Thursday, December 1, 2011

Using Informational Mentor Texts to Create Informational Writing!

Introduction
          I’ve worked in a first grade classroom for the past five years. Although, I’ve always implemented a traditional “writers workshop,” I have forever loathed teaching students how to compose informational writing. In fact, I avoid it like the plague! Perhaps this is because I avoid writing informational pieces myself.  I truly enjoy the creativity writing offers for myself and in the first grade classroom. From poetry to narrative short stories,, writing is therapeutic and fosters originality! Yet I have neglected the wealth of knowledge students can gain from writing and reading informational pieces. Research tells us there’s a lack of informational texts as well as informational writing across the primary grade levels. In a descriptive study of experiences offered to first grade students with informational text, results “showed a scarcity of informational texts on display in the classroom library. Teachers and students spent a mean of only 3.6 minutes per day with informational texts during classroom written language activities.” (Towers, 2003 p 26).  Towers suggests that problems children encounter in intermediate grades may be due to lack of exposure in the primary grades. Lucy Calkins also stated that “Many children’s first exposure to informational writing comes in third or fourth grade...If we want children to be ready for what they will encounter eventually in school, we need to plan a sequence of opportunities that will equip them … in non-narrative writing.” (Calkins & Pessah, 2003, p. v) This project will show how to incorporate informational texts, develop a non-fiction library, record research using graphic organizers, and teach students how to effectively write informational texts beginning as early as first grade.  
          This endeavour began for our class in the early fall. My focus was on bats and owls, something I knew my students were interested and would soon be experts of! Teachers may choose any topic that meets their curricular focus or other subject in which their students have expertise. Our class researched a topic using non-fiction texts and internet search engines such as Google. We created graphic organizers to display our learned knowledge. During writers workshop we learned how to write sentences using our graphic organizer. Students worked with a buddy to edit and revise their work, checking for correct punctuation and readability. We published our final sentences into books and then went to visit a kindergarten classroom to share their work. This helped students to feel like real authors and bat and owl experts at the same time! My goal is to incorporate a unit like this once a month to help my students grow as informational writers.

Curriculum Map:
Teaching Tools and Materials Needed:
-several informational books on bats and owls (Gail Gibbons books are great!)
-Non-fiction books to build classroom library
-Lucy Calkins Non-fiction Writing (K-2) for reference
-White board, promethean board, or chart paper to create student made graphic organizers and lists.
-Writing paper and pencils
-Supplies for “published books.” I used construction paper made bat and owl shaped book, but you can be creative with this.
Target for student’s LearningStudents will read informational texts and research online on the topic of bats and owls. Students will be aware of the features of informational texts including diagrams, presents facts in a clear way, use of titles, headings, and captions. Students will use graphic organizers to write their own informational texts on bats and owls.
Instructional PlanWeek One - Bats
Day 1:
Objective(s) - Students will be able to use their schema about what they already know about the genre of non-fiction. Students will begin to examine traits of non-fiction texts.

Lesson Plan:
*Activate student’s prior knowledge on the genre of non-fiction. Ask students what “non-fiction is” and record results on chart paper.
*Introduce non-fiction texts on bats. Tell students that non-fiction books give the reader true information and facts on a topic. Explain that we will be doing a genre study of non-fiction books over the next couple of weeks. We will examine various non-fiction books and learn about their features. After completing our research we will learn how to write our own informative texts.
Day 2:
Objective(s) - Students will be able to discuss informational text patters.Students will be able to explain how authors use text features including headings, titles, labeled photographs, and illustrations to enhance the understanding of key and supporting ideas. Students will be able to respond to individual and multiple texts by finding evidence, discussing, illustrating, and/or writing to reflect, make connections, take position, and/or show understanding.

Lesson Plan:
*Read non-fiction books on bats and discuss the text features of the books. Record features of the texts on chart paper. Students should be able to identify the various features that the non-fiction books have in common (diagrams, headings, glossary, clear facts, titles, etc) Explain that we will continue our research on bats using non-fiction texts and the internet. Read aloud another non-fiction text on bats. Use the book information to model how to draw a labeled diagram of a bat. Have students participate as well. Create a CAN, HAVE, ARE graphic organizer. (Idea for can, have, are graphic organizer taken from Deanna Jump’s blog: http://mrsjumpsclass.blogspot.com/ )Explain that tomorrow we will begin writing our own informational bat books that will teach kindergarten students about bats.

