Tag Archives: Explorations in Nonfiction Writing

Explorations in Nonfiction Writing in the Classroom


We have received several emails from educators who use Explorations in Nonfiction Writing by Linda Hoyt and Anthony Stead in their classroom and wanted to share student work. One teacher, Irene Farmer, has been teaching first grade at Francis Wyman Elementary School in Burlington, MA for 18 years, and this is her second year using Explorations in Nonfiction Writing.

In this link to her classroom website and her students’ “Virtual Author’s Tea,” Irene shares the process of using an Extended Writing Unit from Explorations in which her first grade students write and narrate their very own informational books on the rainforest.

Throughout the unit the students learned about note taking, writing, editing, and publishing as well as 1:1 technology connections of uploading images and creating video clips of themselves reading their books aloud.

Below Irene briefly shares the process, but be sure to visit the link to see the many vibrant class photos and the students’ own video presentations.

Room 111’s Rainforest Research:

Step One: The R.A.N. Chart

  • Students chose from the following animals: jaguars, poison dart frogs, toucans and sloths.
  • After choosing which rainforest animal students wanted to research, they began with a R.A.N. chart (Reading and Analyzing Nonfiction). Prior to doing any research, they wrote information/facts which they thought to be true about their animal on Post-it notes. Students then placed them on the "What I Think I know" page of our R.A.N. chart.

Step Two: Research

  • Students began to research facts on our animal in a few different ways.
  • They researched facts and jotted them down in their Research Notebook.
  • They focused their research on "What the Animal Looks Like"; "Where It Lives"; "What It Eats" and "Other Amazing Facts."
  • They researched through teacher-approved websites on their iPads.
  • They researched through "Sketch to Stretch": In "Sketch to Stretch" the teacher reads some information from a book and/or a magazine and students quickly sketch some pictures with labels to help them remember the facts about their animal.
  • Students then add this information into the proper page of their Research Notebook.

Step Three: First Draft

  • Students begin to write the first draft of their informative piece, using the information from their Research Notebook.

Step Four: Edit and Publish

  • After much writing and editing teacher support, students are ready to input all of their words into their electronic book created on the Bookcreator app on their iPads.
  • Students use www.photosforclass.com to find appropriate, kid-friendly photos to go with their writing. Each photo also cites from where the photograph came.

Step Five: We Celebrate!

  • After much research, drafting, typing and layout work, the books are ready to be recorded.
  • Students read aloud to record what they have written on each page and then share with fellow classmates.
  • Each student gets the chance to listen to all classmates' books as they rotate around the room.
  • After each listen, students jot down a short compliment on a piece of paper for classmates to take home.

Step Six: Back to Our R.A.N. Chart

  • Lastly, students go back to their R.A.N. chart.
  • They move their Post-it notes with information from the "What I think I know" page to the "Yes! I was right" page or the "I don't think this anymore" page.
  • They discovered that we already knew a lot and learned even more!

Click here to visit the “Virtual Author’s Tea” on Irene Farmer’s classroom page.

Guided Writing, Part 2

In Part 1 of her blog, Linda likened guided writing to guided reading in that they both focus on a learner's needs and take place in small, flexible groups. She also offered suggestions for how to fit guided writing into the daily classroom schedule. In Part 2, Linda offers sample lessons that show specifically how she works with students to lift the level of their writing.

By Linda Hoyt

Sample Guided Writing Lessons

Vignette 1: Guided Writing as an Extension of Guided Reading

Marcella, Stephanie, Malo, Joey, and Megan have been reading about westward migration during guided reading. Their discussions have been rich with connections to the social studies unit we are studying as a class. I decided to shift them from guided reading to guided writing to take advantage of the rich descriptors in the guided reading text. The language of this text is laden with colorful descriptions and interesting sentence patterns, both of which were much needed in these students’ writing.

I explained that we are revisiting the book they have read, not to look at content, but rather to look at the writer. I requested that they reread page 4 and prepare to make observations about the writer’s craft, especially the descriptions and the way sentences are structured.

From page 4, Joey read, “They created maps, charted rivers, identified plants and animals, and brought back tales of harsh weather and beautiful land.” Malo volunteered to share first and observed that one of the reasons he had really liked reading this book was that he could imagine the activities. The book was written so that he could make a movie in his head and understand what was happening.

The other students agreed and set about finding additional examples of places in the book where the author had used lists of actions and interesting descriptions to stimulate visualization for the reader. They concluded that the sentences that listed actions, separated by commas, were very powerful.

Our next step was to turn to the writing they had been doing on westward migration. Each student had a different topic under development. Our challenge in guided writing was to apply what we learned from this author to our own work. They started in pairs helping each other to look for spots in their writing where the strategy for listing actions could be used.

As I closed the guided writing session, I asked them to summarize what they had learned and explain how they would use that understanding in their writing.

As in the previous vignette, I made a note to myself to check with them the next day and invite them to present a group minilesson for the rest of the class as this writing strategy was one not yet covered for the class at large.

