectation is also set for them for when they are “finished” while others are still researching. If this occurs, they must look up more information about their topic to try to become as much of an expert as possible.
When most of the students have finished researching, I then model how I transfer my notes into my planning sheet. If some are still in the researching phase, that’s totally okay because it’s still important to model next steps for students so they know where they are headed. Transferring the notes you took, into something that will be the basis of our first draft, is a really important step for students. See below how I transfer my research into my graphic organizer for students.
I model explicitly how to take my notes and start organizing them to become my future paragraphs. We learn to introduce our topic in a way that interests our readers. We choose from our researched notes the three most exciting or intriguing facts we’d like to talk about. We then learn about powerful conclusions and how to make our readers feel that they learned a great deal about our topic.
Let Students Guide the Lesson
After we have researched, collected information, and completed our planning sheet, we are ready to write our first piece. We use our plan to complete our first draft and again, I spend A LOT of time modeling and thinking aloud so that students know exactly what is expected.
Once our draft is finished, we pull out our checklists to ensure we are completing each step during our editing and revising process. As you work through all these steps with students, let THEM guide the mini lessons. What I mean by that is to really pay attention to where a lot of students are struggling. Do you notice that they need more support collecting information? Are they struggling with transferring their notes to their planning sheet? Let students guide you with what their needs are. The first two weeks of this unit will be pretty guided. However, once students understand all the pieces, they are given more freedom for the remainder of the unit and this is where you can differentiate and cater to individual students and their specific needs.
One year, many kids were really struggling with publishing their final drafts. Using Seesaw, I pulled up a stellar published example for the entire class to listen to. At the end, I had that particular student I used for the example to explain their steps while publishing. This modeled a great student example for all students and it helped A LOT!
Show Off the Learning
Your students learn some AMAZING skills throughout this unit and they should absolutely show off ALL their learning! Teachers get super creative when it comes to displaying work and there are many fun ways students can publish their work. One engaging way to have students publish is by creating these adorable writing crafts! They also make a beautiful bulletin board!
Another way we love to publish our work is by using the ChatterPix app. They can take a picture of their animal and record themselves reading their paper. It’s a great way to have everyone “present” and it’s also perfect for students who don’t like standing and sharing in front of crowds. Click on the picture to hear a student example!
‘Author’s Share’ events are also always SO fun and you can get as creative as you and your kids want. You can invite families to come in for all the little author’s to debut their informational writing. Students LOVE sharing how much an expert they are on their topics. One year, we completed a gallery walk as our ‘author’s share’ event. We had each student print their animal, along with a QR code that would take them to the ChatterPix audio/video of the student reading their paper. Each tiny author is so proud and they love showing off their hard work!
Super Supplemental Writing Resources
Why not load your student’s up with ALL the support and resources for them to become strong, independent writers?! Once you experience the shift of your student’s writing after mastering small moment stories, writing just may become your favorite subject to teach! Below you’ll see some of the other writing resources I love to use during writing.
I really hope you enjoyed learning about how to teach informative writing to your students! This really is such a powerful unit that teaches your students SO many new skills! Don’t forget to subscribe to my email list! You will get the most up to date tips, tricks, and classroom projects… and of course more fun FREEBIES including the Fact vs. Opinion FREEBIE! If you would like to learn about this and other things happening in my classroom follow me @sweetnsauerfirsties on Instagram.
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