Jumpstarting a nonfiction/research unit is a popular topic with many teachers. Here are a couple of ideas for diving into a nonfiction writing unit.
Using Picture Books for Research
Nonfiction picture books are a growing section in many school and public libraries. Intended for students of all ages, these quick-read fact books provide a fabulous resource for building background knowledge on a historical event, animal study, human disease, solar system, famous inventor, or whatever the research topic.
A second use for the nonfiction picture book is to help any student who can’t choose between multiple research topics. Have him read several nonfiction picture books in order to narrow his interest to one topic. This helps decrease the likelihood of him wasting a lot of time researching and then wanting to change his topic days and weeks into the unit.
Also consider the power of A-Z books, also known as alphabet books. These books aren’t just for kindergartners anymore! These 26-page fact books not only give key facts and vocabulary words on a given subject, but the visual images (graphics, photographs, diagrams, etc.) are very informative, too. Download an example.
Try a T-Chart for Note Taking
Often, nonfiction writing leads to comparing/contrasting two or more items. And with that mode of writing, most teachers assume the research should be collected within a Venn Diagram. However, while the two overlapping circles may separate information, the Venn Diagram doesn’t organize it. A better choice is the T-Chart. With the common features listed in the middle, a student can collect relevant information from the content-area reading and keep it all organized within a simple table. Download a science example.
This note-taking technique also lends itself to easily revealing the two common methods of organizing compare-contrast information in writing.
Method #1: Organize by Item. Write all about Item A and then all about Item B.
Method #2: Organize by Feature. Focusing on one feature at a time, explain how it relates to Item A & B. Then focus on a second feature and how it relates to Item A & B. Continue this pattern.
As always, motivating students to revise and edit their nonfiction writings can be a challenge. To mix things up a bit, use the principles of the game BINGO and have students apply five revision/editing strategies in a row. I love this strategy because it still allows the writer choice, not forcing him to fix everything.
Download example PDF and Word document templates to create your own. NOTE: Although the downloadable sample is designed for upper grades, primary teachers can utilize the Word document template and create their own versions. And content-area teachers, you could make it more content specific, focusing on revision of facts, reasons, and vocabulary. Also note that you can utilize the combination of revision and editing strategies, or create two separate BINGO boards–one for revision skills, one for editing skills.