Cool Tips for Teaching Non Fiction

Here are some ideas to support Non-Fiction reading or writing work in Grade 3-5 classrooms. This post was inspired by  Chris Lehman, a  Staff Developer at Teachers College.

1. Starting the Unit

Set up bins of nonfiction books on tables,
“Today, we become authors of nonfiction ourselves. We are going to find topics, organize them, and write not just for ourselves, but write to teach others to become experts on our topics as well. Today will be all about experimenting, just trying things out—if one version doesn’t go well, we’ll just try another and another. To start, let’s take a look at what some of our fellow nonfiction authors are already doing in their books.”
Information Book Authors Write to TEACH!

  1. They choose topics (hobbies, ideas, places) they LOVE and readers will too.
  2.  They organize (structure, sections) to teach readers.
  3. They use different (a variety) kinds of details.
Demonstrate with a book, then speak with partners about books. Create chart something like this:

“Right now, you are nonfiction book authors. Look at chart and make a plan for your work for the rest of this work time.
Are you someone that will start with number one? Brainstorming lots of topics? You might decide to focus working most on number 1. Maybe making lists or webs or charts (I checked the first box for emphasis).
Or maybe you have topics and want to try our ways to organize them, so you’ll work on number 2. Maybe listing possible chapters, or drawing sections, or coming up with subtitles (I added a check to the second box).
Or maybe you already have the perfect topic in mind and you want to try other ways of teaching it. You could work on number 3 (another check). Maybe you will make some diagrams, or write what you know already, or jot down sources you could go to.

Right now, show your partner with your fingers where you will start: 1, 2, or 3. I pointed to each category to emphasize that this chart contained different strategies they could try to get started with their research. Okay, ready nonfiction authors? GO!”
Some students will make lists, some webs, some will start writing sections, some brainstorm ways of teaching their topics.
2. Choosing a topic

a. Wondering, experimenting and grabbing lots of ideas- live wondering- what things really interest me ( little spiral notebooks- journal pads to jot down for couple of days things they are interested in or wonder about )- wander around school
b. Chart – Know a lot about, Some, a little. Try it for a few different subjects
 e.g. Cooking
A lot Some A little
Cooking healthy food Baking
Food reality tv Chemistry
Gordon Ramsey

3. Trying out topics for size

From here go to taking one of your ideas and  trying out some of what you know in paragraph form- writing long. What I know about the baking is ………. Things I don’t know so much about  are….

e.g I know that I am bad at it because I think I know that measurements have to be accurate, heat has to be perfect, there are chemical reactions which I don’t know much about.
I know
I think
It could be because
I am not sure why
I could find out
I wonder
I believe
I thought/think…but

Let sources guide you. Have a day to go to the library. Bring 3 potential topics to library. Some will be huge topics and some really narrow. “ Say to kids , when scientists do research they begin with whats already known about topic. So what you will do it take your 3 topics and go around the library and see how many sources of info. exist. That will help you to narrow down the topic. Then open up some of those books and see how useful they would be to you.
On same daytalk to kids about the fact that your topic maybe so specific you may have to look up- broaden your research
Or it may be that your topic is so big that you may have to go down- narrow some of your ideas for finding sources.
Same with internetfind some sites check to see if they are interesting…

Sorting appropriate info. sources:
Read first- it maybe a good book to read cover to cover
Skim – it may have some useful info. You could pull out
Read last- good for summary or pulling out info. I still don’t know
Notetaking Strategy
Notetaking – copying
Read, cover it up and jot
Reread- take notes by reading and thinking.
Read a bit, close the text and take notes about things you learned- write them down. Read the section again to think about specific vocab or facts which you may have missed.

One great way to avoid copying text is to ask kids to change the form of the info.
Eg change prose into a chart, or labeled diagram, or mind map
Labelled diagram change to prose

4. The next step – how to teach others through writing

One important shift for students is to frame writing about ideas as teaching others, not just as writing to show that you learned. To underscore this point, I’ll often hold up a nonfiction book and say to students, “The author of this book did not just write to prove to you that they know a lot of stuff. It’s not pages and pages of just facts. That would be SO boring to read. Instead the author of this book wrote to teach you. I want to read just a little of this book to you. Listen to how you can almost picture the topic, because the writer is being so careful with how they teach you. Listen….”

You then could teach students to experiment with many different ways to teach the same facts. Seeing which way can best teach others. Here is a version of a teaching-through-writing chart for younger researchers.
During shared writing, students can orally practice a number of ways of teaching the same fact using this chart while you write down the sentences (your older students can see how you practice writing these out, then try out some of these ways in their own writer’s notebooks). For example, if the class is studying cuttlefish, you might start by saying, “If we are teaching our readers that cuttlefish flash their skin to surprise other sea creatures, let’s try one way of teaching that fact by making a comparison to something else people already know….”
“Let’s try another way to teach, describing what the cuttlefish does, slow step-by-step style, so our readers can really picture it….”
“Now, let’s try telling a story, the cuttlefish can be the main character. Maybe start with something like, ‘deep in the ocean, the cuttlefish swims along’….”
Practicing ways of teaching-through-writing is not only good for leading to way, way, way better writing about research, but is also terrific for learning. The repeated practice means students are interacting with facts and ideas over and over, manipulating them in different ways. Research is fun again, charts help hold onto what was discovered along the way, and all of that work leads to what it should—greater expertise.
For older students ideas for ways to teach through writing:
pros and cons
question and  answer
cause and effect
Try out quick drafts using dif. Text forms – split notebook into half pages and try out one form, then another etc

5. Structuring writing

Think about how to organize whole topic – different categories or chapters and then how to organize within each section

6. Text Features

7. Citation

Teach citation by showing them how to crack the code rather than memorise rules
Revision: play around with order, use mentor texts to help improve own texts, give lenses to look through ( eg vary text form, focus on main idea, order of info, elaboration and research, clarity)

8. Possible plan for unit

Collecting: If you are using sources the collecting will include getting topics, finding sources and taking notes.( 4-5 days) If no research , collecting will be much quicker ( 1-2 days

Rehearsing: playing around with possible topicsincludes playing around with topics, then choosing , then playing around with one specific topic ( 3-5 days)

Drafting- ( 1 day)

Revision- includes a lot of what you were doing in rehearsal ( 3-5 days)

Edit – 1-2 days
Publish and celebrate

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