Tired of hearing students groan when you utter the words informational writing? Try these curiosity-provoking and authentic activities to help students research nonfiction topics.
- Seek Out Blog Pals
Set up a safe place for your students to blog, such as blackboard.com. Pair up with another class in a different area of the country for a weather exchange, then have students graph daily high and low temperatures in both places and compare. Provide a mini word wall of weather words that students might need for their reports. Use the blog to swap favorite weather/climate book recommendations, field trip adventures, and math-fact challenges with long-distance blog pals.
- Cook Up Some Learning
Create a class book of “recipes” related to the topics your students are learning about. For example, a recipe for a monarch butterfly might read something like this: Take a caterpillar and feed it milkweed until it’s nice and plump. Set it on a branch until it forms a chrysalis. Add one thorax, an abdomen, a head, and two wings. Let it set for two weeks. Once it hatches, give it air and sunshine, water and nectar. Enjoy! Other ideas might include recipes for a habitat, a Native American longhouse, a plant, or even good study habits.
- Interview One Another
Have your students interview each other. Brainstorm a list of questions, then let kids choose three to five questions to ask their partners. Print lined pages with each child’s photo for the interviewers to take notes. Assemble the pages into a class book and let students read it again and again to learn more about their classmates. When a new student or volunteer arrives in your room, let them peruse the book to get to know your students.
- Make a Map
Create an illustrated map of the school to post in the front office for new students and guests. Take photos of the library, cafeteria, gym, music room, playground, and so forth, and add them to the map. Include photographs of the school VIPs, such as the principal, school nurse, and counselor. Have students add captions under each photo with important information that someone new to the school would need to know (for example, how many books a student may check out of the library, playground rules, lunch price, etc.).
- Put History on a Clothesline
Chronologically ordering the major events in a famous person’s life is a great way to practice sequencing. Ask students to illustrate and write about each milestone on a separate index card. Then, punch holes in the cards and have students put them in order and tie the cards onto a piece of yarn. Have students pair up and tell about the person they researched using their “History Ropes” as references.
- Flip a Coin
Prepare large, circular cutout coins using gray paper for silver dollars, half-dollars, quarters, dimes, and nickels and light brown paper for pennies. Have students trace a circle in the center of each side of their cutout, then, using real or plastic coins as models, draw the fronts and backs of the coins in the center of the paper circles. Around the edge of each coin drawing, ask students to write details about that coin, such as how much it’s worth, who is on the front, and what is on the back. (Find out more about coins at the U.S. Mint website: usmint.gov/kids.) When it’s time to share the projects, let students flip their “coins” to decide what information they’ll share first.
- Become Poster Children for Health
Work with your students to create wellness posters to display at key places around your school: the cafeteria, gym, doors leading outside. Challenge them to illustrate healthy habits and then add captions that explain the benefits of good-for-you food and exercise.
- Walk in Famous Footsteps
Give each child a cutout of a footprint when starting a lesson on a famous figure. Have students jot notes during the lesson, then ask each of them to write and illustrate one fact about the famous person on a footprint. On the back of the footprints, have students write or draw a connection, question, or response related to the fact on the front. Place the footprints in a line around the room and let the children present the facts and their corresponding responses. Afterward, display the footprints on the wall or assemble them into a book.
- Guess the Mystery Animal
Give each student a six-sided cube template. On each square, have them write one attribute or fact (habitat, diet, color, type of skin covering, name of young, how the animal protects itself) about an animal they’ve been studying. Have students cut out the template and show them how to fold it into a cube shape. Tape or glue the sides together, leaving one flap open. Let students draw their animal and write its name on a strip of paper, then put it inside and tuck the top flap into the cube. Let students pass around their cubes and see if their classmates can guess the name of the animal described on the sides. They can then open the cubes to see if they’re correct!