Vignette 2: Guided Writing during Writers Workshop

John, Alecia, Alvarito, Shandrea, and Alad lean in closely as I show them the leads in four of my favorite informational picture books. As the students observe, I point out the way the authors have tried to pull me into their texts with first person language such as “Please notice that…” or “Did you know that…” or opening with a question.

I had presented several whole class minilessons on strategies for pulling the reader into informational writing, but these five students continued to develop pieces that read like lists of facts. They would benefit from the increased intensity of a guided writing group on this topic.

As I continued to point out strategies used in these books, I noticed that Alad kept leaning in closer and that Shandrea was totally focused on the language. These are students who are easily distracted and often sit at the back of the sharing circle, yet in the small guided writing group, they were totally connected.

My next step is to show the students a piece of my own informational writing, which I had placed on a sheet of chart paper. I read it and did a think-aloud about how to improve the lead and make it more appealing to a reader. While thinking aloud, I explored the use of questions to open paragraphs and showed the writers how I could change my piece by beginning with a question, such as, “Do bats have belly buttons?” Ultimately, the students assisted me in drafting my new, more inviting draft and were eager to dive into their writing folders to add some life to their own work.

The group lasted about ten minutes, but we accomplished a great deal. As they left the table, I made a note to meet with them again the next day to check on their progress and invite them to share their changes with each other. I also made a note to give these students an opportunity to share what they had learned and their ensuing changes during our sharing circle for writing.

Vignette 3: Guided Writing with Emergent Writers in Writers Workshop

Six eager kindergarten faces shone with excitement as they joined me around the table for guided writing. I had selected these students as a temporary guided writing group because they were still focusing on drawing and were producing very little writing even though I continued to do modeled writing every day.

I modeled how to stretch out a word and say it slowly while writing the beginning and ending sounds. I also reminded them to use picture-alphabet cards, which were on the table, so they could find the picture clues to match the sounds they could hear. We practiced stretching several words. I had modeled these behaviors in whole class sessions, but the intimacy of the small group really helped these writers engage.

Once I had given the group a strategy for writing words, I wanted to give them something concrete to spark ideas. So, next I passed out photos that I had taken the day before of these students doing cross-section drawings of pears and oranges. I asked the students to place their photograph on a piece of writing paper and create labels for the things they could see in the photograph. It worked! They were each able to label several items from the photograph, using at least beginning and ending sounds. And, they started drafting sentences! Thanks to guided writing and the boost in confidence it provided, these students now see themselves as writers.


Guided writing, like guided reading, must reside within a rich culture of language and informational explorations. The teaching done in guided writing is based upon the broad range of experiences children have in modeled writing, shared writing, interactive writing, and personal writing. The groups are small and flexible. Teaching is targeted to explicit learner needs, and the emphasis is on the craft or process.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Linda Hoyt is a nationally recognized consultant who creates environments where engaged children are active participants in their own learning. She is the author, co-author, or editor of Solutions for Reading ComprehensionRevisit, Reflect, Retell, Updated EditionSpotlight on ComprehensionExploring Informational TextsMake It Real, and Snapshots. In addition, she is the author of the Interactive Read-Alouds series and the Explorations in Nonfiction Writing series.

Guided Writing, Part 1

In the first of two parts, educator and author Linda Hoyt describes how to blend guided writing with guided reading. Cheers to the weekend!

by Linda Hoyt

What Is Guided Writing?

I used to think that guided writing occurred when I gave students a writing assignment and directed them to use a particular format, genre, or topic. I believed I was guiding writing when I asked them to write in a learning log about a science experiment, write a response to a treasured story, or write an argument for the best way to solve a math challenge. I was providing guidance, but I was mostly just giving assignments.

I realize that these “assignments” had value for deepening knowledge of content and text structure, but there was little “guiding” about the craft of writing.

Now, I see guided writing as a highly focused, small group writing experience. As in guided reading, this is a time for the teacher to focus tightly on a small group of learners. During this small group time, the teacher can provide connections to minilessons shared with the whole class and give an opportunity for the writers to engage with the minilesson concepts while the she is close by to guide and support. This small group time might be an opportunity to stretch and expand the writing skills of gifted students, to reteach key writing skills for struggling students, or to demonstrate an informational text feature a group of students would find helpful in their content writing. As in guided reading, instruction is built upon learner needs, and groups are small, flexible, and short-term.

Where Does Guided Writing Fit in the Daily Classroom?

Guided Writing as an Extension of Guided Reading

I often slip into guided writing as an extension of a guided reading lesson, taking students into the world of the writer in response to their reading. In this case, I would ask the students to revisit their guided reading selection and think with the eyes of an informational author. For example, I might decide to focus on the author’s craft by asking, “What do we notice about this author’s word choice?” Or, I might decide to focus on informational text features, asking questions about the author’s use of bullets in a list, captions, or conventions like bold-faced headings. In the guided writing group, we would make connections between reading and writing by asking ourselves, “How did techniques or features help us as readers? How might we use those tools in our own informational writing?”

The next step is to get out writing folders and have the students examine a piece of their own informational writing to consider adding text features that would strengthen their message and offer better support to their readers.

