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April 16, 2015

Tips for Analyzing Nonfiction for the Common Core, Part 1

By Erin Klein
Grades 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

    I love the time of year when we really dig deep into nonfiction texts. Of course we read various genres throughout the year, but we do an in-depth study of nonfiction right around the end of winter and beginning of spring. Developmentally, students are ready to do the work required, and socially, they can't get enough! It's a joy to see the students become so excited about exploring various topics of their choosing and sharing what they've learned with their classmates.

     

    The Direct Instruction: Close Modeling

    We begin our study of nonfiction by introducing the students to numerous text features and structures. We also teach the students how to start researching a specific topic — in this case, animals. Along with our district's curriculum, we use great resources such as Beth Newingham's nonfiction reading resources, and Kriscia Cabral's "Nonfiction Text Features With National Geographic." As we guide students through the research process, they begin to gather facts about the animal they've selected for their report. The goal is for them to have an accurate understanding of how to find facts, put the information into their own words, and keep track of their resources.

    Teachers select their own animal to research and do the work alongside the students, chunking each teaching point into a manageable mini-lesson for the day. Students focus their research on three main sub-categories: the animal's diet, habitat, and physical characteristics. This allows us as teachers to continue modeling where to locate this precise information within the texts, using such features as the table of contents and the index since all students are focusing their research on the same sub-categories.  

    To wrap up this unit of study, students publish their work and celebrate with their classmates. Each child has created an animal report complete with their creatively designed cover, table of contents, body pages, glossary, and additional choice text features. Some students choose to also include diagrams, graphs, sidebars, and more! Their products really demonstrate the process in which they went through as writers when they learned about nonfiction text features and structures.  

    The Guided Practice Piece

    After the completion of our animal unit of study for nonfiction, students have a more clear understanding not only of the features within a nonfiction text and how they're organized into various structures, but also how to go through the research process. We now encourage and support students to demonstrate more independence as they begin work on their artist unit of study.  

    We work closely with the art department and have the students each select an artist to study. Throughout the week, students develop questions to guide their research such as: When and where was the artist born? How did the location and time period influence their style? What works is the artist most known for? Once the students have generated their questions, they begin to dig deeper into the resources they've been reading. Now, they have a clear purpose for their reading. They are researching to find the answers to their questions. They begin to take notes and use sticky notes to tab their books and mark their thinking. When they've found sufficient information, they begin to transfer their research onto large note cards.  

    As the research is happening within the class, students are also learning more about their artist in art class. They begin to paint an interpretation of their artist's work onto a canvas of their own. Once the research is complete and their canvas is finished, students prepare for their author's celebration. We have a museum gallery where each child's canvas is proudly displayed around the classroom propped up on each child's chair. Students from other classes are invited in to see the works of art. Our students stand beside their canvas ready to serve as museum docents and share their research findings with those who come to see their art.  

    Check back next week for Part 2 where I will go into building book clubs and using R.A.N. charts.

    I love the time of year when we really dig deep into nonfiction texts. Of course we read various genres throughout the year, but we do an in-depth study of nonfiction right around the end of winter and beginning of spring. Developmentally, students are ready to do the work required, and socially, they can't get enough! It's a joy to see the students become so excited about exploring various topics of their choosing and sharing what they've learned with their classmates.

     

    The Direct Instruction: Close Modeling

    We begin our study of nonfiction by introducing the students to numerous text features and structures. We also teach the students how to start researching a specific topic — in this case, animals. Along with our district's curriculum, we use great resources such as Beth Newingham's nonfiction reading resources, and Kriscia Cabral's "Nonfiction Text Features With National Geographic." As we guide students through the research process, they begin to gather facts about the animal they've selected for their report. The goal is for them to have an accurate understanding of how to find facts, put the information into their own words, and keep track of their resources.

    Teachers select their own animal to research and do the work alongside the students, chunking each teaching point into a manageable mini-lesson for the day. Students focus their research on three main sub-categories: the animal's diet, habitat, and physical characteristics. This allows us as teachers to continue modeling where to locate this precise information within the texts, using such features as the table of contents and the index since all students are focusing their research on the same sub-categories.  

    To wrap up this unit of study, students publish their work and celebrate with their classmates. Each child has created an animal report complete with their creatively designed cover, table of contents, body pages, glossary, and additional choice text features. Some students choose to also include diagrams, graphs, sidebars, and more! Their products really demonstrate the process in which they went through as writers when they learned about nonfiction text features and structures.  

    The Guided Practice Piece

    After the completion of our animal unit of study for nonfiction, students have a more clear understanding not only of the features within a nonfiction text and how they're organized into various structures, but also how to go through the research process. We now encourage and support students to demonstrate more independence as they begin work on their artist unit of study.  

    We work closely with the art department and have the students each select an artist to study. Throughout the week, students develop questions to guide their research such as: When and where was the artist born? How did the location and time period influence their style? What works is the artist most known for? Once the students have generated their questions, they begin to dig deeper into the resources they've been reading. Now, they have a clear purpose for their reading. They are researching to find the answers to their questions. They begin to take notes and use sticky notes to tab their books and mark their thinking. When they've found sufficient information, they begin to transfer their research onto large note cards.  

    As the research is happening within the class, students are also learning more about their artist in art class. They begin to paint an interpretation of their artist's work onto a canvas of their own. Once the research is complete and their canvas is finished, students prepare for their author's celebration. We have a museum gallery where each child's canvas is proudly displayed around the classroom propped up on each child's chair. Students from other classes are invited in to see the works of art. Our students stand beside their canvas ready to serve as museum docents and share their research findings with those who come to see their art.  

    Check back next week for Part 2 where I will go into building book clubs and using R.A.N. charts.

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