Engaging Kids in Informational Writing

The end of the school year is such a busy time, isn't it? I know most of you probably feel like me... worn out by testing and so ready for summer but still looking at a to-do list a mile long! Add to that student behavior that is, well, less than stellar. Ugh!

I've been finding reading centers to be particularly hard lately. These third graders have nothing on their minds except socializing and acting like the fourth graders they haven't quite become yet. So I took the drastic measure of canceling reading centers.

That's right... I canceled them. No more centers!

So, what are these children doing for an hour every day? Research and writing. Wow, that sounds boring... zzzzz. But check out some of their finished work and you tell me, does this look boring?

These are the students' self-published "Time For Kids" magazines. After using TFK in our guided reading groups for awhile, I decided to use them as a way to get the kids writing.

First, we brainstormed ideas for topics and created a "topic menu". They came up with things like the San Francisco earthquake, the Titanic, Pompeii, the New York Yankees, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Apollo Space Mission. They were all VERY excited to contribute to the menu.

Then we closely analyzed TFK to figure out what makes it so interesting.

The kids noticed that the paragraphs were short with text features to go with them. They saw that there were a lot of super interesting facts and that each section had its own heading. They pointed out the colorful illustrations and interactive features like links to videos. We decided it would be a good idea to use index cards for each paragraph or sub-topic.

Next, we talked about how to conduct research including how to paraphrase, how to cite your source (which we've been working on for awhile), and how to take notes. I also made a list of acceptable websites that they could use for their research.

Finally, they were ready to go and boy, did they dive right in!

Most of them chose to partner up for their first topic. They spent several days researching with some of them asking to visit the media center to find even more information.

During reading groups, I looked over what they had done so far and offered guidance as needed. Some things they had trouble with at first were writing good headings for each paragraph and forgetting topic sentences.

After our first round of TFK publishing, the kids decided they wanted to do more, so they all chose a new topic! Some decided to work on their own because they were excited to research something specific. It was great seeing them so absorbed in their writing. Most of them spent a full week doing research and another week writing, illustrating, and editing.

Their hard work really paid off! Take a look at some of these finished pieces...

Even some of my very reluctant writers (mostly boys) produced some nice work. Now that the school year is coming to an end, I wish we had more time for projects like these. But hey, I'm still ready for summer to start!

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