How to teach Nonfiction Writing

how nonfiction writing differs from creative nonfiction writing and how to write nonfiction essays
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Published Date:04-07-2017
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To n y฀S t e a d฀•฀L i n d a฀H o y t A฀Guide฀ t o ฀ Tea c h in g฀ N onf i c t i on ฀ W r i t i n g Grades K–2 Explorations฀in฀Noniction฀WritingA G u i d e t o Teaching Nonfiction Writing CONTENTS 1 Rationale for Teaching Nonfiction Writing 6 Building a Culture of Inquiry and Research 11 Understanding the Goals of Teaching Nonfiction Writing 18 Emphasizing the Writing Process 31 Setting the Stage for Nonfiction Writing: Scaffolds for Success 40 Focusing on Instruction: Explicit Supports That Lift Writing Quality 47 ReferencesRationale for Teaching Nonfiction Writing 1 Explorations฀in฀Noniction฀Writing When I write, I wonder When I write, I think When I write, I learn When I write . . . I wrap myself in the magic of nonfiction Rationale for Teaching Nonfiction Writing Nonfiction writing used to be saved for genre studies in which young writers Since young children are “ created a set of directions or engaged in crafting a report about animals. curious about the world, nonfiction reading and But, evidence now suggests that this limited view of nonfiction writing is writing should be woven "too little—too late" We now know that informational literacy that engages throughout the curriculum our youngest learners as readers and writers of nonfiction texts needs to from the minute they start be an integral part of school. By beginning every learner’s school early on, we are preparing experience from pre- young children for school onward (Purcell- nonfiction material they will Gates, Duke, Martineau, be presented with and be 2007). We now know expected to generate as that forward-thinking they progress through the educators of young grades into adulthood. ” children weave explicit — KELLY DAVIS, scaffolds for nonfiction LITERACY COACH, HOWARD COUNTY, reading and nonfiction MARYLAND writing into the fabric of daily literacy instruction, making sure that children write for a wide variety of purposes and experience a broad array of nonfiction text types (Hoyt, 2009, 2004; Stead, 2007, 2002; Saunders-Smith, 2010, Glover, 2009).2 A Guide to Teaching Nonfiction Writing TEACH NONFICTION WRITING EXPLICITLY Children live in a world Nonfiction writing fills our lives. Everywhere we look there are newspapers, “ full of information. The magazines, directions, street signs, recipes, letters, maps, menus, e-mails, Internet most important thing we sites, and so on. As writers, we make lists, craft letters, send e-mails, provide can do is teach them explanations, and jot notes. In the real world, we have clear purposes and select to communicate in their the text types that help us fulfill our goals for remembering, recording, and world. ” communicating to others. To be successful in school, in the workplace, and in our — BARBARA personal lives, we must learn about this wide range of nonfiction text types so we PETRUCCIO, can navigate and create them with comfort and purpose—to gain control over LANGUAGE ARTS/ SOCIAL STUDIES the unique structures, language, and visual features that comprise the heart of CURRICULUM nonfiction texts. It is interesting to note that while informational texts make up SPECIALIST, HUDSON, OHIO the great majority of texts written and read by literate adults, far too few children are taught explicit strategies for reading and writing these text types (Barone and Mandell-Morrow, 2002). EMPHASIZE NONFICTION WRITING— FROM THE BEGINNING When we teach children The Common Core Standards (2010) along with grade-level expectations and “ how to write nonfiction, we standards from most states now call for a strong emphasis on reading and writing tap into their passionate nonfiction texts—from the beginning. This means that learners of all ages need curiosity about the world to become acquainted with the structures and features of informational texts, around them. No longer both as readers and as writers. They need to develop strategies for using those will teachers hear the features to enhance understanding and increase efficiency in seeking and recording dreaded whine, “I don’t information and to communicate ideas. It was once thought that primary-grade know what to write about” learners were too young for nonfiction writing, but now we know that is not true. The endless list of topics Even kindergartners love learning included in the world of about the world while they are nonfiction is waiting for children with open arms learning to read and learning to and is accessible to write. Nonfiction topics appeal everyone to children’s intrinsic sense of ” — KELLY BOSWELL, wonder and fuel a natural desire to TEACHER/AUTHOR, understand and to learn. BOZEMAN, MONTANA As nonfiction researchers and writers, our youngest learners become thoroughly engaged in identifying and using nonfiction text features such as labels, bullets, arrows, cross-section diagrams, and bold words. They find enormous purpose in capturing their learning in labeled diagrams, charts, posters, and student-authored books.Rationale for Teaching Nonfiction