In this scenario, guided writing is slipped into the time allocated for guided reading, with students shifting between the two. This requires no adjustments in daily schedules because the guided reading occurs during an already scheduled time block.

Guided Writing Within Writers Workshop

Guided writing can offer instructional power during writers workshop. If you look at your writers workshop schedule, you might be able to allocate ten minutes of each workshop for a guided writing group meeting. This could be regularly scheduled so students know they have guided writing with you on a certain day. It could also be much more flexible in that you could use that allocated guided writing time to gather students in flexible needs groups to do some explicit modeling, reteach a concept from a whole class minilesson, or teach an advanced lesson on a craft element in informational text.

Guided Writing in Content Area Studies

Math, science, social studies, and health all offer rich opportunities to gather small guided writing groups for explicit instruction and support for writing in the content areas. Even a brief session can heighten learners’ awareness and bring increased skill to their written communications.

In Part 2 of her Guided Writing blog, Linda will offer sample lessons to show how guided writing can be a partner to guided reading and support students in their writing journeys. Stay tuned!

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Linda Hoyt is a nationally recognized consultant who creates environments where engaged children are active participants in their own learning. She is the author, co-author, or editor of Solutions for Reading ComprehensionRevisit, Reflect, Retell, Updated EditionSpotlight on ComprehensionExploring Informational TextsMake It Real, and Snapshots. In addition, she is the author of the Interactive Read-Alouds series and the Explorations in Nonfiction Writing series.

Just Do It! Informational Writing in the Primary Grades

Welcome back to firsthand Fridays. In the first of three blog posts, educator, author, and consultant Linda Hoyt discusses how primary students can research and write nonfiction while still learning literacy.

by Linda Hoyt

I am so excited about how the children are writing, especially in comparison to years past. It is early in the year and my kindergartners are confident with several text types and absolutely love to write. We have lists, notes, and multi-page books that look like they were done by much older students. Thank you for helping me to believe. They are more accomplished writers and I am a more accomplished teacher.
—Sandy Gordon, kindergarten teacher

Young children can research and can learn to craft quality nonfiction writing. They are experts at asking questions. We just need to show them how to direct their questions toward a specific topic and then guide interactions with multiple sources through read-alouds, comparison of leveled selections on the same topic, and careful examination of visuals.

For many years, I have called for a stronger emphasis on informational sources in primary classrooms. Now, it is so exciting to see primary teachers actively guiding children to understand that they can learn about the world while they learn to read and write. Everywhere I go, I see more informational selections on display and in the hands of independent readers. I see ever-increasing proficiency as emergent and developing writers capture facts in pictures, labels, notes, and sentences. These eager researchers read and write in collaboration with partners and take great pride in generating questions that fuel more reading, more research, and more writing! (Can you hear me clapping?)

Most of all, I celebrate the increasing number of teachers who are clear in the belief that they are not there just to teach but to ignite a sense of wonder—to help kids live a curious life. In classrooms driven by curiosity and wonder, learners erupt with literate vigor, and writing becomes a natural extension of the learning.

Forward-thinking educators weave nonfiction reading and nonfiction writing into the fabric of daily literacy instruction.

Nonfiction writing used to be saved for genre studies in which young writers created a set of directions or engaged in crafting a report about animals. But evidence now suggests that this limited view of nonfiction writing is too little—and too late! We now know that forward-thinking educators weave nonfiction reading and nonfiction writing into the fabric of daily literacy instruction, ensuring that children write for a variety of purposes and experience a broad base of nonfiction text types. (Stead and Hoyt, 2010; Saunders-Smith, 2010; Glover, 2009.)

Occasionally teachers express concern that informational writing should wait until foundational skills are in place. But here’s the good news: extensive evidence suggests children do not need to have correct spelling, complete sentence structures, deep content knowledge, or well-developed writing traits in place before they begin to engage as nonfiction writers. They will develop these essential skills as a natural extension of modeled writing, coaching conferences, revising, editing, and presenting their work. They will learn as they go. With successive writing experiences, word-building skills will grow and the writing will gain sophistication.

The key is: Don’t expect perfection—expect growth.

Model and take time to think aloud as you write under the watchful eyes of your students. Let them hear what is in your mind as you capture an interesting fact on paper, insert a label on a diagram, or list the attributes of a tree frog. Celebrate moments of growth, knowing that each time your students pick up a pencil or begin typing on a keyboard, they will do even better. Spelling, sentence structure, and traits will develop—hand in hand—within the context of the instructionally rich writing opportunities you provide. So, “just do it!” Leap in and get started.

When I write, I wonder
When I write, I think
When I write, I learn
When I write…
I wrap myself in the magic of nonfiction

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Linda Hoyt is a nationally recognized consultant who creates environments where engaged children are active participants in their own learning. She is the author, co-author, or editor of Solutions for Reading ComprehensionRevisit, Reflect, Retell, Updated EditionSpotlight on ComprehensionExploring Informational TextsMake It Real, and Snapshots. In addition, she is the author of the Interactive Read-Alouds series and the Explorations in Nonfiction Writing series.