Concrete Ideas for Helping Students Write Explanatory/Informational Texts

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If you lead writing workshop and are looking for ways to use writers’ notebooks for informational writing, this book is for you. In Nonfiction Notebooks: Strategies for Informational Writing, Aimee Buckner describes how she helped her own 3rd/4th students take on writing informational reports – exploring topics, gathering information, predrafting, and exploring author’s craft. She uses the notebooks for exploring ideas, author’s craft, and gathering information. She uses a legal pad for drafting. She has clear cut approaches that you can easily apply in the classroom – like using mentor texts to explore authors’ word choice and using a version of Calkins’ boxes and bullets to develop sub-topics. Her approach is not lock-step – she encourages you to observe your students and implement lessons they need. However, there is a flow to the lessons she describes that move students forward. Buckner describes how her ideas align with Common Core and she is clearly focused on helping intermediate grade writers “lift the level” of their writing from the listing, surface level types of informational writing they may do in the primary grades.

Caution: (Of course – you knew I’d have a caution :)). Two assumptions by Buckner – you have worked with your students on how to comprehend the texts they are reading to gather information and your students write regularly and even see themselves as writers. She doesn’t address either of these in-depth. Her approach to comprehension is “use the strategies” like visualizing – short and brief. When she models writing for her students, then her students go and do what she modeled. There’s very little struggle apparent – some of this is because the students have done so much writing and are fluent writers; about halfway through the book, she does notes that she keeps her mini-lessons short so she can spend most of the conference time working with students at their points of need.

Buckner addresses the pressures of teaching that she and many others are feeling – which makes you, the reader, feel sane. She also discusses how to grade “writers’ notebooks.”

My favorite draw to Buckner’s instructional approach – she teaches with blank paper and authentic children’s informational text. Beautiful.

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