Writing 3 With nonfiction literacy in mind, we would expect to see primary writers engaged in research using artifacts, live animals, photographs, high-quality nonfiction reading materials, listening centers, and computers. We would expect to see these young learners recording information in pictures, in words, and in running sentences. We would expect them to read and write in collaboration with partners, take great pride in sharing their writing with each other, and enthusiastically generate questions that fuel more reading, more research, and more writing BELIEVE THAT THEY CAN We know that humans want to write. Early humans carved messages on the walls of their caves and on stone tablets because of their innate desire to create messages for others to read. And, many of us can tell stories of our own children marking up the walls of our homes because they have such a strong desire to “write.” As early as 1966, the seminal research studies of Dolores Durkin determined that young children are actually ready to write before they are ready to read and that emergent readers benefit greatly from attempts at writing, especially when the writing is based upon real-world experience. The first challenge is to believe that a kindergartner or first or second grader can research and can learn to craft quality nonfiction selections. If we believe in them, and set the bar high with explicit modeled writing I am so excited about and coaching, even our “ how the children are youngest learners will be writing, especially in able to reach astonishing comparison to years past. heights as nonfiction My kindergarteners are writers. confident with several text types and absolutely The feedback from love to write. We have primary teachers who lists, notes, and multi- have taken the leap and page books that look like immersed themselves they were done by much and their students in older students. Thank nonfiction writing has you for helping me to been overwhelmingly believe. . . . They are more accomplished writers and positive. They all report I am a more accomplished that their students teacher. are writing more and ” — SANDY GORDON, showing greater levels of KINDERGARTEN accomplishment than they TEACHER, dreamed could be possible. HUDSON, OHIO 4 A Guide to Teaching Nonfiction Writing JUST DO IT Donald Graves was often heard sharing the story of a time when he gave paper and pencils to three-year-olds, simply saying, “You may write on this.” The three-year- olds dove in with enthusiasm and great abandon, producing writing-like script and then proudly reading their writing to one another. There was no concern that The hardest thing was these writers would write like this forever; instead there was celebration of what “ learning to trust my they could do. The enthusiasm of these emergent writers was a perfect pathway for students. I was so afraid instruction and growth. that they wouldn’t write or that the writing wouldn’t As we launch experiences with nonfiction writing, it is important to remember be good. All it took was that children do not need to have correct spelling, complete sentence structures, an interesting topic, a bit deep content knowledge, or well-developed writing traits in place before they of modeled writing on a begin to engage as nonfiction writers. They will develop these essential skills as a chart, and they were off natural extension of modeled writing, coaching conferences, revising, editing, and and running. ” presenting their work. They WILL learn as they go. With each successive writing — A NDREA THOMPSOMON, experience, writing skills will grow and children’s writing will gain sophistication. FIRST-GRADE TEACHER The key is: Don’t expect perfection—expect growth. Once you get your students started with nonfiction writing, there will be amazing opportunities for growth and development. Do lots of modeling and take time to think aloud as you write under the watchful eyes of your students. Let them hear what is in your mind as you capture an interesting fact on paper, insert a label on a diagram, or list the attributes of a tree frog. Show them again and again how you write, revise All writers, even those who are most vulnerable, benefit from the concept development and language acquisition that go hand in hand with nonfiction writing.Rationale for Teaching Nonfiction Writing 5 by choosing a better word, edit by remembering to put a period at the end of a sentence. At the right developmental moment, your models will “stick.” Celebrate each moment of growth knowing that when your students write tomorrow, they English Language “ will do even better. Spelling, sentence structure, and traits will develop—hand in Learners learn language hand—within the context of the instructionally rich writing opportunities you best when it is embedded provide. So “just do it” Leap in and get started. in meaningful context. When ELLs read high- interest books about BE CONFIDENT THAT VULNERABLE LEARNERS science, social studies, CAN SUCCEED AS NONFICTION WRITERS and language arts, discuss their reading to It is helpful to remember that in early childhood, understanding builds from build oral language, and concrete experience. It is through real experiences with real things that