Non-Fiction, Non-Problem

Hello Again! 

We hope this post finds you energized for what is probably for many of you, the last week before break. As we prepare for the much needed rest ourselves, we wanted to arm you with some thoughts to bring you into the New Year and the new units that await!

With the adoption of the common core state standards, many schools have seen an increased emphasis on nonfiction reading and writing. Many of the schools we work with across the country are beefing up nonfiction libraries, working on nonfiction writing year round, and incorporating plenty of nonfiction into their read aloud and shared reading time. What can happen when we teach nonfiction is that we get caught up on the content and forget the valuable reading skills that children can gain from reading informational books and will further develop through the reading of just right nonfiction texts. In this post you will find a variety of nonfiction reading and writing charts intended to support a classroom of second graders.


A chart to support learning key details in nonfiction.

This chart supports a classroom of children who, when asked, “What is this book teaching?” give the most basic and undeveloped of answers. You may teach, and subsequently chart, that the questions nonfiction readers ask themselves to make sure they are getting all the information the author is offering. The quick sketches could be from a read aloud that you did ahead of time, or you could even use the photos from that book. You may need to teach all of these questions, just a few, or maybe none at all.  As you may recall from a previous post, the magic number on a chart is four (+/- 1).  More than five things on any chart means that one thing is likely to be forgotten or never used. Sometimes less really is more. After teaching this big work, you may do what Alyssa did (our guest blogger from a few posts back) and make a smaller version of these questions for certain readers to keep with them at all times.

A chart-in-progress to support determining importance

This is a chart that might be used to support nonfiction readers who hang on to the coolest fact as the most important one. You know the experience; after reading an entire book about sharks you ask about the the most important information, and all you hear echoed back is the one line about how sharks can smell a drop of blood from miles away. (true- its why Kristine gets knee deep in the ocean and then runs back out). The tricky part is, for some children, that is THEIR most important part, but that may not be what the author was trying to emphasize. There are a few strategies listed to tie children back into the text. Depending on the level and style of nonfiction book your children are reading, these strategies may not work. If your children’s books have no headings, well then using the heading is going to be awfully hard. It is helpful to study your students’ materials before jumping into your teaching. Again, this chart would be stickier and stronger if the samples were from texts you read aloud or from leveled texts you used during your lessons.

When teaching any strategies around a big skill, it is helpful to think about teaching a few and then spending a day or two reminding children to use the chart and to choose whichever strategy will work for them in the book they are reading now.


A chart to help students write stronger introductions

Since the second grade CCSS talk specifically about children being able to introduce a nonfiction topic in their writing, it seems worth assessing if children can do that well. If not, you might teach, and then chart, some of the above strategies. This chart could look many different ways. This one lists the strategies out of context, but you could take a great nonfiction introduction from a read aloud, write it on chart paper, and mark the same things in context on that introduction. If one introduction doesn’t support the strategies you want to teach, you could mimic Rosie’s lead chart from “Checking in On Charts” and replace the fiction mentors with nonfiction ones. Finally, you could use student work to show examples of what each of these things look like in action. There is a very fine line between inspiration and copying, and when children mimic examples that you have posted they are using them as a powerful scaffold. The next introduction they write may not need to lean so heavily on the models.

A chart to support elaboration in nonfiction writing

The standards for second grade nonfiction writing specifically mention “developing” your topic, which to us sounds like elaboration. For each strategy, there are multiple ways this can be done. For example, to give definitions you could: use a word box, a glossary, or an in-text definition. Even when something is named in the standard, like definitions, we want to give children choice in how they approach it in their own work. To make this more powerful, you could again use mentor texts that you have studied or samples from student work. There are countless ways to elaborate nonfiction writing, so the best place to start is with assessing the ways your writers use and don’t use elaboration strategies. You can scour nonfiction texts for example to share and then put them on the chart with a descriptor so children will be able to recreate it in their own work.

Just like with the reading skills, when you teach a big skill like elaboration you may want to spend a few days teaching all the different ways, and then another day or two in using the chart to make smart choices in our own writing.

A final note:

We too are taking a break over the next few weeks! We wish you nothing but the happiest of holiday seasons and a wonderful New Year! We will be back in two weeks, but until then… Happy Charting!

Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz

What’s Old is New Again

The start of a new month often brings the start of new studies, new themes, new goals. As a result, teachers run around trying to gather lessons, books, materials, and charts to teach what they see as new. They worry about how to get kids excited. They rack their brains. They do frantic Google searches. They plead with colleagues. But what teachers actually need to do is to take a lesson from the world of fashion, which is always reflecting, revising, and retiring fashions as each new season approaches. We can also learn from what the fashion industry has known for years:
What’s old is new again.