Day 3
Objective(s) - Students will be able to write an informational piece that addresses a focus question using descriptive, enumerative, or sequential patterns, that may include headings, titles, labels, photographs, or illustrations to enhance the central ideas. Students will be able to set a purpose, consider an audience, and incorporate literary language when writing an informational piece, begin to use specific strategies including graphic organizers when planning.
Lesson Plans:
*Model how writers can use graphic organizers to help them write a piece. Teach students how to create sentences using the Bats CAN, HAVE, ARE charts. For example, Bats can sleep upside down. Bats have claws. Bats are mammals. Explain that this will be the first draft of our Bat informational books. Discuss other features of informational texts such as pictures, titles, and diagrams. Explain that these may also be incorporated into our non-fiction bat books. Students should write sentences that are factual and draw a bat diagram with labels. Assist students who’s writing needs mechanical fixing (spaces between words, correct grammar, punctuation, etc) or students who write sentences that are not fact based. See below:
(Although this students used descriptive language to explain that bats “fly up, up and away, she wrote that bat’s “look scarey.” When teaching this lesson I had not yet discussed the difference between facts and opinions, but reflecting back on this particular piece, this is something I would be sure to explain in further lessons on informative writing.)

Day 4
Objective(s) - Students will draft focused ideas using multiple connected sentences with appropriate grammar, usage, mechanics, and temporary spellings when composing an informational piece. Students will attempt to revise drafts based on reading it aloud to clarify meaning for their intended audience. Students will attempt to proofread and edit writing using appropriate resources including a word wall and a class-developed check list. Students will correctly use complete simple sentences beginning with a capital letter and ending with a period, question mark, or exclamation point.
Lesson Plan:
*Today students will peer edit and revise their bat sentences with a buddy. Partner students up. Model how to read a partners piece aloud and check for the following:
·         Our informational pieces should include at least three sentences (written from our “can, have, are” graphic organizers.)
·         Like the informational texts we’ve read in class, each story should have a title that tells the reader what their piece will be about.
·         Students should understand how they can incorporate aspects of informational texts into their own writing (including diagrams and clear facts). Remind students to check for meaning and readability.
·         Like informational texts we have read, demonstrate how real authors use proper conventions in their work. Students should check for correct punctuation and spacing that might be missing.
Once they have completed peer editing. They can begin to re-write their sentences in the bat book.

Day 5
Objective(s) - Students will draft focused ideas using multiple connected sentences with appropriate grammar, usage, mechanics, and temporary spellings when composing an informational piece. Students will attempt to revise drafts based on reading it aloud to clarify meaning for their intended audience. Students will attempt to proofread and edit writing using appropriate resources including a word wall and a class-developed check list. Students will correctly use complete simple sentences beginning with a capital letter and ending with a period, question mark, or exclamation point.
Lesson Plan:
*Student will continue re-writing their story in the bat book. Have students discuss how their bat informational books are similar to the ones we read in class. Students should be able to explain the features of informational texts and how they are represented in their own work. Once the class is finished we will share our non-fiction bat books with the kindergarten class.
(Some students created titles that played off of our graphic organizer such as “Bats Can, Bats Have, Bats Are.” Others chose simple titles that represented the topic of the book “Bats.” I recall one particular student titling her book “Owls” although the entire piece was on bats. This helped me see the importance of making sure students understanding what a “title” is and how it represents what the story will be about.)

(By using the graphic organizer to create our sentences, students were able to use vocabulary words such as nocturnal in their own work.)

Week Two – Owls
Day 1:
Objective(s) - Students will be able to discuss informational text patters.Students will be able to explain how authors use text features including headings, titles, labeled photographs, and illustrations to enhance the understanding of key and supporting ideas. Students will be able to respond to individual and multiple texts by finding evidence, discussing, illustrating, and/or writing to reflect, make connections, take position, and/or show understanding.

Lesson Plan:
*Review non-fiction genre. Map out characteristics on non-fiction texts on anchor chart:
  • Use of diagrams and labels
  • Has true facts
  • Helps us learn about something
  • Titles, headings, captions
  • Photographs

Begin building a non-fiction section in the classroom library. Have students help sort non-fiction books into different genres. Explain the importance of having non-fiction books to help us learn about the world around us and to enjoy various topics.
(Before my library was mainly dedicated to fictional genres such as fairy tales, school stories, Dr. Seuss,  and realistic fiction)


(Students helped me to create and sort four different baskets to create our non-fiction section of our library. Blue baskets are dedicated to books that have a social studies theme and red baskets are dedicated to books that focus on science. As we continue to build our non-fiction library, I hope to add more categories to our non-fiction genre.)