concepts, then respond to learning understanding, and language are acquired. When young children get to touch, through different kinds of think, talk, and wonder, they feel a stronger sense of connection to their learning writing activities, they gain and move forward with a powerful sense of intrinsic motivation. For these reasons, the academic language nonfiction writing is a perfect entry point for special education learners, students they need for school learning English as an additional language, and learners with limited academic success. ” language and experience. — DRS. YVONNE AND DAVID FREEMAN, AUTHORS OF In the nonfiction writing classroom, there is a sense of energy as writers observe, NUMEROUS think together, and connect with their subject. This classroom often erupts with BOOKS ON SUPPORTING excitement as researchers and writers share their observations and factual learning. ENGLISH In this classroom, learning floats on a sea of academic talk that supports and lifts LANGUAGE LEARNERS content understanding and language. The emphasis on visual literacy, collaboration, and modeled writing in the nonfiction writing classroom offers important systems of support for learners who need additional scaffolding to reach their highest levels of potential. For example, Sketch to Stretch, a TESOL-endorsed strategy, is often used during research so students can represent their learning through a sketch or a labeled diagram. With Sketch to Stretch, the academic vocabulary is highlighted and the visual representation of the facts helps learners access the content through multiple systems of communication (Hoyt, 2009). Visual texts such as this scaffold content understanding, build academic vocabulary, and support even the most vulnerable learners toward success with nonfiction writing.6 A Guide to Teaching Nonfiction Writing Building a Culture of Inquiry and Research Research and data gathering need to be positioned at the very center of a nonfiction writing program, as children must learn how to acquire the facts that will fuel their work as writers. But it is important to remember that each time we take a walk, stopping to look closely at ants scurrying in and out of their burrows, or taking time to examine the fragile pollens clustered at the heart of a daisy, we are conducting research. QUESTIONING If you give children the Questions empower researchers. Research and questioning are inseparable “ opportunity to explore and partners in the nonfiction writing classroom. Whether young learners are ask questions, their level researching the parts of a flower or the process of using ice and rock salt to of understanding and the chill ice cream, questions should be flowing in a constant stream of engaged quality of their nonfiction wonder. For young writers, questions are a significant device for seeking to writing will far surpass understand their world. Primary-grade learners need to understand that it is what would have been good to ask questions and wonder collaboratively with their learning partners. accomplished through They need to understand that their questions will lead them to more research typical direct instruction. ” and to deeper learning. It is interesting that many states now have standards — MELISSA requiring students to generate questions on a topic and then follow their own LEONARD, FIRST- AND SECOND- line of questioning with research and nonfiction writing. So fire up those GRADE TEACHER, questions and keep them rolling DENTON, TEXAS PERSONAL EXPERIENCE With our youngest readers and writers, the first and perhaps most significant source of information is personal experience. Those experiences may be part of their prior knowledge or built through hands-on experiments and observations that you have provided for your students. To create a culture of inquiry and an understanding that real life is filled with opportunities for research, it is important to label these observations and life experiences "research." When you gather your students to observe changing weather patterns, notice the intricate webbing spun by a spider, study the veins in a leaf, or plant seeds, tell your students that this is research. Label it Show your researcher-writers how to gather data, record facts, make notes, create labeled diagrams, and record the important learning that is at the tips of their fingers. Then, invite them to pick up their pencils and join you in recording their research.Building a Culture of Inquiry and Research 7 SCHOOL-BASED SOURCES FOR RESEARCH Teachers always talk about We know that it is not likely that your students will be able to have hands-on “ making writing authentic. experience with a polar bear, to touch the ridged surface of a glacier, or to wiggle Nonfiction writing can’t through the jungle with a giant anaconda. So we also need to be sure writers help but be authentic. are skilled in gathering information from realia, print sources, video, audio ” — NOEMI URIBE, programming, and Internet research. FIRST- AND SECOND-GRADE TEACHER, DENTON, TEXAS REALIA Realia is the next best thing to real-life experience. Real fruits, vegetables, plants, animal hides, turtle shells, fish tanks, fossils, and so on provide rich opportunities for hands-on