JOIN THE VIT FREE RESOURCES LIBRARY

You probably already know that I LOVE teaching writing. And you might think I’m crazy, but nonfiction writing might be my favorite type of writing. It’s hard to call favorites, but truthfully – I find it the easiest (personally) than other types of writing. I think that might be because informative writing is about “teaching.” And, well, if you’re a teacher…it just makes sense, right? 

What makes informative writing really fun for your students is that they become “experts on a topic.” And becoming an expert on something builds confidence – and that confidence can translate into their writing. So I have 3 big tips for you when it comes to teaching nonfiction/informative writing. 

Know Where You are Going!

If you don’t know where you are going, then how will you know when you get there? When you get ready for a unit of writing, you want to get really clear on what you expect of your students as an end result. You know it’s not going to look the same (how boring would that be!), but you know there is a goal and structure to produce something. Between here and there is a process. 

On the low end, your goal may be a 3 paragraph essay/article/book/project.

  • An Introduction
  • A Body Paragraph
  • A Conclusion

There is a clear beginning, middle, and end. Let’s not discredit that – it’s better than many adults! 🤭

On the medium end, it may be a 4 paragraph essay.  

  • An Introduction: States Controlling Idea or Main Idea of the Whole
  • A Body Paragraph: Main Idea #1
  • A Body Paragraph: Main Idea #2
  • A Conclusion: Restates the Controlling Idea, possibly with a Call to Action

On the high end, it may be a 5 paragraph essay.  

  • An Introduction: States Controlling Idea or Main Idea of the Whole
  • A Body Paragraph: Main Idea #1
  • A Body Paragraph: Main Idea #2
  • A Body Paragraph: Main Idea #2
  • A Conclusion: Restates the Controlling Idea, possibly with a Call to Action

This is a basic structure, but it is a skeleton of what you are trying to do. And this is important to understand that not all writers will be able to pull off even a 3 paragraph essay. And I know many of you struggle with the actual paragraph in general. But you know where you are going. And I’m going to get on my soapbox real quick and then I’ll get off to stay on topic. DON’T stress yourself out about what your students can’t do. Focus on THEIR growth and progress. I KNOW you are hearing from possibly your admin, testing results, and your internal thoughts about all the things that your students can’t do. But you know what, ten years from now— they won’t care about their 4th Grade Writing FSA score. They’ll be sitting in their high school classroom having some kind of emotional attachment to writing. a) I love it so much – this is no big deal to write an essay on the Lord of the Flies b) I don’t really care about writing. I’ll do it, but it’s not that important.  c) any time the word “writing” is mentioned:  eyes roll, slump in seat, exasperated.

I’m telling you this because I lived it. I’m telling you this because I care. I’m telling you this because I think EVERYTHING we do in elementary – especially upper elementary plays a big impact on our students’ ability to communicate via writing.

So, yes, I love writing. But I also know everybody doesn’t. And I ALSO know there is a reason for that. Who helped you decide how you feel about writing? And how is it empowering you to impact your students?  Don’t let that define how you show up as a writing teacher. I KNOW that every teacher thinks writing is important. You think writing is important. That’s why you are here. The problem is with our beliefs about writing or US as writers. And I want to help you shift that thinking. 

Once you know what your end goal is, then you can map out your teaching points to get you from here to there. I love using a unit calendar to see the unit as a whole. The writing calendar helps you determine what you are teaching and when.

Use the Unit Calendar for Writing Conferences

You can also keep a copy of your unit calendar inside your conferring binder or writing notebook to refer to during conferences and small group. If you aren’t sure what to teach your students during a conference, then just go to your calendar to see which teaching points fit with their needs. Your students may need something that is not on the calendar, but this is a great way to gauge determine whether your students are applying the skills taught in the unit. 


Begin with choice!

If you teach in an upper elementary testing grade, then this part might be difficult if you have a set curriculum that you must follow. If that’s you, then you might need to be more strategic – more about that in a moment.

Giving students choice in their topic increases engagement. This is because they are invested in the quality of their work. They genuinely care about what they are writing about. If they are reading about their topic, then they are also going to make meaning of the content on their own terms. Hello, reading comprehension benefits!

Giving students choice leads to their voice. When students are writing about a topic they care about, they are going to write in a way that they might speak. They get excited and enthusiastic about the topic. Our job as a writing teacher is to help them translate that excitement and enthusiasm to their writing.

Think about that one student in your classroom that can’t stop talking about sharks. He teaches you about the Megalodon and how he thinks it possibly still exists. He reminds you of Ross talking about rocks. (Are you a Friends fan, too? 😉) THAT’s the writer in that student. Giving that student the power to write about something that he cares about will unlock his writing voice. And it’s also going to make him care about his writing far more than any assignment would! 

In my 4th Grade classroom, we aligned this unit with our Life Science unit. Students chose an animal for their topic and then we used the things we were learning about in science to figure out the different parts/paragraphs of their writing. For example, learned behaviors vs. instincts, life cycles, and seasonal behaviors. This way students were deepening what they were learning in science by writing about it. 

If you teach 2nd or 3rd Grade, you might begin with All About Books. And I’m not saying they aren’t appropriate for 4th or 5th either – you just might want to up the rigor by having them do actual research. This was one of my favorite units to teach in 3rd Grade. Let me tell you how much teaching 3rd grade writing teaches YOU about YOURSELF. 🙂 I’ve got an All About book unit in the works, but for now I’ll leave this little throwback teaser for you.  I hear you. 

What if my students need to write in response to prompts and texts to prepare for a state writing test? 

