As a third-grade teacher this year I have been able to stretch my wings as a teacher in a few ways I wasn’t able to as a kindergarten teacher. There were so many wonderful moments each year in kindergarten writing workshop and I found this year the same is true of third-grade writers. Today is my last day of school and we wrapped it up with research projects. It was fun to introduce students to the exploratory notebook and help guide students as they chose topics, developed sections of content, and then found unique ways to offer voice and story to their research.
It was my first time doing research with this age group. In kindergarten and first-grade we dabbled in research but this year I knew it would be different. Students got very excited to enter into this unit and it was a great way to have a surge of momentum before we ended the year.
Some of my favorite lessons from the unit were ones that I put together using many resources. Many students, during the non-fiction unit earlier in the year, wrote in a very safe way. They chose leads that felt comfortable and language that sounded very “report” like. I was determined to change this during the research unit. Using Making Nonfiction from Scratch (Fletcher), Strategic Writing Conferences, *Drafts (Anderson), and Reviser’s Toolbox (Lane) I crafted together lessons that would stretch writers to think outside the box and try something new.
We started by looking at examples of leads, both weak and strong. Students sifted through their own leads looking at the strong and weak parts they already had in place and worked to make them well crafted. Revisor’s Toolbox offered great suggestions and I found a Prezi that displayed them nicely for students. Be sure to check out the link by clicking here or on the image below.
Using Fletcher’s book, we looked at how a writer’s voice can really shine through and draw in the reader. Students played around with their lead, some wrote multiple leads until they found their favorite. One student even wrote a poem, unprompted! She looked at me and said, “Can I do that?” Um, yes my dear, you just did and it’s marvelous!
Students began to realize, through reading the work of their peers, that research was much more interesting when there was a story tied to the facts or mystery within the questions raised. They wanted to know more and student interest grew as they explored and broke free of the standard they had become comfortable with and really began showing their writer’s craft within a piece.
Here are some examples of students stepping out of their comfort zone and bringing a story, poetry, facts, and interest to their research. Click on the images to enlarge.
A vast majority of my students still chose animals or insects for their topic. A few chose a person or place to research. I hope next year I get the opportunity to work with third-graders again and might have the chance to push students to look beyond what might seem like a comfortable topic choice. I’d like to start the exploratory notebook much earlier in the year as a place to collect ideas, questions, and information throughout the year in preparation for the research unit. I think giving students the opportunity to really think and explore many topics over time will give them a better base to choose from when they begin a project later in the year. For their notebooks this year, I simply stapled some lined paper inside a construction paper cover. Next year I hope to use their reading response journals as a place to house their exploratory notebook as well. My literacy coach gave me a great suggestion, to flip the book over, one cover being the exploratory notebook, the other the reading response journal. Why not in the writer’s notebook? I find that students really need the whole notebook for collecting stories and ideas throughout the year. However, their reading response journals were only half full as sometimes we respond on sticky notes or chart paper, I just didn’t need the entire notebook for this purpose. I think this idea may work and I’m hopeful I can try it with a new group of students.
This summer, in July, I will be presenting on Day One of nErDcampmi in Parma, Michigan on how to encourage students to bring their voice and story into nonfiction writing. I’m looking forward to sharing more about my experience this year with other educators.
When I began stumbling onto resources that included Barry Lane’s work I reached out to him, asking if I could use the work in this piece. In response, he graciously offered to giveaway a copy of Reviser’s Toolbox and Heinemann also offered to give one winner a copy of the newly revised second edition, After the End! I hope you have all had a great end to your school year and two lucky people will get some great summer reading! Below is more information about the giveaways.
This giveaway is for a copy of Reviser’s Toolbox by Barry Lane. Many thanks to Barry Lane, at Discover Writing Press for donating a copy for one reader. The second giveaway is for a copy of the second edition of After the End by Barry Lane. Many thanks to Heinemann for donating a copy to one reader. For a chance to win a copy of either Reviser’s Toolbox or After the End, please leave a commentabout this post by Friday, June 17th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Sunday, June 19th. Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, my contacts will ship your book out to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – BARRY LANE. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.
The winner of Reviser’s Toolbox was Melanie Weinshall and the winner of After the End was Barbara Keene.
Daughter, sister, wife, mother, teacher, and writer.