research, questioning, and language building. This is particularly important for students who are learning English as an additional language. For these learners, firsthand experience and realia provide the strongest possible foundation for the development of academic language and concepts. For all learners, realia adds a sense of excitement and wonder that can be far more difficult to achieve with a picture or written text. LOTS OF BOOKS ON LOTS OF TOPICS The classroom library is central to success with nonfiction writing. Each classroom should be brimming with nonfiction texts that both inform and invite readers into the magic of their pages. Building a robust classroom library is a career-long effort, but working steadily at it, adding resources year by year, will contribute much to your rich learning environment. For temporary resources, don’t forget to take advantage of your school and local libraries, your school or colleagues’ collections, and other contributions. We highly encourage you to examine your state standards for science and social studies to ensure that you have wonderfully rich and enticing resources devoted to those topics. We want to be sure that nonfiction writing is not seen as an add-on curriculum but rather as a natural extension of the topics and disciplines you need to cover to help your students progress toward standards.8 A Guide to Teaching Nonfiction Writing GROUP BOOKS BY TOPIC Many teachers find it helpful to group nonfiction books according to topic so writers can easily find collections of books on penguins, bears, solar energy, celebrations around the world, and so on. It is also helpful to identify books that are written with a purpose in mind: books that describe, instructions, scientific explanations, persuasion, and nonfiction narratives such as biographies or Bat Loves the Night by Nicola Davies. When books and other resources are organized by topic, researchers find it easier to locate information. Inviting displays pique interest in a topic. MULTI-LEVEL THEME SETS As we embrace increasing levels of diversity in our classrooms, it is critical that we provide students with opportunities to engage with books and resources that entice and fuel their sense of wonder, but we also need to offer resources at their “just right” reading level. Multi-level theme sets are a support system that provides a range of books and other resources on a focused topic, while offering a range of difficulty levels for reading and inquiry (Hoyt, 2003). If you use a crate with hanging folders inside, your multi-level theme set can easily include multiple-copy sets of leveled selections, magazines, read-aloud selections, pages printed from the Internet, recorded books and CDs for listening, DVDs to play on the computer, and so on. Multi-level theme sets keep topics at the forefront while enabling you to better meet the literacy learning needs of your students by giving them resources that are accessible to them as readers.Building a Culture of Inquiry and Research 9 As you build your multi-level theme sets, it is important to indicate reading level in such a way that it is not evident to your students. Mark books with a color- coded set of dots, for example, using one to five green dots for A-E (A = 1 green Children need to “ chronicle their knowledge dot, B = 2 green dots, and so on) and one to five blue dots for F–J, and so on. We in sequences, lists, would never want students to feel limited by a perception that they are a “level descriptions, explanations, D” reader and can therefore only interact with level D books. The levels will assist labels, captions, and more. you in matching children to books for instruction, but we also want to ensure What they see, know, that your writers can and do feel free to interact with books that intrigue them, and wonder should come as there is much to be learned from pictures. And, research suggests that when to life as they research young children have multiple text experiences related to the same topic, the core and construct nonfiction academic vocabulary they build enables them to read increasingly more difficult texts. ” texts related to the topic. With concepts and key vocabulary in hand, children who — DR. GAIL might normally read at that level D can move quickly into more complex reading SAUNDERS-SMITH, AUTHOR OF selections on the topic. NON-FICTION TEXT STRUCTURES The following is a small sample of what a multi-level theme set on animals might FOR BETTER COMPREHENSION include. AND RESPONSE Leveled Books for Research LEVEL TITLE PUBLISHER A Life in a Pond Newbridge B Animals of the Rainforest Rigby Look at the Animals Benchmark C Koalas Rigby Animals in the Desert Rigby How Animals Move National Geographic Animals at Night National Geographic D Animals Hide Newbridge Under the Ice Rigby E Caterpillar Diary Rigby Colorful Animals Rigby F A Frog Has a Sticky Tongue National Geographic Fantastic Frogs Rigby G How Do Frogs Grow? Newbridge Chimpanzees Rigby H Piranhas Rigby I The Speedy Cheetah National Geographic J Animal Mysteries Rigby Animal Armor National Geographic L Baboon Troops Rigby Mountain Gorilla Heinemann Classroom M Life Cycle of a Frog Heinemann Classroom10 A Guide to Teaching Nonfiction Writing In addition