Strategies for Helping Students Create Powerful Informational Writing:
1. Help Students Choose a Good Topic
Students should spend time researching and exploring before choosing a topic to write about. If time is not spend before choosing a topic it may lead to poor writing an lack of interest on the writers part. Suggest the following to your students in order for them to select a better topic: read a newspaper, explore National Geographic’s, practice free writing, keep an ongoing list of interesting writing topics, or model.
2. Redefine the Concept of “Research”
Research is not only searching your topic online. Students should branch out while researching their topic to find other people points of view and any additional information they can find. Student should practice interviewing peers or members of their community, draw from personal experiences or create new experiences. Page 289 contains a useful list of topics for students to write research or informational pieces about.
3. Make Information Accessible
If information is easy to find and use, students are more likely to actually use it. It is important for students to feel that the resources that they are provided are useful and are easy to find that information that they need. Have a workshop on how to efficiently research a topic and find valuable resources. If the whole class if writing about the same subject, view a film together to assist student in zoning in on their specific topic. They can begin gathering basic information this way as well. Go on informational visits if your topic is applicable. If writing about aquatic life, go to an aquarium. Students can gather facts from the different exhibits as well as the staff can be a great sources of knowledge.
4. Practice Note Taking
My high school students did an exercise which helped gain insight into how to properly take notes in preparation for university classes. Students in earlier grades will not have much experience writing valuable notes. Read aloud a passage from an informational piece of writing to your class. Then display the text and take notes. Have the students see what information you write down and what information is left behind. Have students practice this individually as well. This is also a good time to introduce how to make a work cited page since students are gathering facts from sources and not creating original pieces of writing.
- Coach writers to Teach You Something New
Informational writing is a time for writers to teach teachers new information that they have found and learned themselves. Students should litter their informational writing with gripping facts and details that are new to them and the readers. It is important that research is visible in their writing through the use of facts and statements.
- Get Creative about Format
An informational piece of writing can be presented in several different ways. Encourage students to explore different ways to present their writing as it pertains to their topic. If writing about a person from history, try writing in role as that person for example. Use a certain style of writing or font if writing about a certain time in history. Students should be encouraged to be very creative with the format of their writing even if it is an informational piece of writing. Presentation of the information also has room for freedom, what about creating a video, podcast or cartoon sketch to convey their information.
- Smooooth out Quotations
Students need lots of practice in easing quotations into their writing instead of plugging them in. A quotation should be used to enhance a sentence, not be the sentence itself. Quotations need context from the writer so the reader does not need to make it up themselves. Teach students different ways to incorporate quotations in an interesting way that brings the whole sentence together. This is a skill that will take a lot of time to perfect and be confident with.
- Show Students How to Cite Sources
This is such a particular skill that it can only be learned by looking and matching examples. One format of citation should be used to ensure students are all on the same page; this way students will also be able to help each other. Ensure all students have one piece of paper that has an example of how to cite several different types of sources and it is kept at the front of their books for easy access. It is also important for students to understand that using someone’s ideas needs to be cited. This may be difficult to show students at first but repetition will help.
- Share Aloud From the Best Informational Writing You Can Find
Exposing students to various pieces of informational writing is a good way to get them used to the language and style of writing that is used. The following books are good resources to read aloud to you class. Most books contain pictures and other visuals so students can begin to see what they should include in their own writing.
The Animal Dialogues by Craig Childs
Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin
At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson
Bones by Steve Jenkins
In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
Down, Down, Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea by Steve Jenkins
Pocket Babies and Other Amazing Marsupials by Sneed Collard
Seahorses by Twig George
Wild thoughts from Wild Places by David Quammen
The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter