Lessons to Engage Student Writers

Writing and Thinking through the Student User’s Guide Assignment

Once again we’ve been on the search for engaging writing ideas.  This one we found on edutopia, and we think it will definitely spark some interest with your students.  As the teacher, Stephanie, explains in the blog, she was having a terrible teaching day…kids not engaged, planned lesson not working, short tempers.  She came up with the idea of

  • What if students came with user’s guides?  Would that help us to connect with them?
With that in mind, she creating a writing activity for students to create their own user’s guide.  Click on the link below to to see how she structured her lesson, and how to make it a social studies writing activity as well.

If you try it out, let us know how it goes!

Writing and Thinking Through the Student User’s Guide Assignment

  Using Picture Books as Mentor Text for Informational Writing

 A good friend of ours recently published an informational picture book.  As a science teacher, she is always interested in biology, and for her book, she decided to write about a beach and coral reef using Dr. Seuss type rhymes. Thus, she was actually using Dr. Seuss as her mentor text!

For a science writing activity, we would use her book, The Littlest Beach and the Great Coral Reef as mentor text. We’ve outlined the lesson below.

1. Read the book aloud.  Be sure to “think aloud” as you go. Talk about how the pictures match the text and how the facts are written in poetic form.

Here’s an sample page from the book.

The Littlest Beach hides the smallest of crab.
It lives under the surface of soft, shifting sand.
These mole crabs can’t walk
and, of course, they can’t talk.
They can’t go forward or go left or right,
but they quickly scoot backwards to hide out of sight.
In the grainy sea sand, they burrow deep down
to where their next meal of plankton is found.

2. Be sure to show and talk about how the pictures fit with what’s described on each page.

3.  Discuss the words on each page and how the rhyme scheme works.

4.  Now it’s time to get creative!  Pick a topic that fits with what your class is studying.

5.  Find several pictures that go with the topic. Model this using the SmartBoard…an easy to use source for pictures is googledocs.  (Grandma Science shared with us that it works a LOT better if you choose your topics, find your picture, and then actually write.  That way, it’s easier to have the writing match the pictures.)

6.  Model write:  Write text to go with at least two of your pictures.  Demonstrate how you have to change your words in order to make it sound right.  THINK ALOUD as you write!  This is crucial!!!

7.  After you’ve done a couple of pages, now do a “group write” with the students helping you create the next two pages.

8.  Now they’re ready to write.  If your students are new to this, you might have them write in pairs before they tackle it alone.  Or you might try having a table group select a topic and title for the book and then have each individual member create one page.

9.  After students have created their pages, be sure to have them read them aloud to their groups.  This is the time when they can get ideas from others and refine/revise their writing.

10.  Finally, have students edit for spelling, punctuation, and capitalization.  Correctness is vital for books.

Possible Topics:

  • Seasons of the year
  • Mammals or birds or reptiles that live in our area
  • Plants or trees that grow in our region
  • Types of rocks in our region
  • Geographic regions
  • Rivers
  • Cities
And just in case you’re wondering, this format can be used with ALL grade levels. The sophistication of the text and level of information increases, but the concept remains the same.
Grandma Science (Dr. Sharon F. Johnson)

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