to leveled books, you’ll also want to collect other accessible, theme- related resources like those that follow. Additional Resources for Instruction and Research Stations RESOURCE TITLE (SERIES) AUTHOR/PUBLISHER Books for Read-Aloud and Animals Nobody Loves Seymour Simon/Chronicle Learning from Visuals Books Frog (See How They Grow) DK Preschool Actual Size Steve Jenkins/Houghton Mifflin Books for Children Bat Loves the Night (Read and Wonder) Nicola Davies/Candlewick Magazines Young Explorer National Geographic Explorer National Geographic Zoobooks Wildlife Education, Ltd. Your Big Backyard National Wildlife Federation Ranger Rick National Wildlife Federation Big Books What Do Animals Need? Benchmark Books for a Listening Center Animal Habitats National Geographic Wordless Text A Dog’s Life National GeographicUnderstanding the Goals of Teaching Nonfiction Writing 11 Understanding the Goals of Teaching Nonfiction Writing Underpinning every strong nonfiction writing curriculum is a commitment to increasing writing volume across the curriculum, to understanding purpose and text types, to exploring and using nonfiction text features, and to striving for critical and visual literacy. WRITING VOLUME It is essential that we increase writing volume across the curriculum. It has been well proven that writing influences content retention, boosts acquisition of academic vocabulary, and enhances reasoning ability (Marzano, 2008; Hoyt, When students write “ 2007; Stead; 2002). So, it makes good sense to write in response to read-aloud, more frequently, their math, science, social studies, small-group literacy instruction—every segment ability to think, reason, of the learning day. When children write across the curriculum, the writing is analyze, communicate, naturally and authentically nonfiction in focus. and perform on tests will improve. Writing in every curricular area, With increasing writing volume and extensive experiences in mind, primary- using many different text grade writers can and should write at every available opportunity—creating types, is critical to student labeled diagrams of plant growth, writing letters to a partner explaining achievement. what they learned in math, crafting directions for a project in art, ” — DR. DOUGLAS making a list of resources needed for a unit of study in science, or writing REEVES, CENTER "From the Desk of ____" notes about an experience at a learning center. FOR PERFORMANCE ASSESSMENT, IN Kindergarteners can write or illustrate sticky-note book reviews for their GREINER, "ELEVEN favorite books, create a persuasive poster reminding others to cover a RESEARCH- sneeze, or write a set of directions together during guided writing. Extensive BASED TIPS FOR IMPROVING WRITING cross-curricular immersion in nonfiction writing helps first and second INSTRUCTION," 2007 graders understand that writing helps us to remember and to think more deeply, while stretching the range of text types that they can control. RESEARCH AND NONFICTION WRITING In addition to extensive, cross-curricular writing experiences, young writers also need opportunities to slow down and to explore a specific text type within the context of the writing workshop. With an intensive writing experience, writers take time to closely examine the internal workings of a specific text type and engage in research on topics of personal interest during an extended writing unit.12 A Guide to Teaching Nonfiction Writing An extended writing unit stretches over time—taking from a week to a month—as nonfiction writers investigate, gather facts, and prepare to carry a piece of writing I’ve never met a student across the entire writing process. Beginning writers learn to think about why they “ who didn’t feel like he or are writing, who the audience might be, and what kind of nonfiction text would she could write nonfiction best support their work (Stead, 2002). In an extended unit, where research and . . . whether it was a list, nonfiction writing come together, writing can at times be messy as young writers labeling pictures, a note, gather data and communicate it in sketches, notes, and lists. It can be focused as or a letter. I often let my writers closely examine nonfiction mentors that are exemplars of the text type they students write my notes will be creating. to the office, custodians, librarian, and other An extended nonfiction writing unit is filled with deep and long-lasting learning teachers. They are always because, over time, children take on many roles. They cast themselves as observers, happy to deliver their notes and get a response to their watching as their teacher thinks aloud and creates a model of the focus text type. writing. They are careful listeners, noticing how the teacher verbally cross-checks to ensure ” that the modeled writing has the same features and structures as the mentor text. — NOEMI URIBE, FIRST- AND They are researchers, guided by their own questions and lines of inquiry. Most of SECOND-GRADE all, they are writers. They take notes, draw sketches, create drafts, and experience TEACHER, DENTON, TEXAS all phases of the writing process. Because extended writing units can be stretched over time and integrated into the routines of a writers workshop, there