Tag Archives: shared writing in response to informational texts

Are your students tired of writing summaries and analytic essays?

I’m shaking up how students respond to informational texts. I’m experimenting with letters, Hall of Fame posters for a bulletin board in the classroom entitled “People Who Have Changed the World,” designing and writing content for a book entitled Did You Know, and classified ads. Regardless of the format, though, I’m still  REQUIRING students to tap and explain text evidence related to a main idea.

I tried this a few weeks ago with several groups of 4th and 5th grade students during small group guided writing lessons. (I was giving demo lessons–as a consultant in a school district.)  Here’s the routine I established for the series of lessons (4 lessons at about 20 minutes each):

  1. Lessons 1-2 closely read for a clear purpose 1-2 short informational texts and annotate or take notes. By short, I mean 1-3 pages of text. For example, one group of 4th grade students read two pages of text in their anthology on the work of public officials like city council members. The second text was a one page article from Scholastic News on Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s plan for the water crisis in Flint, MI. Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 8.49.07 AMScreen Shot 2016-02-26 at 8.49.07 AM                      The essential question was How do public officials accomplish things to help people? They took notes on a two-column chart.                               Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 9.01.14 AM                                                                                During these two lessons, there were several opportunities for students to turn and talk to a partner about what they were learning–this is a very important bridge to writing!
  2. Lesson 3 – Start with 5-10 minutes of conversation. I asked the students to review their notes and turn and talk with a partner about what they’d learned about how public officials accomplish tasks. With this group, I noticed that they needed more support in talking in depth about this topic versus just listing what they learned off their notes. So I pulled the group back together and we had a “conversation” –this means no one raises their hands. We just talk and as needed I prompt students to ask each other for clarification, to ask for more details from a peer, or to build on what a peer said. As they did this, I took notes (based on what they were saying or my interpretation of their comments) on a small dry erase board – for the students to refer to as they talked (see image below).                                                            2016-02-04 15.15.15
  3. Lesson 3 – Set a purpose for writing and develop criteria – 5 minutes. For each format I explored with students, we developed criteria. For the hall of fame poster and the Did You Know book, I used a mentor text (that I found on the Internet) which I showed them on a small laptop (see below).  For the poster and the DId You Know tasks, I asked partners to collaborate.                                                                   Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 12.08.31 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-26 at 12.08.42 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-26 at 12.08.58 PM                                                                         Below are examples of criteria we co-developed and referred to over and over again as the students wrote.                                                                                   2016-02-04 15.17.542016-02-02 10.16.33 2016-02-03 15.30.27For the 4th grade lesson with texts on public officials, the students had to write a letter to someone they think should run for public office and explain why – with reference to the texts they’d read. Notice that part of the criteria is the student must refer to the texts read–tying a main idea from the text into the letter as well as text evidence and an explanation.  For the hall of fame poster, we decided they would refer to text evidence and explain how the two historical figures (Gus Garcia and Frederick Douglass) in the top right hand corner of their poster. For the Did You Know two-page layout, they would refer to what they’d learned from texts in the text under the question and then integrate throughout the graphics, side bars, etc.
  4. Lesson 3 – Engage in shared writing – 5 minutes. Below is an example of shared writing with the students who read about public officials. I chunked this. So we picked a person to write a letter for together and then they picked their own person. We wrote an intro for our shared person letter and then they wrote one for their own person. We wrote about text evidence for our shared person letter and then they wrote about different evidence for their own person.                                                                                      2016-02-04 15.16.28
  5. Lesson 3 continued and then Lesson 4 – Students write independently (or with a partner) – 25 minutes at the writing table with me there to coach. Students continue writing their pieces – in particular, the part where they have to refer to the text and explain. These may not be completely done by the end of these lessons but I’m not worried about taking these all the way to publication. What’s important is that quality time at the table with me present to coach while they write for 25 minutes.
    They can finish independently and I can confer with them briefly about finalizing later.
    Below are examples of students’ drafted letters. Notice how they integrated information from two texts into their letters.                                                     Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 12.16.20 PM                                                                                               (BTW – Mr. Taylor is the principal at that school! Another student wrote a letter to his mom and two chose friends they thought would be good public officials.)                                         For the letter below, the group of students read a text about Jane Addams and about Gus Garcia with an essential question regarding how these historical figures advocated for people. The author of this letter chose to write a thank you note to her teacher–thanking her for advocating for students and for teaching students to advocate for others – similar to Addams and Garcia.                                                                      Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 12.18.57 PM                                                                                           There are all sorts of letters students can write – thank you, encouragement, inquiry, requests, etc.  One group read about how scientists collaborate and then they wrote a thank you note to a classmate who’d collaborated with them in some way (to build a bridge in science, to complete a math word problem, etc.). They had to include what they’d learned from two texts about the power of collaboration.    

