Spice Up Informational Writing Instruction

Add new ideas, materials, and resources to breathe life into writing instruction.

By Dawn Dodson

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In the wake of next generation assessments, kids are required to demonstrate a high skill, accuracy, and knowledge level of multiple content areas and concepts. This leads every classroom teacher to the same question, “Am I effectively preparing my students?”

Reflecting on that question myself, I concluded that informational writing, in all of its structures and formats, is at the heart of the skills and thinking my class would need to not only perform well on next generation assessments, but also to effectively address college and career readiness. As a language arts teacher, I’ve always enjoyed writing instruction, and I found this to be the perfect opportunity to spruce up my mini-lessons, materials, resources, and workshop routine in order to focus on specific features of informational writing. The following are ideas, resources, and writing activities that focus on informational writing.

Tricks of the Trade

Do you need a little variety in your mini-lessons? I always begin each writing lesson with some kind of student exemplar, be it an entire essay, paragraph, line, or phrase. My writers gain a lot out of exemplar discussion and practice; however, focusing on a specific skill or concept was difficult depending upon the piece I was displaying. One pupil may comment on idea organization, while another may turn the discussion to word choice. Although discussion was beneficial, I rarely saw the entire class grasp a concept and try it out in their own writing.

In order to home in on a particular writing skill, structure, or concept, I had students begin color coding the exemplars. Color coding allows writers to focus on one item and see how it functions as a part of the entire piece. This works well in evaluating writing, too; writers can highlight the first word in each sentence in one color, transitions in another, and the topic sentence in yet another. This help also help to reinforce prior lessons.

Utilizing Media Resources

Making the most out of available resources is a reality, and it makes sense for those of us who need more than twenty-four hours in a day. Using video clips for informational writing purposes is an effective way for students to efficiently synthesize information from multiple sources and structure it all into a piece of writing. PBS Media clips provide a classroom-full of reliable media resources, as well as graphic organizers and rubrics for written work. Using content-related documentary and news clips, my class can easily compare and contrast or create a cause and effect essay with little preparation time on my part. This ultimately frees up time for squeezing in just one more writing conference into the school day.

With next generation assessments in mind, I combine media with a related nonfiction article, or two, so I can demonstrate how to organize and manage a variety of sources. Additionally, our school library has an online database available for students, which allows for easy research. My writers can choose from books, newspaper and magazine articles, primary resources, encyclopedias, and more. This is yet another way I can put a variety of reading and writing resources into the hands of my class members.

In the end, colored pencils, a few video clips, and a handful of articles breathed new life into my writing instruction. The writing is more focused; whole-class discussion and peer conferences are also concentrated to one objective. This is manageable for both writers and myself, and helps hone those necessary skills that will be required as the school year moves ahead.

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Dawn Dodson