is time for small-group guided writing. There is time for one-on-one conferences. There is time to engage in a whole-class collaborative project and an independent project that include all the elements of their intensive study. The time that an intensive experience provides for nonfiction writers is fertile ground for the development of excellence in nonfiction writing. Extensive and intensive experiences are both essential for primary-grade learners as they develop proficiency with nonfiction writing. PURPOSE AND TEXT TYPE Young writers need to learn that nonfiction authors write for specific purposes. They write to describe, to entertain, to provide instructions, to explain, and so on. When we write informational texts, it is important to understand the purpose for which we are writing and then to select a text type to match our goals. If the goal is to describe, we could do that through a news article, a poem, a question- and-answer book, a letter, an e-mail message, or an informational report. If the goal is to provide instructions, those might be delivered with a poster, a brochure, a scientific procedure, a recipe, or a written set of directions. So with deliberate purposes and a wide range of text types in mind, we can always find an authentic writing activity for our students.Understanding the Goals of Teaching Nonfiction Writing 13 Purposes and Text Types: Nonfiction Writing PURPOSE CHARACTERISTICS TEXT TYPES INFORM Expository or other topic-centered structure, Informational report (Understanding How Frogs to provide information: title, opening statement, information Eat), descriptive report (The Body of a Blue Whale), describe, explain, give organized in logical clusters, conclusion or explanatory report—telling how or why (How Wind the reader facts, tell what summary Farms Work), observation log (effect of water color something looks like, added to water and a stalk of celery), scientific summarize description (patterns of scales on a fish), comparison, news article, question-and-answer, poem, photos with captions, sign, letter, note, list, e-mail message, postcard, presentation, interview, speech INSTRUCT Title and/or goal, materials or equipment Recipe, science experiment, directions, instructions or to tell the reader how to do list, steps are numbered with verb-first manual, safety procedure, health procedure (washing something; to outline a process sentences or presented in a specific order hands, covering a sneeze), itinerary/schedule, rules, using time-order words (first, second, third; describing steps in a process such as a math operation, now, next, then, finally) art project, steps in a fire drill, writing process, map with directions NARRATE Well-developed setting, sensory imaging, Personal narrative, narrative nonfiction (factually to draw the reader into an sequential (usually time-ordered) structure, accurate writing that is infused with craft elements event or sequence of events to relevant details situate events in a time and and imagery), eye-witness account, news/magazine provide insights into a situation place, significance/importance of situation is article recounting an event, nonfiction storyboard, or the life of a person or other established, distinct ending diary, autobiography, biography, historical account, living thing photo essay (sequential), observation log that includes personal thoughts and reflections (over time), narrative poetry, retell PERSUADE Overview of the topic, statement of author’s Letter, advertisement, poster, essay, advertisement, to influence the reader to take position/argument, supporting facts/ brochure, review (movie or book), speech (e.g. action or to subscribe to a belief evidence, appeal to reader, conclusion or political), debate, poem, pro/con argument summary RESPOND Clear reference to a text or prompt created Response to literature: reflective, analytical, or to express ideas about a text or by an outside agent; cites specific examples evaluative analysis, critical review, character study, topic; to engage in analytical, and includes analysis author study critical, evaluative thinking; may include a specific prompt or format Response to an academic prompt: essay answer, a response to a test prompt Response to personal communication: letter, note, e-mail14 14 A A Guide Guide to to T Teaching eaching Nonfiction Nonfiction W Writing riting NONFICTION TEXT FEATURES Even the youngest writers Informational text has many unique features. These features are designed to “ become adept at including support readers in navigating through resources and provide reader-friendly access text features such as labels to content (Mooney, 2001). When readers expect these nonfiction features to and diagrams to support appear in informational passages, they can move in and out of the material with the comprehension of a confidence and purpose. To build this confidence and purpose with text features, reader. When we foster the nonfiction writers need first to notice these features in mentor books, read-alouds, use of text features, we and leveled selections used for small-group and independent reading. They need to enhance a writer’s ability carefully note which features occur most often, what the features tell