The U.S. National Parks were part of my childhood. My parents took me on some epic driving vacations, throughout the American West, when I was in elementary school. Through the years I’ve visited about half of this nation’s national parks. Therefore, I was delighted when my daughter’s fourth grade class engaged in a research-based writing unit on the National Parks. While I had Lonely Planet’s America’s National Parks at home, we borrowed books from the library and searched for books — on her independent reading level — on Epic. After reading about some of the national parks, Isabelle decided to research Yosemite National Park since I had digital photos of a trip I took there with my parents when I was in my late 20s. In particular, Isabelle was fascinated with a photo of my father standing inside of the infamous Tunnel Tree and thought it would be cool to learn more about Yosemite and its grand sequoia trees.
Since it was challenging to find more than a handful of texts about Yosemite on Isabelle’s independent reading level, I wound up reading many of the books to her. I stopped periodically to talk about what she was learning from the texts we read together. However, once she began taking notes, I noticed she was copying some sentences verbatim from the books. Knowing that this is normal, I talked to Isabelle about using quotation marks around an author’s words or working to put things into her own words. Anyone who has ever taught research-based writing to upper elementary school students knows, this is hard, but important, work since children need to know — from an early age — that they need to take notes in their own words.
Isabelle is the kind of kid who benefits from oral rehearsal. Therefore, I’ve found she does better when she reads a section of the text, thinks about what she learned, and states what she learned aloud prior to writing it down on paper. Sometimes, it takes Isabelle several readings of a chunk of text in order to synthesize the information. Therefore, we use the Voice Memos app on her device to record what she’s saying as she writes in the air. Once she’s said it aloud a few times, she records it smoothly into a new voice memo. Once it’s smooth and makes sense, she replays the voice memo, pausing it every few words, so she can record her thoughts onto paper.
Here are three separate audio files Isabelle recorded to capture her own thinking prior to writing down notes.
While I used to think of oral rehearsal as a tool for the youngest writers, I’ve come to realize it can be utilized for writers of any age who are at-risk for losing their ideas. (Click here to find more TWT posts that mention oral rehearsal.) So, if you have a student who benefits from rehearsing their ideas orally prior to writing, consider having them record themselves, like Isabelle did, so that they can hold onto their ideas when it comes time to transfer their words onto paper.
Finally, Every Kid Outdoors is an initiative to provide fourth graders, and their families, with free access to the National Parks. While I know there are many restrictions in place at the U.S. National Parks, it is worth sharing this incredible program with your students (if you teach fourth grade), with your colleagues, or with family friends. Visiting national parks is one of the greatest gifts we can give kids and it’s one I hope I can do more of with my family once we are vaccinated.
I am a literacy consultant who has spent over a decade working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grade K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.
I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).