Arts and Crafts, Lesson Plans and Ideas: Grades 3-5
Nonfiction Writing
Bring Dinosaurs (or American History) to Life! Wake up kids’ writing with these five tips for successful exposition.

Tip #1: Stay on Topic
The best nonfiction writing usually tackles a very narrow topic; for example, instead of “Pilgrims,” how about “Why the Pilgrims Left England”?

Activity to Try: Have students use a graphic organizer web to focus in on their topics. First model the technique. Begin by writing a topic in a center bubble, and then write subtopics of that topic in branching bubbles. For example, if you write “Dinosaurs” in the center, you might write “Flying dinosaurs” and “Tyrannosaurus rex” in branching bubbles. Have the children select one of the bubbles and start a new web with that topic in the center. Keep going until you have a narrow topic to write about.

Tip #2: Choose the right Details
Details are the meat and bones of any nonfiction writing.

Activity to Try: Draw an outline of a person onto white paper. Copy the outline and hand out to students. Explain that their job is to convince the rest of the class why a favorite celebrity, athlete, or role model is the best at what they do. For example, if a student believes Peyton Manning is the best football player, have him fill the outline with supporting details, such as Manning was the 2007 Super Bowl MVP. When students finish, have them share their work with the class. Post their work on a bulletin board with the heading “Details are the Meat and Bones of Good Writing.”

Tip #3: Skip the extras
Details are important, but kids are often tempted to put in every piece of research—whether it fits or not.

Activity to Try: Cut up sentences froma news story and put them in an envelope. The twist? Also include some additional sentences that are related but don’t belong to the topic at hand. Challenge students to go through the envelope and identify the extraneous information.

Tip #4: Use Several Sources
Too many students stop at that first dynamo Web site.

Activity to Try: Invite students to interview family members about an important event, such as the day the student was born or a favorite vacation. Have children record notes about the different responses. In class, challenge students to write a single paragraph that incorporates their various interviews. Discuss how Mom, Dad, and siblings all remember things differently—and how combining these memories results in a richer piece of writing.

Tip #5: Offer a Conclusion
A conclusion can be the hardest part of nonfiction writing.

Activity to Try: Prepare a list of yes-or-no questions that require students to make inferences about a topic you are studying. For example, for a unit on Pilgrims, you might include “Do you think the Pilgrims were happy with their decision to come to America?” or “Do you think Native Americans enjoyed the first Thanksgiving?” Have small groups discuss, and then discuss the responses as a class. Why did groups answer the way they did? Talk about how we go from facts to conclusions.