the reader, to comprehend throughout and which features help them most as a reader, and then consciously infuse his life. ” nonfiction features into the nonfiction they create. — JANE OLSON, SPECIAL EDUCATION REGIONAL COACH, title APPLE VALLEY, MINNESOTA photograph heading inset caption Nonfiction features have two major functions. One is to communicate information in a visual way. Within this function, we see photographs, illustrations, diagrams, charts, graphs, tables, flow charts, arrows, and storyboards. The second function of nonfiction text features is to draw attention to important ideas and concepts. Within this function, we see titles, headings, subheadings, bold words, captions, tables of contents, glossaries, indexes, and so on. Understanding the Goals of Teaching Nonfiction Writing 15 TO COMMUNICATE INFORMATION TO DRAW ATTENTION TO IMPORTANT GRAPHICALLY, USE . . . IDEAS AND CONCEPTS, USE . . . photograph title or headline illustration heading diagram subheading chart bold word graph caption table label flow chart arrow storyboard bullets map text box legend or key callout cross section table of contents cutaway glossary time line index CRITICAL AND VISUAL LITERACY Critical literacy—reading, hearing, or viewing to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate content—and visual literacy—inferring meaning from pictures, photographs, diagrams, and other graphic forms—are the cognitive underpinnings of nonfiction writing. Without the ability to construct meaning from a variety of contexts, writers have nothing to write about. CRITICAL LITERACY As the volume of world knowledge continues to grow, it is essential that we challenge our students from the earliest ages to read critically. As nonfiction readers and writers, they need to consider perspectives, point of view, accuracy, and relevance of information. When learners adapt a stance of critical literacy, they can more easily see the persuasive and biased tones inherent in advertising, letters to the editor, promotional brochures, and Internet sources. They can question, wonder, and consider multiple sources on each topic. They learn to be deliberate in separating fact from opinion and steadfast in their search for clear communication (Hoyt, 2003). Writings about Christopher Columbus have become classic examples of misinformation spread as truth. For centuries, children have grown up celebrating Christopher Columbus as the discoverer of North America, even though we knew that he didn’t discover America. The continent was already richly inhabited by people with sophisticated cultures and a possibly more advanced lifestyle than that of Europe at the time (Mann, 2002). With a stance toward critical literacy, we can 16 A Guide to Teaching Nonfiction Writing guide students to read about Christopher Columbus, the Vikings who explored the area two hundred years earlier, and the highly developed cultures and agricultural talents of the native North American tribes. With this broad base of perspectives, writers can engage in thoughtful conversations that go far beyond a simple recounting of dates and events. Learning to Present Both Sides WE READ . . . WE THINK THIS MEANS . . . WE WONDER . . . The Pilgrims landed and started to The natives had to share the land. How did the natives feel? build homes. Were they mad at the Pilgrims? Did the natives have to leave because the Pilgrims took their land? Did this book tell us both sides of the story? The next step is to turn these conversations into opportunities to research and write. Whether kindergarteners listen to a read-aloud and draw or write one fact about the natives’ response on a sticky note or second graders delve into your Pilgrim history book basket, all are thinking deeply and beginning to learn about multiple perspectives. Some Experiences to Help Writers Develop Critical Literacy TO CONTRAST FACT AND FICTION Read: Waiting for Wings by Lois Ehlert, Caterpillar Diary by David Drew, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle Talk and write: to contrast fact and fiction accounts of caterpillars TO EVALUATE REALISM Read: The Biggest Bear by Lynd Ward, Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey, Goldilocks and the Three Bears; then read nonfiction books on bears. Talk and write: to compare the way each author portrayed bears. In which fiction stories were the bears most like real bears? TO DEVELOP PERSPECTIVE Present: a problem of interest to the students such as how long recess should be or what to offer for school lunch Talk: about perspectives. What do students think? How might a teacher’s or a principal’s thinking be different? What suggestions do students have to help recess or lunchtime to run more smoothly? Write: a letter to the principal with your suggestions.Understanding the Goals of Teaching Nonfiction Writing 17 VISUAL LITERACY Visuals are a characteristic Visual images are powerful tools of communication. They bring significant “ and important feature of amounts of information to a reader, greatly enhance understanding, and provide informational text. Often a nonfiction writers with an alternative system for communicating ideas and visual text (such as a map images. The old adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” is