Tag Archives: Teachers College

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. 

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

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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How to Plan for Book Clubs in Middle School

historical fiction book club option

The following is an excerpt from pages 74-75 of A Guide to the Teachers
College Reading and Writing Project Classroom Libraries, Grades 6–8
by Lucy Calkins and Mary Ehrenworth

What is a book club?

Simply put, a book club is a group of readers, usually three or four, who read books roughly in sync with each other. Usually clubs read the same book, but sometimes clubs may read books by the same author, or read a series of books together that share a common genre—mystery, historical fiction, fantasy—or they may read a collection of disparate books with a common lens—thinking about interpretation, learning about shared social issues across the book.

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Tools Don’t Teach, Teachers Do! Using Tools to Support Our Teaching & Teach to Independence

Teachers Toolkits

Written by Anna Gratz Cockerille

Building a strong workshop practice is similar to building a house. Doing it successfully takes expertise, patience, foresight, flexibility, and, of course, the right tools. Having an arsenal of resources to draw upon, in minilessons and in conferences and small groups, is key when you need to teach on your feet, reflexively and quickly meeting the needs of a range of students. 

Just as no two teachers are the same, and no two groups of students are the same, so must teachers’ toolkits be varied, personalized by the teacher and set up to best support the teachers' current group. A toolkit might be a binder filled with text samples and checklists, or it might be a digital toolkit filled with resources available at the touch of a button. A toolkit’s mode of delivery is far less important than its usability and connection to students’ needs. However you decide to store your teaching toolkit, digitally or in a good, old-fashioned binder, here are some tips for its organization and development.

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Teaching Middle School Reading Units of Study: Tips from the Authors

Teaching Middle School Reading Units of Study: Tips from the Authors

Written by Anna Gratz Cockerille

Teachers of middle school reading have their own, unique set of challenges. On the one hand, there is the pressure to get middle schoolers ready for high school. In high school, the demands will be high, to say the least. Students will be expected to wrestle with complex texts with minimal help. They’ll be expected to read and digest information quickly, and to write well about what they read. The inclination for many middle school reading teachers is to prepare students for a high school curriculum by angling their own curriculum toward what will come in high school. On the other hand, most middle schoolers still need plenty of instruction in reading skill work, and many are not quite ready for the high levels of text complexity of whole class novels. So what is a middle school teacher to do? 

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