Tag Archives: writing

Sneed B. Collard on The Beauty of Pairing Down

Teaching Nonfiction Revision book coverAdapted from Teaching Nonfiction Revision by Sneed B. Collard III & Vicki Spandel

I have a confession: I love to cut. Almost nothing pleases me more than to read through a manuscript and find a sentence, a paragraph, a page – entire chapters – that can be placed under the guillotine and dispatched into history once and for all. My general rule of thumb? If I can’t cut at least a quarter of my first draft then I’m not doing my job. 

Fortunately, the majority of early drafts contain more fat than Iowa-raised bacon. Let’s talk about Texas Chainsaw Massacre-style cuts – you know, hacking off large sections of your manuscript to make it better. How do you know where to begin? 

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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.

Does Your Writing Assessment Help Writers or Pac-Mans?

Reimagining Writing Assessment Maja Wilson book cover

The following is adapted from Reimaging Writing Assessment: From Scales to Stories by Maja Wilson.

I was mostly disinterested in the Atari that my brother got for Christmas in the late 1970s; the excruciatingly slow back-and-forth of Pong bored me. But when Pac-Man was released in 1982, I was intrigued; fleeing a ghost made sense to me. Still, I was confused by Pac-Man’s motivation when it came all to those wafers. One after another, screen after screen, he just kept gobbling them up.

“Why is Pac-Man always so hungry?” I asked my brother while awaiting my turn at the joystick.

His explanation was offered with an exasperated eye roll, “He isn’t hungry. You get a point for each one.”

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Incorporating Field Research into Writing Instruction

Writing Instruction

Adapted from Teaching Nonfiction Revision by Sneed B. Collard III,  and Vicki Spandel

Inexperienced writers often consider research a waste of time. Rather than reading books, watching a documentary, or talking to an expert, they prefer to dive into writing like a penguin chasing a sardine. The problem with this approach is that a writer may dash off a rousing first paragraph only to find she doesn't know enough about her topic to add even one more good line. Thoroughly investigating a topic can solve this problem — and do much, much more. 

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Helping Struggling Learners to Show Understanding

Supporting Struggling Learners book cover

Allowing students to show understanding in multiple forms plays off of one of three universal design for learning principles — incorporating multiple means of expression. For a variety of reasons, expressing understanding is hard for many struggling learners. Sometimes, a learner has trouble putting thoughts to words and is unclear of what he or she wants to say. Other times, the learner knows what he or she wants to say but has trouble expressing it clearly and succinctly. And in other cases, a learner is taking time to process input and just needs time to express understanding. Regardless, we serve all our learners well when we provide students with multiple ways to demonstrate understanding. 

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Using an Editor’s Mindset: An Origin Story

Back and Forth: Using an Editor's Mindset to improve Student Writing

In her new book Back and Forth: Using and Editor's Mindset to Improve Student Writing, Lee Heffernan encourages teachers to go from giving writing feedback to students as their teacher, to giving feedback as students’ editor. Here, excerpted from her introduction from Back and Forth is the origin story of her thinking:

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