(Our new library with a non-fiction section including some of the new books I purchased to accompany our owl and bat units.)


Day 2:
Objective(s) - Students will be able to discuss informational text patters.Students will be able to explain how authors use text features including headings, titles, labeled photographs, and illustrations to enhance the understanding of key and supporting ideas. Students will be able to respond to individual and multiple texts by finding evidence, discussing, illustrating, and/or writing to reflect, make connections, take position, and/or show understanding.

Lesson Plan:
Explain to students that this week we will be reading and writing non-fiction books on owls. Read various non-fiction books about owls. Point out key features of nonfiction texts such as table of contents, glossary, photos and diagrams. Students should be able to identify these features independently.

Day 3:
Objectives(s) - Students will be able to respond to individual and multiple texts by finding evidence, discussing, illustrating, and/or writing to reflect, make connections, take position, and/or show understanding.
Lesson Plan:
Using non-fiction texts and internet research, create Owl CAN, HAVE, ARE chart. (Idea for can, have, are graphic organizer taken from Deanna Jump’s blog: http://mrsjumpsclass.blogspot.com/ )


(These are our CAN, HAVE, ARE OWLS. We ended up writing them twice, once on the owls and once on our promethean board to make them more user-friendly to read and create sentences from).

Day 4
Objective(s) - Students will be able to write an informational piece that addresses a focus question using descriptive, enumerative, or sequential patterns, that may include headings, titles, labels, photographs, or illustrations to enhance the central ideas. Students will be able to set a purpose, consider an audience, and incorporate literary language when writing an informational piece, begin to use specific strategies including graphic organizers when planning.
Lesson Plan:
Review how authors use research and graphic organizer to map their writing. Have students begin writing sentences from the can, have, are chart. Students should understand that their work needs to be factual and write at least three sentences. When they have completed this, they will  partner up with someone to peer edit their work using the same guidelines as last week for bats:
·         Our informational pieces should include at least three sentences (written from our can, have, are graphic organizers.)
·         Like the informational texts we’ve read in class, each story should have a title that tells the reader what their piece will be about.
·         Students should understand how they can incorporate aspects of informational texts into their own writing (including diagrams and clear facts). Remind students to check for meaning and readability.
·         Like informational texts we have read, demonstrate how real authors use proper conventions in their work. Students should check for correct punctuation and spacing that might be missing.
Day 5
Objective(s) - Students will draft focused ideas using multiple connected sentences with appropriate grammar, usage, mechanics, and temporary spellings when composing an informational piece. Students will attempt to revise drafts based on reading it aloud to clarify meaning for their intended audience. Students will attempt to proofread and edit writing using appropriate resources including a word wall and a class-developed check list. Students will correctly use complete simple sentences beginning with a capital letter and ending with a period, question mark, or exclamation point.
Lesson Plan:
Give each student an “owl” book to re-write their sentences in. Explain that they should work to write sentences with neat penmanship and punctuation as they will be sharing their books with their kindergarten buddies. Have students draw diagrams and pictures to match their words. Once the entire class is finished, have them share their published work with a kindergarten class.




(Students created pages similar to their bat book. Many students writing was also more descriptive than their previous work. See “ Owls can fly and fly so fast!” I was pleased to see their informative writing is sounding more fluent and has more voice!)

What Students Will DoStudents will understand the basic form, features, and purpose of a variety of informational genre.



Students will know how authors use text features including headings, titles, labeled photographs, and illustrations to enhance the understanding of key and supporting ideas.

Students will read and listen to individual and multiple texts by finding evidence, discussing, illustrating, and/or writing to reflect, make connections, take position, and/or show understanding.

Students will use literary language when writing an…informational piece; begin to use specific strategies including graphic organizers when planning.


Students will use focused ideas using multiple connected sentences with appropriate grammar, usage, mechanics, and temporary spellings when composing a narrative of informational piece.


Students will create drafts based on reading it aloud to clarify meaning for their intended audience.

