Monday, January 8, 2018

Choice in Nonfiction Writing

This year, my teaching partner and I decided that we were going to allow more freedom during our Writing Workshop Nonfiction Unit. We've always allowed freedom in choice (of topic) but we've always chosen the format, usually feature articles but last year we tried out infographics. But this year - we wanted students to write a nonfiction piece where the format and topic were completely the student's decision. As we head towards personalization - we wanted students to have voice, choice and ownership in their writing.

To do this, we did have to work with our students to set up some parameters. During Readers Workshop, students had to be reading a nonfiction book. This could be on any topic and in any format  (chapter book, picture book, graphic novel) but should be a book that could give them background information or ideas for writing. This seemed to greatly help connect reading and writing and allowed students to get a jump start on research. Knowing the end, also helped our kids get ready for writing.

Before completely, jumping into drafting their writing pieces, we had students choose their format. During our Readers Workshop, we had read narratives, feature articles and infographics as a class. We also talked about how form can help us understand more complex texts. Therefore, students were familiar with the various formats and the ways they could be used. Before they started writing, however, we wanted them to take a few notes on what was important about the writing style and craft they were hoping to create.

Click the graphic to be taken to a Google Doc link to note sheet.

I had three Target plastic bins filled with mentor texts for students. One crate was filled with narrative nonfiction titles, one with infographic examples, and one with magazines so students could reference feature articles.  {Click links above for the best book bins for collections, narrative titles I had available and infographics I printed off in color and linked for students.}

Students were tasked to read 3-4 mentor texts and make observations. What were the authors doing in each text? What text features and structures were being used? How are these pieces set up on the page? Notes could be recorded on a simple note sheet we glued in our notebooks.

The following day, we started making our plans using our observations from the previous day. This also helped guide our further research. Plans ranged from extremely detailed to a simple sketch of the layout. All students, were able to create an image that related back to their noticings from the day before -- thus giving them a plan for writing. Then, they were able to spend the next several days researching and drafting parts of their nonfiction pieces.

The end result was incredibly impressive. Blown away, amazing. I read pieces that were informed, researched and most of all looked like REAL writing. Topics were diverse from defenses of a hedgehog to the assassination of JFK. I was also amazed at the risk students took, especially those choosing to write narrative nonfiction over an infographic or feature article. It's amazing how one little change can lead to so many great writing pieces. 

How do you give your students voice and choice in writing?



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