Teachers have been creating more and more research projects in recent years. In part, our states are pushing us in that direction through the assessments they've created. For example, 60% of our reading tests in North Carolina are nonfiction selections. Whereas in the past elementary teachers pretty much stressed personal and imaginative narratives and poetry, now we're enjoying teaching nonfiction units as well. With the change to Common Core in our state, students will study informational and explanatory writing in all subject areas.
Other reasons are driving this interest in research projects, of course. Teachers discovered that reluctant readers like reading and writing about real things. English language learners comprehend texts with photographs more easily. By teaching elementary students how to read nonfiction – the text features and what they mean – students read textbooks better as they move into the upper grades. In addition, the Internet's riches of information and our ability to readily add our own contributions have given students more reasons to learn nonfiction features of text.
I explored research writing with my students in my own classroom. Sometimes, I let them pick whatever topic they wanted to study. Most of the time, however, we had so little time and a very packed curriculum. When I couldn't afford complete free choice, the students selected what they wanted to learn within a unit of study. For example, in 5th grade we studied the Western Hemisphere in one year. I divided this hefty topic into one for each quarter: geography, history, politics and economics. During the history unit, students chose research topics from a long list of subtopics that matched our standard course of study.
From these experiences, I wrote and tweaked some units I'm sharing with you. On this page, you'll find my main-idea unit that teaches students to organize details around generalizations. I finally figured out how to teach main ideas in a way that sticks.
I'm also posting my nonfiction page unit where students learn nonfiction features of text by writing. Even though my students could define words like italics and parentheses, they didn't know why authors used them. In this unit, they learn how and why.
Check out the other resources in the right margin, as well. Now publishing companies offer so many books with so many ideas, you'll probably want to put a few on your list for summer when you have a bit more time to read.
Next: Poetry tips
Scientists use daybooks too!
Karen created this short video to show students how researchers track their work in daybooks.
Free materials to download
Click on the titles to download free lesson plans and handouts to help students do research writing.
Nonfiction text features
We teach strategies for reading factual texts to our youngest children. That might seem rather dull. But I was in a classroom the other day where reading instruction was any thing but. Grade levels: K-2.
Have fun! Integrate writing, reading and content by writing a whole-class, main-idea, research book. The 9-lesson unit helped my students construct an understanding of main ideas vs. details, revising vs. editing, retelling vs. summarizing, and copying vs. writing original work. Grade levels: 2 and up.
Students learn two goals at once: how to research and how to read nonfiction texts. By following the steps of an I-Search project (Ken Macrorie), students find interesting facts and create a one-page magazine article (Stephanie Harvey). Students learn nonfiction text features by using them in their writing! Grade levels: 3 and up.
Links to other great help
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Copyright 2016 by Karen Haag
A resource for people passionate about helping students write well, compiled by Karen Haag