Students will complete simple sentences beginning with a capital letter and ending with a period, question mark, or exclamation point…
AssessmentRubric to Be Completed after both Informational Texts are written:
2 Points each
Writer provides true information on the topic _____
Writer writes three or more sentences on a topic______
Writer uses end marks _____
Writer presents a polished published piece _____
Writer uses appropriate correct capitalization _________
Total out of 10:





Grade Level Content Expectations
STUDENT SKILLS
Students will be able to…
CONTENT TAUGHT
Students will know…
R.IT.01.01
Identify and describeThe basic form, features, and purpose of a variety of informational genre.
R.IT.01.02DiscussInformational text patterns
R.IT.01.03ExplainHow authors use text features including headings, titles, labeled photographs, and illustrations to enhance the understanding of key and supporting ideas.
R.IT.01.04Respond toIndividual and multiple texts by finding evidence, discussing, illustrating, and/or writing to reflect, make connections, take position, and/or show understanding.
W.GN.01.03WriteAn informational piece that addresses a focus question using descriptive, enumerative, or sequence patterns, that may include headings, titles, labels, photographs, or illustrations to enhance the central ideas.
W.PR.01.01Set a purpose, Consider an audience, and IncorporateLiterary language when writing an…informational piece, begin to use specific strategies including graphic organizers when planning.
W.PR.01.02DraftFocused ideas using multiple connected sentences with appropriate grammar, usage, mechanics, and temporary spellings when composing a narrative of informational piece.
W.PR.01.03Attempt to reviseDrafts based on reading it aloud to clarify meaning for their intended audience.
W.PR.01.04Attempt to proofread and editWriting/pictures using appropriate resources including a word wall and a class-developed checklist, both individually and in groups
W.PS.01.01DevelopPersonal style in oral, written, and visual messages in both narrative and informational writing.
W.GR.01.01Correctly useComplete simple sentences beginning with a capital letter and ending with a period, question mark, or exclamation point…




Annotated Bibliography and Analysis of Research

           My project is about incorporating non-fiction texts into the first grade classroom and teaching students how to write an informative piece. The resource that sparked this idea was an article I read in my Writing Assessment and Instruction course at Michigan State University. Cathy Towers wrote a piece about genre study in the classroom and she pointed out the lack of informational texts in a first grade classroom. In one of her studies it showed that first graders spent less than four minutes a day with informational texts. (Towers, 2003, p 26). This could have been my own classroom they were investigating because in the past four years of teaching, I have shunned away from non-fiction books and expository writing. However, Towers explains the importance of beginning exposure of non-fiction texts in the primary grades will set students up for success as they enter the intermediate grades and beyond.
           As I learned more about expository writing through my professor’s power point slide show (Klein 2009), and Writing First: Preparing the Teachers of Our Youngest Writers (Roberts, Wibbens 2010), I realized its value and importance in the first grade classroom. Expository writing allows students to be in charge of their own research and knowledge. They go from “memorizers” to “meaning makers” (Klein 2009). The lack of non-fiction writing and texts in my classroom was pretty evident and my research in class encouraged me to make a major changes to how I approached writing in first grade.
           As I started my research on how to teach first graders to write an informative piece, I began to consider the adjustments I would need to make to my classroom library. Students would need to see more examples of non-fiction texts if they were to write like non-fiction authors. I used Lucy Calkins (2003) Nonfiction Writing, Facilitating the Use of Informational Texts in a 1st grade Classroom (Arnett, Martin, Walker 2003), and Nonfiction Study for the Primary Classroom (Duthie 1994) to help guide my unit planning and research. Main points I noted in all of these sources were teacher’s use of non-fiction mentor texts (such as Gail Gibbon’s books), writing for an audience, and using a writing process (such as mapping, using graphic organizers, and peer editing and revising).
           The last piece of my research that played a key role in my project planning was Graham’s Best Practices in Writing Instruction (2007). This book helped me to form a method for teaching planning of writing an informational piece. A vignette describing two teachers who use a similar Lucy Calkins writing workshop applied their story planning techniques to writing a report. The chapter offers ides on how to set goals for the writing, generate ideas, and sequence them before writing. As students are writing, they are encouraged to continue the planning process. This is a technique we will use as we begin writing informative texts in the first grade classroom.

Arnett, A., Martin, L., Walker, C., (2003). Facilitating the Use of Informational Texts in a 1st-Grade Classroom. Childhood Education, Vol 79 (3), p. 152.

           This source points out the disparity of non-fictional texts and writing in the classroom. Unfortunately many educators still believe that non-fiction texts are too difficult for the primary grades and teachers do not know enough strategies for helping children understand this type of material. “Young children need frequent experiences with many and varied forms of literacy, including texts, in order to gain greater understanding of them.” (153). The article offers these strategies to use when exposing young children to non-fiction texts: predicting, comparing and contrasting, categorizing, skimming and scanning. They also encourage student to write as they are exploring non-fiction texts. In their study of a first grade classroom “reading and writing are developmentally interconnected, the children were engaged in writing as well as reading text. Writing included creating lists from observations, as well as creating connected texts.” (155). This article gave me many of my methods and techniques for implementing a non-fiction reading and writing study in my classroom. At the end it posed the question: “What is the relationship between reading informational texts and gaining proficiency writing informational texts?” This is something my teaching project will address.

