I hope everyone has had a great start to your 2015 year. Mine has started out great! Last week I went out of town to work with my model classroom teachers. The first day I met with everyone K-12. I finally got the high school teachers set up with their devices and learned how to create Google accounts for students. Super excited about students having Google accounts! Now we can start using Google Classroom. I hope to write more about how we are implementing Google Classroom later. The rest of the week I got to spend a lot of time in my first grade classrooms. The teachers were starting expository writing on the topic of animals. I told them about my polar animals unit and asked them if they would like to try it out.
I love to teach writing to emergent writers! I know many people tell me writing is the most difficult subject area to teach. I tend to agree but there just isn’t anything better! Watching student writing change over time from the beginning of the year to the end makes a teacher feel pretty special. The progress is AMAZING!! Add expository writing and research into the mix and I become giddy with anticipation!
I had several people ask me about creating an expository unit to go with some of my other writing units. I have a specific way I teach expository writing to students and thought I’d share some of my ideas. This summer, you may remember I talked some about the 5e’s of Instruction (of course, I never finished the series — whoops!). I use the 5e’s to teach my expository writing units with students. The 5e’s are engage, explore, explain, elaborate, evaluate.
I always start my expository units with researching a topic as a class. For this particular unit we are learning about penguins. I used the RAN strategy to ask students what they THINK they know about penguins. This language was used because, as authors, it is important we write facts and use appropriate vocabulary. Therefore, unless we do research on the topic we really can’t be sure we know correct information.
So I gave students a graphic organizer and had them draw pictures, label, and write a sentence or sentences about their picture. As students were writing, I went around the room and asked them to tell me one thing they THOUGHT they knew about penguins using a complete sentence. I wrote their sentence on a post-it note and give it to them. At the end of the session, I had a few students share their work and added the post-it notes to our RAN anchor chart.
The next part of the unit was to explore the topic through research. I usually set up stations. (Read more about stations here or here.) However, the students weren’t familiar enough with the technology so I decided to do it whole group.
We started with the listening station. Before they started listening to the passage, I went over the recording sheet with them so they would know what to look for as they read. Students then scanned the QR code to listen to the MP3 of the passage being read to them. Students had to be taught how to follow along with the passage while they read. I made them read/listen to the passage several times and then called them to the carpet to model how to do a little close reading. I used the dual-page screen view to show both pages on the SMART Notebook software. The picture below doesn’t show it but when using SMART Notebook, I was able to highlight specific information from the passage to show “evidence from the text”. Then had them help me come up with a complete sentence to write on the recording sheet.
I have to admit this was one of my favorite stations. I think the main reason was because of the easy to read passage. This was just right for the students and they gained a lot of information about the text and had a lot to say. Plus they loved getting to scan the QR codes!
Once the station was complete we shared our learning. We also went back to the RAN chart with our post-its. Most students knew basic information about penguins such as “Penguins eat fish.” or “Penguins have beaks.” However, as we learn more about the topic it is important we use correct vocabulary such as “Penguins have bills”. Also, “Penguins eat krill, squid, and fish.” So these things will be addressed throughout the unit. Students also had a lot of questions (wonderings) about the topic. So we added these wonderings to our RAN chart.
There are six stations in all. I was able to work with students at the computer station and the app station. Students were able to watch a live webcam of penguins from the Pocket Penguins app as well as listen to even more resources from other great sites online. The Pocket Penguins app was such a cool experience for the students because many of them had never seen a penguin before. This is about as close as you can get when you can’t see them in real life.
Next week I plan to go back to start the writing of our class booklet once they have finished their research. I’ll be sure to keep you posted. In the meantime, if you are interested in trying these activities out in your classroom you might want to check out this great resource.