Writing Information Books with Voice and Beauty: Diving Into Information Writing Blog Series
When I was a kid, our town library had a whole special room filled with children’s books. It was one of my favorite places in the world. That was where I fell in love with Corduroy, and Caps for Sale, Where the Wild Things Are, and later, Matilda, and Superfudge, and The Babysitters Club.
But another thing I remember about our little town library was that there was just one shelf with reference books for kids. I remember that kids weren’t allowed to touch them without an adult, but my mom would hand them to me one at a time, and I would turn the pages, very carefully, always worried that the librarian would catch me. These were the books that had the best pictures, and I knew exactly which volumes had my favorites: photographs of real animals, and illustrations of all the planets. I still remember these images to this day, including one book containing a whole section underwater photographs of sunken ships (in color!).
Back then, I never even tried to read the words — who wants to read an encyclopedia for fun? Not me! But the information in the pictures was captivating, and there really weren’t any other information books for kids back then.
Information books for kids have come a long way since then. Now kids have a wide range of topics, and beautifully illustrated books to choose from. Not only that, but the writing has evolved from mostly reference books designed for skimming and scanning for research, to books that are truly engaging and are meant to be read from cover to cover.
When we teach kids to write information books, we can teach them that they too can write the kind of beautiful, interesting books that they like to read. They can write in ways that grab readers’ interest and inspire other kids to love their topic as much as they do.
To lift the level of their nonfiction writing, it might be helpful to remind students of everything they already know about beautiful and engaging writing from narrative and poetry.
You could pull out old charts, even last year’s charts, to remind kids of some strategies they already know. Many classrooms I work in have recently wrapped up their narrative writing units, so kids have lots of strategies for great writing fresh on their mind:
- show, don’t tell
- stretch out the exciting parts bit-by-bit, with lots of detail
- use images to help the reader picture what you are writing about
Couldn’t writers use all these strategies in information writing? Well, yes, of course they could!
Couldn’t they also use strategies they’ve learned in other units, like poetry? Yes!
As I prepared my own writing for the upcoming information writing units, I pushed myself to try to use some of the strategies from poetry:
In the above section of my writing, I normally would have written something like “Skiing in the woods is fun. Here are all the things you need to know to be safe…”
With the poetry chart in front of me, I instead focused on an object (tree covered in snow) that seemed important, and tried to include tiny details (very quiet, no traffic or television), and tried to see everyday things with poets’ eyes (a magical winter land). Doing this helped me write in a way that helped me think more deeply about my topic. If I had written my usual way, I would have written the first thing that came to mind instead of thinking more carefully about the details.
Another chart from last year’s second grade poetry unit:
Even if you don’t have last year’s charts (or if you haven’t taught poetry), you can still teach these strategies inside your information writing unit, either as whole class minilessons, or as small group work to stretch some of your writers.
Nobody wants to read (or write, probably) encyclopedia entries, one after another. Bringing strategies from narrative writing and poetry into your nonfiction unit will help kids create books that other kids might actually enjoy reading!