Charting the Common Core

Just like you, we here at chart chums are getting back in the swing of things.  We hope you are rested, relaxed, and reinvigorated for the next few weeks! This week’s post continues looking at non-fiction writing through the lens of the common core state standards. Some of you are now just beginning non-fiction writing, and if you are a first grade teacher, you are probably familiar with writing standard 2:

Write informative/explanatory texts in which they name a topic, supply some facts about the topic,
and provide some sense of closure. 

(a complete set of the standards is available at core

So that is the standard that first grade writers need to reach, but how do we get them there? Let’s take it step by step:

Write an informative/explanatory text in which they name a topic

To our eyes there are a few things in this first chunk. The first is they have to choose a topic that they know about, and then they have to write a text that feels like it is teaching a reader. Students have to make sure they have named the topic they are teaching about. To help with writing a text that is teaching you might make a chart like this:

A chart which defines the genre

This chart can be made with your students after reading a few samples of information books. You might even read a fictional book about a topic, for example any of the Froggy series by Jonathan London, and follow with a non-fiction book on frogs. When made together, this chart can serve as a touchstone all unit long for writers. It can also grow and change as children’s understanding of the genre becomes more sophisticated.

No matter the genre, the writing process remains the same. Writers generate ideas, rehearse & plan, revise and edit. First, you want children to be able to generate lots of topics, not just come up with one or two. To help with topics, you might make a chart like this:

This generating topics chart builds upon strategies learned in earlier units.

Then comes rehearsing and planning how your book might sound and go. The planning chart below emphasizes that all writers plan, but there are a few different ways each writer may choose to plan. It also invites children to try more than one way to plan, encouraging independence.

Finally to help children introduce a topic, you may create a chart like the ever wonderful Rosie Young from PS 1 in Manhattan which sets children up to revise by trying out their leads a few different ways:

A chart to support different leads

As with many of the charts we post here on chart chums, you can see Rosie’s use of mentor texts right on her chart. This, as we have mentioned before, is a powerful way to help writers learn how to use mentor texts, but also help the concepts “stick” since they are texts the children know well.

Supply some facts about the topic

The next part of the standard has to do with elaboration. You can find some tips on elaboration in non-fiction at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project Website ( which is where Karin Ma, another great teacher from PS 1, found the information to develop this rubric for her students:

Elaboration rubric

Close up on the first two levels

Close up on the last two levels

Karin, very wisely, first assessed her writers using the rubrics from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project performance assessment (available at the same website above) and made a kid friendly version with samples. This way children can self assess their writing and use the rubric to become stronger non-fiction writers across the unit.

Rosie Young supported another type of elaboration in the following chart:

Elaboration chart for features and pictures

Again, Rosie uses mentor texts and some of her own writing to help writers envision how this work could look in their own books. The annotations name the features being illustrated which introduces specific vocabulary that can be used by the students as they talk about the craft moves they are trying or wanting to try when writing their books.

Provide a sense of closure

A chart to support endings

The above chart is again from Rosie Young’s classroom and illustrates a similar type of chart as her introduction one.  Most importantly there are options for writers to choose from and samples from published texts and class texts. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words.

We hope this helps you as you and your colleagues work to incorporate these new standards into your daily practice.

Until next time, happy charting!

Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz


5 Comments on “Charting the Common Core”

  1. I love your blog and great ideas. Do you ever come to Wisconsin to do workshops?

  2. Terry says:

    I love your ideas! I just finished up my non-fiction writing unit. I will save these fabulous ideas for next year.

  3. Hello, just wanted to mention, I liked this post.
    It was inspiring. Keep on posting!

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