actually quite or diagram) will convey accurate when considered in terms of brain research and studies of human the meaning more clearly learning (Jensen, 2008). and memorably than the same information written in Wikipedia describes visual literacy: the ability to interpret, negotiate, and make words or paragraphs. ” meaning from information presented in the form of an image, a chart, or a — STEVE MOLINE, symbolic representation. It is based on the understanding that to teach learners AUTHOR OF I SEE WHAT YOU MEAN to read and write at top levels of effectiveness, we must provide direct instruction in how to both understand and produce visual images such as photographs, illustrations, diagrams, and charts—to use graphic organizers, flow charts, and storyboards to communicate information. As coaches for young writers, it is important to remember that the images we encounter in nonfiction resources greatly influence comprehension of the topic and that, in fact, we can use these images to bring everyone along: emergent readers and writers, English Language Learners, and fluent readers and writers alike can learn from and create graphic images that communicate meaning. With this in mind, we need to teach readers of nonfiction to pay close attention to those visuals and consciously integrate information in them with any available print (Stead, 2006). Enhance kids’ visual “ comprehension by using Beginning readers can and should use visual literacy and go beyond identification a masking tool (a piece of a subject. They can and should engage in interpreting, inferring, and critically of paper with a circular cutout). Have kids look analyzing visual information in the resources they encounter in their research. through the cutout to focus With modeling and coaching, learners can analyze the perspective of a photograph, in on smaller sections of wondering about the time of day or the time of year. They can weave language a picture and then 'zoom and description around a storyboard or flow chart explaining the life cycle of a out' to re-look at the butterfly. With critical and visual literacy as partners in thinking, a comparison whole in view of the details chart that shows a great white shark as the same size as an automobile should they’ve studied. ” be subjected to a rigorous round of challenges such as: What kind of car? Is it a — HARVEY (SMOKEY) compact car or an SUV? DANIELS Through visual literacy, young writers learn to offer detailed descriptions, to improve observation, and engage in critical thinking. Then, as they construct nonfiction texts of their own, writers continually wonder, “Which visual features might I add that will help my reader to understand?” “Is this information better represented by a visual or by sentences?” Visual encoding and decoding are essential skills for comprehension in reading and in writing. As you guide your nonfiction writers, be sure to take advantage of opportunities to think aloud about visual texts and demonstrate how to infuse them into writing.18 A Guide to Teaching Nonfiction Writing Emphasizing the Writing Process The writing process is the heart and soul, the essential framework, of any high- quality writing program. With an emphasis on process, young writers begin to understand that writing is about communicating and that writers need to consider both the purpose and the audience for the writing. Guided by purpose and audience, writers can then make better decisions about what to write, how much to write, whether or not to take a piece to publication, and so on. If a second grader is taking notes based on observation of an emerging butterfly, the writer is his or her own audience, so it doesn’t make sense to revise, edit, and publish the notes. If those notes are turned into a labeled diagram and accompanying sentences that will be part of a class book, a poster, or a published product, then the writer has an obligation to be sure that communication is clear and effective. That writer needs to be sure that there are spaces between words and that spelling is such that someone else can read the work. That writer also has an obligation to be sure that the handwriting and presentation are neatly done and a source of personal pride. The power of the writing process lies deep within the process itself—thinking about why you are writing and who will read the work. If someone else will read the work, then writers must understand that the writing is not over when they finish writing labels on a picture or crafting a sentence. The label and the sentence are the beginning. Writing is over when you have met your goals as a communicator and a thinker—when you are sure someone else can learn from what you have written—when you can take pride in the writing that you present to others to read. The labels for the phases of the writing process vary from context to context but essentially describe the same continuum from idea to published piece. The nonfiction process is unique only in that prewriting includes some kind of research or gathering of facts and that the accuracy of those facts is important throughout the writing and editing process. The chart on page 19 clarifies the writer’s focus at each stage of the process.