Sunday, February 12, 2012

Creating voice in non-fiction writing

This year I have made an effort to have just as much non-fiction text in my teaching as fiction text.  With the help of Wonderopolis, celebrating choice during independent reading, and implementing an inquiry workshop, non-fiction reading is immersed daily and is not a specific unit that we study.  But what about in writing workshop?

I have been using Lucy Calkins', A Curricular Plan for The Writing Workshop: Grade 4, as a resource for thinking more about my writing workshop and the Common Core.  Here is a link to the Heinemann website that has a sample chapter for each grade level (Great news...they also have one for your reading workshop too)!  After reading her chapter on informational writing, Lucy Calkin suggests building on expository structures to write lively, voice-filled non-fiction picture books.  Our class is currently using our inquiry and writing workshop as a way to do just that with a twist!

Here is where creating voice comes in...we collected information from our own knowledge, the Internet, and books on self-chosen topics.  We determined three subcategories and organized information into those groups.  Then, I was stuck!  I knew that some students had gone on a note-taking spree and went astray from their subtopics.  I knew that some students had written down facts that were not important.  If our goal was to teach others about something that interests us, how can we make our writing interesting? Where does our thinking come in?

I used an idea from the Inspired to Read blog, Pause to Save/Pause to Think, and twisted it into writing workshop.  My students made a t-chart with Pause to Save on one side and Pause to Think on the other.  They read through their notes and decided which facts were worthy of saving and what they thought about the fact.  During share time in our workshop, the students shared one fact that they saved, what they thought, and orally combined it into one complete thought to share.  Next step...getting it on paper and designing our picture books to include non-fiction text features.

Here are some examples from our share time on Friday...

Pause to Save
Pause to Think
Sentences that the student shared orally

Glaciers can be more than 200 feet tall.
The Statue of Liberty is 151 feet tall.
A glacier can reach 200 feet tall which is taller than the Statue of Liberty.
Cedar Point opened in 1870.
I figured out that it opened 142 years ago.
One hundred and forty years ago, Cedar Point opened its doors in 1870.
Crocodile has tough skin.
Predators would have a hard time sinking their teeth into the skin.
Predators might have a hard time sinking their teeth into the crocodile’s tough skin.


  1. WOW!!! I love it! This is a great idea for combining important information and student's thinking to transform ideas into writing. Thank you for giving me ideas to think on for taking our nonfiction reading strategies to the next level:)

  2. Right back at you! Your blog inspired my post!

  3. Wonderful idea. Integrating non-fiction can be easier than one might think! Thanks for sharing.