Calkins, L., Pessah, L., (2003). Nonfiction Writing: Procedures and Reports. Portsmouth:        Heinemann.

           This book is part of our Lucy Calkins writing curriculum. Generally this book is used to teach non-fiction toward the end of the year; however I found elements that were useful for beginning a non-fiction genre study early in the first grade school year. Mainly, I focused on her sections about structuring “all-about” books and revising and editing. Teachers used Gail Gibbon’s books to build inspiration and help students understand the components that go into non-fiction informative writing. On p. 100 Laurie inspires students to write for a real audience explaining that the librarian is “clearing off a huge shelf” for their informative writing. This inspired me to add an aspect of my project that my students will write their own pieces to teach kindergartners about their topic.

Duthie, Christine. (1994).  Nonfiction: A Genre Study for the Primary Classroom. Language Arts. Vol 71 (8), p. 588.

           This article introduced a similar project to expose first graders to the non-fiction genre. Christine Duthie asked her students ‘what non-fiction is?’ She noted that their responses none of the students said that nonfiction could be written or read for pleasure. She decided to delve into a genre study using non-fiction books by Gail Gibbons. Students then had the opportunity to write their own non-fiction pieces. Her project took place in the spring of the school year. Duthie noted that by “the end of the non-fiction genre study, the group exhibited confidence and comfort with nonfiction. Their published nonfiction demonstrated their familiarity with unique aspects of the genre.” (p. 593-594) her study helped me see the importance of exposing students to non-fiction and teaching them how non-fiction pieces are composed needs to begin early in the school year, rather than toward the end.


Graham, S., MacArthur, C.A., Fitzgerald, J., (2007).  Best Practices in Writing Instruction. New York: Guildford Press.
                  This book is loaded with great chapters pertaining to writing education. For my project, I focused on chapter 6: Best Practices on Teaching Planning. “A basic goal in helping developing writers become good planners is to create a writing environment in which planning is valued. Students need to know why planning is important, how it helps the writer, and when to use it.” (p 123) The chapter highlights eight principals to teach procedures for planning and describes specific vignettes for teaching a planning strategy for writing an informative report. Teachers used aspects of story writing, research, graphic organizers, peer editing and story maps to guide their piece. They are encouraged to continue the planning process as they write. This description gave me insight on how to teach the process of writing an informational piece and I will adapt if for the first grade level.

Heintz, A., (2009). Expository Writing Power point. TE 848. Michigan State University, Fall 2011.

           This power point slide show defined expository writing and why it is so critical to have in the classroom. Students can use informational writing to understand themselves and create their own meaning. The slides also gave me ideas on how to teach expository writing and make interesting pieces by varying sentence length and having students read their pieces aloud. It also explained that students will “value writing practices in content areas based on: 1) the presence of authentic audiences or purpose, 2) the relationship between the teacher and the student…” (2009). Again the reoccurring theme of making sure students are writing their pieces for a real audience came to play. This was an important component of my writing project.

Roberts, K., Wibbens, E., (2010). Writing First: Preparing the Teachers of Our Youngest     Writers. Specific Groups, p. 179.
           This article discusses the lack of professional development and training for teachers of writing. For myself, I was very ill-equipped to teach informational writing. My Lucy Calkins training primarily emphasized narrative writing and little was said about the importance of non-fiction mentor texts and non-fiction writing. The article suggests three proven practices “for teaching writing in the primary grades.” They include collaborative writing, strategy instruction, and process writing. These three techniques are embedded into my non-fiction teaching project.

Tower, C. (2003). Genre Development and Elementary Students’ Informational Writing: A Review of the Literature. Reading Research and Instruction, vol. 42 (4), p. 14.

           Tower addresses the lack on informational texts in the primary grades and how genre theory can lead to more developed production of expository writing. I paid particular attention to her section on Research on the Development of Genre Knowledge and Informational Writing. Towers talks about how the role of exposure of informational texts. In a descriptive study of experiences offered to first grade students with informational text, results “showed a scarcity of informational texts on display in the classroom library. Teachers and students spent a mean of only 3.6 minutes per day with informational texts during classroom written language activities.” (p 26).  Towers suggest that problems children encounter in intermediate grades may be due to lack of exposure in the primary grades, although no research has been done to back this up. This article was my inspiration for the project as forced me to question my own first graders exposure to non-fiction texts and informational writing.

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