This week we hope to remind you of what you already have in place (or in the case of charts- hanging in place) and how you can refashion these charts in ways that feel fresh and new. This requires some reflection, some revision, and some reinvention. It will also require some retirement. As seasons change, we are forced to take a look into our closet, reflect on what clothes are in constant demand, which ones might be layered as the temperatures drop, what might need to be added, and which outfits have not been worn in years and need to be retired and given to the nearest charity. We need to look at the charts hanging in our classroom the same way we look at the clothing hanging in our closet.

This is an example of a chart that is no longer needed in December.

When you walk into your classroom first thing in the morning, glance around at the charts on display. Some questions to ask yourself include:
• Which charts have been up since the start of the school year?
• Is the chart still needed? Do most children do what is on the chart without prompting?
• Which charts contain strategies the children still need and use?
• Which charts do the children still need, but they are not using?
• Which charts might work for the next unit? What revisions might make them work?
• What charts do I not see that will be important to make for the new unit ahead.

This Tricky Words chart is extremely relevant to any unit , especially one that focuses on informational texts.

Then you can think about your new or upcoming units of study. Reflection on the new unit of study leads to revision as we ‘re-see’ how our charts are being used, not used, not needed, need revising, or not there. Now think, What’s old is new again. Which charts can I revise, change, adapt, to make them seem new and fresh, in ways that fit with the new unit of study?
• Is it a change of placement?
• A change of text?
• A change of examples?
• An addition to an existing chart?

• What new chart do I need to start?

This chart shows ways to elaborate informational texts and replaces a narrative elaboration chart which focused more on action, dialogue, & feelings.

Any one of these things can make any old chart feel new again and any new charts seem even more exciting. Back in fashion. Right off the runway. Comfortable. Ready to make your own.

And as always, happy charting!

Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz

Growing Charts, Growing People

We have a colleague at the Reading and Writing project named Jennifer Serravallo who might be the smartest person we know. She has written two books to date and has two more on the way (all while being a mother, it is flabbergasting!) One of her books, Teaching Reading in Small Groups, has revolutionized the way teachers look at data and readers in their classrooms and how reading instruction is planned and executed.  (Here is the link to buy it: Jennifer is leading a group around this topic with New York City teachers, and it was at one of those meetings that an idea hatched in our brains.

Jen emphasizes student engagement throughout her book, and as we sat talking about this idea, Sarah- a brilliant teacher at PS 503 in Brooklyn- mentioned that her colleagues make little kits to help students stay engaged and focused throughout reading and writing workshop. Then the small idea began to grow–why not make charts and tools to help children in all aspects of life? Focus, engagement, confidence, stamina! How can we use what we know about charts and tools to build such useful things as these?

Building Confidence:

We all know these readers and writers: the students who can do it all with you by their side, only to crumble when left to work on their own. Sometimes, confidence is the key. Below is a possibility for a toolkit to build confidence:

A Toolkit to Inspire Confidence

The materials in the toolkit might be a cape, this one was made out of a red dishtowel and some yarn, and a simple chart of reminders. The teacher might sit with the reader and writer and make a list together of all the things the child knows. This becomes the “I Know” chart. Pictures of the child actually doing those things would make this toolkit even more powerful. Then the teacher might say a bit about how Superman (or Batman or Wonder Woman) may not always know what to do, but he knows that he has all these special powers and tools to help him, and so does the child! The daily routine might involve the child rereading all the things he or she knows, then donning the cape to tackle his or her reading or writing.

Close-Up on "I Know"

Building Focus:

Along the same lines, we can make tools to help children sustain focus over a reading or writing workshop. We are working on a book ourselves about charts (stay tuned for more information) and one of the biggest struggles is focus! To date we have both cleaned out our refrigerators, organized pantries, and attacked that gunk that is stuck between the outside window pane and the frame, which is to say we have been unfocused in our writing. What works for us can work for children, so this might be a focus toolkit:

Focus Toolkit

This toolkit has directions to focus, including taking deep breaths- it works, an organization mat, and glasses with the lenses popped out. The idea from the glasses comes from Karin Ma, whose charts we have seen in previous posts, she tried them to help students with editing. Lo and behold, the opportunity to wear glasses kept children engaged in their editing far longer than previously! A little gimmick, like a cape or glasses, can sometimes provide the right element of play to engage children in difficult tasks.

A Mat to Organize Books for Reading Workshop

This mat is a simple file folder with a green circle and a red circle. Before they read, children set up all the books they plan to read on the green side, as they read them they move each book to the red side.

The Other Side

Once students read all the books, there is a gentle reminder that it is time to reread.

Close Up on Directions

The routine here might be that the children read a step, and then do the step as they get ready for readers workshop. Again, actual photos of the child doing each step will make this infinitely more powerful.

As you go into the week, think of all the other life skills you are teaching children along with reading and writing. We can extend what we know about charting and tools to help students learn successful study skills and habits. We are not just growing great charts, we are growing great people.

Now if you’ll excuse us, we need to take ten deep breaths and get back to our chapter!

Until next time, Happy Charting!

Kristine Mraz and Marjorie Martinelli