If you don’t have time in your teaching progression to have students first write about a topic of choice, then here are some ways you can hack choice. I can’t believe I just wrote that – but let’s go with it. 

1.Students can write about a topic of choice, but they must have 2-3 teacher-approved articles from the internet and/or books from the library. In my classroom, we had access to laptops one day a week. Students were able to find an article online. If you go this route, you might have students copy and paste the link into a Google Doc and share with you OR simply write the website in their notebook. 

2. Have a Class List of Topics that Students Choose From. One way that you can give choice is by having specific topics you want students to write about based on a theme, or integrate into your Science or Social Studies content areas. Then, allow students to choose from a list. You can make these around a theme such as animals, endangered animals, state animals, inventors, women inventors, inventions, and the list goes on. 

3.  Select the texts based on your students’ interest. You could have students vote on a topic they write about or as a class, make a list of their interests that they would like to write about. Exude enthusiasm about all topics, but if they are helping you come up with the list, then there is going to be way more engagement. 

4.  Select high-interest texts. At the end of the day, you may be teaching in a setting where you know giving student choice is best practice, but you also have to get them ready for state testing or writing to deadline. There are a lot of texts out there, but be a critical consumer when it comes to what you put in front of your students. If YOU aren’t interested in a text, then that may be a sign that your students most likely won’t be either. You won’t bring that same energy into teaching how to write in response to the text, so if you find yourself with a lackluster text set in front of you – scrap it and move on.

One of the reasons I created the monthly text sets was to have more options for the topics my students were writing about. You can grab this free Informational Shark Text Set here!

Select a Mentor Text (s)

Once you have determined WHAT your students will write about, select a mentor text or two that you will use throughout the unit. Animals are always high-interest with kids, so I tend to go that route because it’s a low-hanging fruit. Kids are naturally interested in animals – even – especially with the creepy ones like snakes or spiders. And the majestical ones like butterflies. You also want to choose a text that has the features that you want to teach!

If you have the option – teach your nonfiction reading unit at the same time you are teaching your nonfiction writing unit. This will work wonders! Your teaching will be side by side. If you’re teaching students how to identify and use text features as a reader, then you can deepen your teaching by showing them how to do the same thing as a writer. Snakes by Time for Kids is a wonderful way of doing this. 

My 3 favorite books for teaching informational writing are: 

  • Snakes by Time for Kids
  • Butterflies by Kevin J. Holmes
  • Spiders by Seymour Simon (His books are AMAZING for craft, voice, main idea, and elaboration!!!)

Inside my Informational Writing Unit, I’ve included Read Aloud plans that identify the specific strategies and teaching points you can pull from the books: Snakes by Time for Kids and Butterflies by Kevin J. Holmes.

Mentor Texts for Informational Writing

Read Like a Writer

Before you teach strategies and techniques about informative writing – study that type of writing. And I don’t mean just you. You and your students. Each of my units begin with the same lesson tweaked in the slightest bit – the genre. 

Writers study the characteristics of the kind of writing they will do – ______. For this unit, it’s informational writing. We spend a full day studying the characteristics of that type of writing. This is important because students see the big picture! They see what their endgame is. As humans, that’s important! We want to know what we are working towards. We want to see our end. We are beginning with the end in mind.  

1.Read the text once for the gist. Preferably, you have already read this text as part of Reading Workshop to model reading strategies. If you have not already read the text before the lesson, then select a section of the text. I highly recommend first introducing the text to your students during your reading block. I can’t stress this enough. You can use this SAME BOOK to teach your Reading teaching points. Don’t create more work for yourself. Leverage what you are already using. You could even use a text you have already used in reading and then repurpose it for your writing block.

2. Read the text a second time with a “writer’s eye.” Slow down and stop to notice what the writer to identify what the writer did to make this writing so amazing. Use the Read Aloud Plans included with this book as a guide.

3. Create a class anchor chart to note the characteristics of informational writing. Use the notebook chart included to guide students thinking, but you want them to come up with some characteristics on their own.

4. Use the notebook chart as a guide. You can then give them the writing notebook chart after the lesson OR hand out the chart before the lesson. They can use highlighters/colored pencils to highlight certain things they notice or key words while you are teaching. The more I use notebook charts, the more I find the value of using them to teach the lesson so that students know how to use them during Independent Practice. Also, they begin to use them as a continuous resource, not just another sheet of paper.

Messy = Learning in Progress

You definitely want to have some ideas in mind for what you expect students to identify as the characteristics. And that’s when the notebook chart comes in handy! 

This is only the beginning of what’s possible when teaching Informational Writing, but I promise you it sets a powerful foundation for you and your students. I’ve put together a unit sampler of the Informational Writing unit. Inside this sampler, you will get: 

  • teaching point calendar
  • the first 3 lesson plans in the unit
  • notebook charts for the first 3 lessons
  • PowerPoint/Google Slides for the first 3 lessons

I also want to walk you through what is provided for you inside the complete unit.

Each lesson includes a PowerPoint or Google Slide. You can use these during whole group or share with your students using Google Classroom. 

 

 

If you are looking for more support in teaching Informational Writing, be sure to join the waitlist for The Literacy Loft Membership, which opens October 29, 2019 and includes ALL of my ELA resources for Grades 3-5 at a low monthly price. You can also purchase the Informational Writing Unit as part of any of the bundles below: 

How to Teach Informational Writing - A complete unit guide and free informational writing unit sampler.

Informational, Narrative, and Opinion Writing Bundle

What is your favorite nonfiction mentor text? Let me know in the comments!