Category Archives: Reading

Get Your Students to Write Well About Information and Topics They Care About in the World, 1-3

Information Writing Units of Study

Written by Anna Cockerille

Information writing is one of those topics that can seem, on the outset, rather dull. For many teachers, the genre conjures up their own school projects from decades past, projects involving research reports on assigned topics, stacks of note-cards, one confusing, fact-packed tome after another without much related (or relatable) information. 

What has surprised and delighted many educators who witness information writing in action in a writing workshop is that for kids, it is anything but dull. A key distinction: when kids get to choose topics of personal expertise about which to write, their writing simply comes alive. We cannot stress enough: if you’d like your students to write lively, voice-filled, high-volume information books, and to stay motivated and engaged throughout the unit, let them choose their topics. Even if you choose an umbrella topic, say, animals, and they each get to choose their favorite animal to write about, let them choose

As a class, study favorite published information books and talk about what makes those books great. It often doesn’t take a lot of teacher help for students to notice that great information books have: 

  • Amazing facts the captivate the reader
  • A beginning that draws readers in and makes them want to learn more
  • Clever use of text features to teach certain kinds of information 
  • Information that is organized by topic 
  • Other kinds of writing tucked in, like stories, that help readers learn more
  • Ways to teach the lingo of the topic, like bolded vocabulary words and a glossary 
  • A memorable ending that might leave the reader with some strong feelings about the topic, or that might encourage the reader to take action 

Then, you can help students to see that most of these characteristics fit within one of two main categories, structure and elaboration. Students’ observations instantly become a checklist they can use to lift the level of their own writing: 

Qualities of Great Information Writing

Structure

  • A beginning that draws readers in and makes them want to learn more
  • Clever use of text features to teach certain kinds of information 
  • Information that is organized by topic 
  • A memorable ending that might leave the reader with some strong feelings about the topic, or that might encourage the reader to take action 

Elaboration

  • Other kinds of writing tucked in, like stories, that help readers learn more
  • Ways to teach the lingo of the topic, like bolded vocabulary words and a glossary 

Rehearsal for writing is just so lovely in an information writing unit. Gather students into clusters of 3-4, and have each teach their little group all they know about their topic. They’ll amaze you and each other with how much they know. And then, have them pour all of the great information they just taught into their writing. 

At this week’s @TCRWP Twitter Chat, staff developers Jen DeSutter, Anna Sheehan, and Valerie Geshwind will be on hand to discuss ways to get your 1-3 grade students to write well about information. Don’t miss what is sure to be a lively, inspiring chat. As always, bring your questions, observations, anecdotes, and photos. 

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Each Wednesday night at 7:30pm eastern, The Teacher's College Reading and Writing Project hosts a Twitter chat using the hashtag #TCRWP. Join @JenDeSutter, @AnnaSheehan627, and @ValGeshwind to chat about getting students to write well about information (grades 1-3) tomorrow evening.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Not on Twitter? Take Heinemann’s free Twitter for Educators course here.



Cockerille_Anna_GratzAnna Cockerille, Coauthor of Bringing History to Life (Grade 4) in the Units of Study for Teaching Writing Series.

Anna was a teacher and a literacy coach in New York City and in Sydney, Australia, and later became a Staff Developer and Writer at TCRWP. She served as an adjunct instructor in the Literacy Specialist Program at Teachers College, and taught at several TCRWP institutes, including the Content Literacy Institute, where she helped participants bring strong literacy instruction into social studies classrooms. Anna also has been a researcher for Lucy Calkins, contributing especially to Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement (Heinemann 2012), and Navigating Nonfiction in the Units of Study for Teaching Reading, Grades 3–5 series (Heinemann 2010). Most recently, Anna served as an editor for the Units of Study for Teaching Reading, K–5 series.

Looking Ahead to the ELA Exams: What We Have Already Mastered & Developing Next Steps, 3-8

ELA Exams

Written By Anna Gratz Cockerille

Probably the greatest advice we ever hear about preparing kids for high-stakes tests is that a strong curriculum is the best test prep there is. When children are reading and writing daily for long stretches of time, they are far more likely to be successful on an exam that tests reading and writing. There are two key considerations when planning a curriculum that supports success with ELA exams: time and level of text complexity. 

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Developing Robust If…Then… Units in Reading, K-5

Developing Robust If/Then Units in Reading K-5

Written By Anna Gratz Cockerille

The Units of Study in Reading is a comprehensive curriculum designed to provide a years’ worth of instruction in reading. Each kit contains four fully fleshed-out units that together provide a balance of foundational skills, nonfiction and fiction. Each unit represents about six to eight weeks of instruction, so there is space for some additional teaching to round out a school year. Hence, the If…Then…Curriculum: Assessment-Based Instruction book that is part of every kit. 

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Everything You’ll Need to Know to Find Heinemann At NCTE 2017!

Find Heinemann at NCTE 17

From November 16 to 19, Heinemann will be at the National Council of Teachers of English’s 2017 conference in St. Louis! Here now is everything you need to know about our presence at #NCTE17: The First Chapter. Details on our online discount are below.

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Ways to Support All Readers in Our Classrooms K-8

calkclasslib611px21Written by Anna Gratz Cockerille

Because of its deliberately simple and predictable structure, reading workshop allows teachers to adapt their instruction to meet students’ needs in the most responsive of ways. There are few topics that matter more than responsive teaching. Certainly, no two learners are the same, so no one curriculum could possibly meet all learners’ needs. Nowhere in the curriculum is this more true than in reading.

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With Struggling Learners, Embrace The Power of Yet

Supporting Struggling Learners

The following is adapted from the introduction to Supporting Struggling Learners: 50 Instructional Moves for the Classroom Teacher by Patricia Vitale-Reilly

Believing in and teaching the transformative power of yet is perhaps my favorite of all moves and its power with struggling learners especially important. Life, learning, progress, and success is always about yet. What you can’t do now is not what you can’t do, but what you can’t do yet.

[Click here to download a sample chapter from Supporting Struggling Learners: 50 Instructional Moves for the Classroom Teacher ]

Wrapping your mind around yet is not always easy. “It’s about learning to fly. If you can’t fly, run. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl. Wherever you are is where you are. You will get there. Embrace where you are and believe that you will learn to fly.” These words are exactly the kinds of words we need to say to our students.

Begin by acknowledging that students are where they are. Embrace that, and believe that they will learn how to fly. Truly. Believing in the power of yet is not some touchy-feely ideology but is grounded in the belief that when we have a mindset that trusts that all students can grow, we can move our students to a place of great joy and success.

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