Non-Fiction, Non-ProblemPosted: December 19, 2011
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.
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.
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.
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.
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