Recently, Stacey and I were chatting via email about why the teaching of conclusions isn’t presented as a separate minilesson in Bringing History to Life, the information writing unit in the 4th grade Units of Study in Opinion/Argument, Information, and Narrative Writing by Lucy Calkins and colleagues. Rather, conclusions are reviewed in a Teaching Share at the end of a session on developing a logical structure using introductions and transitions.
Stacey and I discussed whether conclusions warranted greater emphasis in fourth grade, and about the variance in experience with conclusion writing that fourth graders bring with them from third grade. We agreed that if students came to fourth grade with a solid background how to plan and structure a conclusion in their information writing that re-teaching them the basics didn’t warrant an entire minilesson. However, if students didn’t have this prerequisite teaching under their belts, then a teacher could certainly consider adding a whole-class lesson to this unit.
I’ll digress for a moment to offer a reminder that, yes, absolutely, you can (and should!) tweak this curriculum, and any other you use, to work for you and your students.
To continue, if you are teaching a more sophisticated information writing unit, such as one on research-based writing or writing about history, you might make sure that your students understand and can demonstrate the following when concluding their writing (Note that these are important both when concluding a single section and when concluding the entire piece.):
- There should be some kind of a wrap-up to the section or piece. Even a little recap of the most important ideas or information from the section could work well.
- A great conclusion invites readers to feel connected to the information and leaves them thinking. A writer might achieve this by asking questions or inviting readers to respond in a certain way.
If your students aren’t demonstrating mastery of the above, you might consider planning a minilesson in which you show them how you do this in your writing as a way to prepare them for greater levels of sophistication.
Often it is the case that students just need a small amount of instruction in order to master prerequisite skills. Likely after a review lesson, you could continue on the trajectory of instruction outlined in the unit.
Some ways to ramp up the level of conclusions that your students write, to coincide with more sophisticated information writing:
- Like bookends, connect the conclusion to the beginning of the section. A writer might do this by starting an anecdote at the beginning and ending it in the conclusion. So, back to what happened in the zebra enclosure…
- End one section with a sneak peak at what is coming in the next section. If you think jellyfish have amazing bodies, wait until you hear about their tentacles…
- Explain why the information matters. If writing about history, perhaps explain why the information is relevant today. Many people still affectionately refer to a signature as a “John Hancock” because of one man who didn’t want his name to be missed on that historical document.
- Call readers to action. The plight of the child workers during the industrial revolution reminds us not to take the rights of the disenfranchised for granted. Just as many in society fought for the child workers, we can fight for those today who aren’t treated well under current labor laws.
In conclusion, teaching students to end their writing thoughtfully not only helps them to get readers to connect more deeply the information they are writing about, it helps the writers themselves to connect more deeply to the information. Concluding well means thinking: what is the takeaway here? If I can only leave my readers with one lasting idea about this information, what should it be? To this end, I leave you with this: instruction on conclusions in information writing, much like the conclusions themselves, need not be lengthy, but it need be thoughtful, targeted, and inspiring.
Anna is a staff developer, literacy coach, and writer, based in New York City. She taught internationally in places such as Sydney, Australia; San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and Auckland, New Zealand in addition to New York before becoming a staff developer for the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University (TCRWP). She has been an adjunct instructor in the Literacy Specialist Program at Teachers College, and teaches at TCRWP where she helps participants bring strong literacy instruction into their classrooms. Anna recently co-wrote Bringing History to Life with Lucy Calkins, part of the 2013 series Units of Study in Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing (Heinemann). She has been a researcher for Lucy Calkins, contributing especially to Pathways to the Common Core (Heinemann, 2012) and Navigating Nonfiction (Heinemann, 2010).