When you’re working with early elementary students in kindergarten, first, and second grade, the task of asking them to write informational text is new to so many schools and teachers with the introduction of the common core.
My first year as a classroom teacher I taught third grade and researching and writing about topics in science and social studies seemed natural to them because… well, they already knew how to read and write for the most part. I heard so many early elementary teachers asking how we could ask students to research and basically write reports when they were just learning their letters, sounds, and how to read and write anything.
My heart and head love a challenge, so when I moved to first grade the following year, I made it one of my missions to figure this out for my students.
What I found shouldn’t have been surprising. These six year olds LOVED researching. They loved reading and listening and hearing about almost anything. They loved it more than reading about Todd’s Mumps or a tabby cat stuck in a tree in the early reader books I had in my classroom. They didn’t want to write a “written retell” but they DID want to write to tell me all about cats, dogs, sharks, snakes, monkeys, bees… just about anything!
I tossed around several different methods of informational reading and writing and here are some things I learned:
- Find out what they love- In my experience, most kids love learning about animals. They often would rise to the occasion and get some really great information from texts “above their level” when the book was about something interesting.
- Use Research Companions – Having the topic and common organizers and writing pages to guide the research helped to build student independence.
- Teach it like you teach most things- model(read and write about something together), practice together (I love to do partner research) and then send them on their own. This is great for writers workshop time or literacy centers. Place a few books and the book companion materials in the center, and they can choose what to read and write about.
- Use a checklist- My students became so much more independent when they had a common checklist to follow to help guide them as they were working. I used both a research and a writing checklist.
- Give choices- I mentioned this earlier, but I often like to give some choices about what students will research, especially during workshop or center time. Besides the topic, I also like to give them choices for presentation. Some students prefer to have a booklet, others prefer to write more like a paragraph. I also sometimes leave students other fun options, like making shape poems to show what they have learned about a topic. Sometimes this is in addition to a formal written piece, and other times it’s not!