If you’ve tried shaking up responses to informational text done at the guided writing table, I’d like to hear about it!!!

Hope this helps.




Reading Aloud Rigorous Informational Texts to Kindergarten Students


A few weeks ago, I had the honor of reading aloud Nic Bishop’s Frogs to kindergarten students on the south side of Chicago. When I visited the school initially, I engaged in an informal reading conversation with three of the students, reading aloud sections of a book about penguins to them and assessing what they were learning. I quickly realized they didn’t understand words like “diving” (penguins dive into the water) and “sliding” (penguins sliding on their bellies across the ice). I chose Nic Bishop’s Frogs for the lesson because it’s a fascinating text that reveals the diversity of frogs’ features and the photographs easily capture students’ attention (K-5). It’s a rigorous text for reading aloud to these students. My goal, though, was not for students to understand every single fact in the text, but to begin to develop an ear for what these texts sound like and to identify what they were learning about frogs. During the lesson (as described later), my objective actually narrowed when I realized how powerful Bishop’s word choice is in describing the frogs’ movements and this became the focus of what I wanted students to learn from the text.

I started by showing several of the photographs to the students (who were all seated on the carpet in front of me). They would give me a thumbs up or down if they thought the photos were fascinating. Then I asked if they’d like me to read some of the text with those photos. I never planned to read the whole book to the students – it’s too long and they need to develop stamina for that. The beauty of informational texts (non-narrative) is that you can skip around like this; this is even easier when you, yourself, know the book well.

As I read aloud the running text to the students, I highlighted the action words that surfaced – frogs climbing, pouncing, ambushing, gliding and we acted these words out with very simple, quick gestures. (Note: I’d read the whole page or paragraph and then go back to highlight the word.)  There was no getting up and making a huge fanfare of this because I didn’t want to stray too far from the time with text. Each time I introduced a new action word and gesture, we would repeat the previous words as well. The students started to recognize when there was a new action word and their eyes would widen, ready to demonstrate the new word with some type of gesture. By the end, we had a long string of action words, each with a physical action to describe frogs’ movements. The beauty of this is that these words will surface in other books describing animals as well – and, hopefully, the students’ conceptual understanding will transfer. Ideally, this read aloud would be part of an integrated unit of study on animals – maybe animal adaptations, for example.

We also engaged in shared writing and because of my focus with them on action words, these words surfaced in what they had to contribute to our conversation and writing. See the image below.

shared writing nic bishop frogs

The trick is to move students to sketching, labeling and writing on their own – facts they learned about frogs. My suggestions for this are sketched on the chart paper in the image below (as part of a conversation with teachers who observed and co-taught during this lesson). You can assign these responses (hand out response sheets) based on the needs of the child. It’s important to model at some point – how to engage in these kinds of responses. I actually did some sketching and labeling as part of this lesson – but it was misguided. I focused on sketching a frog and labeling its body parts – when I should have figured out a way to sketch and label movements – to stay true to the objective that emerged during the read aloud.

differentiated responses kindergarten

There’s so much to say about this imperfect lesson. I initially thought I’d just be teaching for recalling details from the text – “What did you learn from the author? What is the author trying to teach you about frogs?” I thought I’d read aloud some and then demonstrate learning from one page, but the students had a hard time focusing on one page of text after discussing so many pages. So I followed their lead and also what I knew they needed to learn by focusing on identifying the actions or different types of the frogs. As I stated earlier, I felt like my sketching demonstration led away from what was the focus of the lesson as well. Oh, and a multitude of other points.

In the end, I observed the students using the words we’d focused on, acted out, repeatedly  – in the context of reading a beautiful informational text – in their conversations with partners, during the shared writing, and during discussions with the teachers who picked up the teaching with small groups (after my part of the lesson).