Allowing Student Choice within Information Writing: Diving into Information Writing
It’s important to offer choice through all genres. How we do this can vary! Here are some ideas and tips for offering choice in both planning, topic choice, and format for students when writing information pieces.
Choice When Planning
A while back I shared a planning menu for narrative writing. I recently created a similar chart for information writing. There were so many options but here are a few ideas to get you started on a planning menu for information writing to offer students choices when they begin to tackle a piece.
- Talk is important in every genre when students are beginning to write a piece as well as throughout the process. Checking in with partners or writing groups along the way allows students to share their information and make sure there is clarity in their message.
- Sketching a diagram of the subject for information writing can help students identify things they already know about their topic.
- Making a chart helps students organize their thinking and offers focus when determining what they still need to research.
- Graphic organizers are a tool for organization as well. Visual learners can often benefit from webbing their information to see the breakdown of their topic.
- Creating a list allows students to determine things they already know and if the list is long or short it might help them make specific decisions on deciding how specific their topic needs to be.
- Using a mentor text is helpful and offers ideas for topic choice, format, and research.
- Creating a draft of the table of contents can help students think about what topics and headings they want to address in their piece.
Choice with Topics
When students are attempting to choose a topic for an information piece, mentor texts can be very helpful and offer ideas. Here are a few sites that offer great lists of mentor texts for information writing. I find that offering a text to inspire students often opens them up to thinking about a topic that might be new and exciting!
Genre Specific Picture Books Click on the link then click on “favorite mentor texts.”
Nonfiction Mentor Texts (Dorfman and Cappelli)–After clicking the link, scroll near the bottom of this sample text to see a list of mentor texts with a quick idea on how to use each. Then buy the book! It’s a great tool for teachers.
Choice with Format
As students begin to write their information piece, the format can play a huge role in the way they deliver their information. I like to use mentor texts for this as well. Showing students a variety of ways to demonstrate their information in a fun and exciting way allows them to step out of the formulaic box of information writing that is sometimes suggested by a scripted curriculum.
Here are some examples of different formats that students can play with as they work through and revise their pieces.
A Nest is Noisy, written by Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long was published this year (2015) following the book, A Rock is Lively, one of my favorites too.
(A Nest is Noisy, Image Used with permission from Chronicle Books, San Francisco)
In A Nest is Noisy, you will find an overarching and broad topic of nests while each page informs readers of specific species and the nest they inhabit. Several animals are highlighted including the smallest of hummingbirds to the American alligator. This book showcases how students can choose a broad topic and through compare/contrast, demonstrate the differences and likenesses within the topic. Instead of having headings, a student might think about using a sentence at the beginning of each section that focuses readers in on a specific descriptor of the topic and then breaking down the information. For example, in A Nest is Noisy, toward the middle of the book, the focal point on the page says, “A nest is hot,” followed by two paragraphs describing the ovenbird and the alligator (click on the title to see a peek inside the book). It compares their nests and the warmth that is necessary for their developing young. You will also find pages that show the contrast in a nest, one spiky, one pebbly, one papery, and even one bubbly. The way the words fall in this section of the book, each descriptive word (spiky, pebbly, papery, bubbly) is above the section that describes that type of nest, breaking up the sentence across three pages. I love this book and the choices it offers to students as they begin to organize their information for their piece. It gives students the option of using focused ideas in a new and exciting way, much like a heading, but a little bit edgier.
In Barn Owls, by Melissa Hill and Gail Saunders, students will find a very specific topic. This book follows a more traditional format of information. It shows a table of contents that breaks down important information for the reader as well as internet resources, other books, and a glossary highlighting special vocabulary. You’ll notice on its pages that there is a specific heading with two to three pages of information, including maps and diagrams within the text when appropriate. This book is a great model for students new to information writing. It very simply, yet beautifully, depicts four main ideas that inform the reader of the unique qualities of a barn owl. What I love about this book is the structure and the way it supports the reader/writer. This kind of text can be very beneficial to students who have a narrow topic and need a simple structure to follow for their piece. Students who want to write an information piece about owls might look at this book along with others like, Burrowing Owls, Great Horned Owls or Snowy Owls all published through the Pebble Plus book set from Capstone Press.
Feathers, Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart, Illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen takes a specific yet broad in scope topic and brings it to life. It reads like a journal with little drawings, labels, and bits and pieces of information cleverly taped or pinned through illustration on the pages. Students who have a lot of experience with information writing might want to take on a challenge such as this. Writing their piece in snippets and laying it out in this way will not only be a fun experience for the writer but for the reader as well. Thinking about collecting photographs, drawings, and actual items or articles that apply to the topic would add depth and interest while still fulfilling the requirement of information writing. This act of collection would also lend itself to in-depth research of the topic.
Secondly, Feather, Not Just for Flying takes on a whole other layer related to format by weaving verse through each page. Imagine giving students the opportunity to enjoy two genres at once. Taking bits of their information from the main piece of writing and pulling lines to create their focus for each page, much like a heading would. Students will greatly enjoy the variety this book has to offer as they plan the format of their piece.
Another great mentor text that works through all the things I have talked about is Picture Yourself Writing Nonfiction, Using Photographs to Inspire Writing by Jennifer Fandel, a Capstone Press Publication. This book gives inspiration for topic choice through photos and gives students tips and ideas on how to get started. It lays out the writing process for nonfiction writing. Though this book goes a bit beyond information writing, I feel it remains a good resource for students when they are struggling to find their feet in a piece. Directing students toward a specific section of this book could have great benefits as students research topics or use photos of their own as inspiration. This book tackles sensory details through information writing as well as how to incorporate dialogue, comparisons, action, and nothing but the truth.
I hope you have found some ideas worth trying when offering choice to your students within your information writing unit. When we give students choices throughout the writing process and offer guidance through our teaching and mentor texts, students thrive.
Join us on Twitter! We’ll be wrapping up this blog series with a Twitter chat on all things information writing on Monday, November 9, 8:30-9:30 EST. #TWTBlog to join.