I'm sad to admit that we struggle to fit in social studies, especially in fifth grade. Science is a tested subject in our state, so we have a significant amount of curriculum to cover. Additionally, the Common Core math standards have challenged the balance of instructional minutes in fifth-grade.
In order to cover some of the social studies, we integrated the Age of Exploration with Nonfiction Reading and Information Writing. Basically, we want students to learn, among other things, that we can read to learn and we can write to teach.
Students completed their narrative writing unit for a couple of weeks while they began to research and learn about specific explorers during social studies. Then, when we were ready to launch the Information Writing unit, the students had a set of notes and some knowledge about an explorer to write about.
One of our goals is to have students work harder than we do, so on the first day of Information Writing, we told students that we were not giving a mini-lesson. Instead, the instruction would come from them. We gave them a choice of four informational reports that we found on the internet, reports that we felt were solid mentors of the expectations of the fifth grade Common Core. The reports that we used are linked here (this one is a fourth-grade piece, but worked well for our purposes), here, here, and here. I'm going to take a moment to give a quick shout-out to Mr. Bowen in Oklahoma because his website is an incredible resource for samples of student writing!
Armed with the information writing checklist from Writing Pathways and an informational writing mentor, our students broke into small groups or partnerships. They were charged with the task of reading their mentor to identify strong information writing characteristics and craft moves they could teach their classmates. Below is a photo of the informational writing checklist found in the Writing Pathways book published by Teachers College Reading and Writing Project.
None of the informational reports were long, so students were able to read them several times with different lenses. Voice was important to the students and they were critical of these pieces for not having enough independent thinking incorporated into the writing. "They just give facts," one student said. "If they used more of these transition words, then they would automatically have more of their own thinking," another noticed. "Their introduction isn't clear and it doesn't make me want to read it," another partnership shared.
During the last fifteen minutes of the sixty minute workshop, each group presented their findings under the document camera, sharing the rationale for their checklist designation and the advice they would offer the writer. As they presented, I created the following chart, wanting to emphasize the skills that they already learned in the narrative units and how they could transfer them to informational writing.
Mel and I had a chuckle at the high expectations they had for unknown writers! If they could produce anything close to these mentors, we'd be happy! The chart is displayed in our classroom as a great reminder for students of what they think the mentors should have included and what they should include in their own informational writing. The students actively use this chart when reflecting on their own writing to make revision decisions to make their writing even stronger!
This inquiry lesson not only helped give our students a clear picture in their mind of what informational writing looks like and how it compares to narrative writing, but gave them the opportunity to actively discover the characteristics and expectations of informational writing and teach their classmates.
Stay tuned to hear more about this informational writing unit and how we have continued to incorporate inquiry lessons and even flipping lessons with videos during the unit!