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Ten Informative Writing Ideas for Secondary Students

I'm participating in a blog hop with Mrs. McClain over at Buzzing with Mrs. McClain to share what you oughta know about informative writing. In my experience, my students L-O-V-E creative writing assignments. They also get excited about argumentative writing. The latter is likely connected to adolescence and the need to argue (ha!), but its true. Investing my students in informative writing has been a challenge, so I am sharing a couple of best practices. 

1) Interviews - Students think of a topic they are interested in, write questions they have, and then answer their questions as experts. Teachers could even assign students a topic and have them interview each other about the topic as if they are "experts." The only caution here is reminding students that their responses have to grounded in their research.

 

2) Write Magazine Articles - Allow students to write a magazine article about a topic. If you have access to computers, students can type into the template below, and add pictures. I allow students to name their magazine, and think of ways to hook readers in with their article title. 


3) Yearbook Pages - Teachers can assign students an event, person, or place, and allow them to design a yearbook page that captures important information and is appropriate for the topic. 

4) Biography - Teachers can add a spin on this by thinking through the format. This could be completed as an interview, an article, or a yearbook page from this a time in the person's life. Students can then add a written component to narrate the person's life. 


5) The Social Media Frenzy - Many secondary students have at least one social media account. Students can write a compare and contrast paper about two different social media services, or compare and contrast features within one type of social media. For example, students could compare and contrast the effectiveness of hashtags versus using 140 characters to spread an idea.  

6) Watch and Describe - This activity is helpful for students who struggle with writing objective summaries. Teachers can use clips from the history channel, or another content aligned resource to have students summarize or write about what they watched. One approach could be to pose a question to students such as,  "Can sun and wind make salt water more drinkable?" After watching students can write their response and then discuss, or use the information to conduct additional research, and write a paper. 

7) Favorites - Students write about their favorite class, pet, sport, game, team, or book. With this type of writing, focus on how students organize their information into categories, and how they develop their topic. 

8) Respond to Literature - Teachers can use the class text to have students respond a question about the text, or write a literary review of the text.  

9) Resume - This can be also aid with biography writing with students using a resume format to write about the life of someone. Students could even write their resumes. 

10) The Power of Questioning - This is one of my favorites. Students respond to an engaging question that requires research.. 

 

 

I hope something resonated and can be implemented in your classroom. Sample resources from this post can be found {here} and {here}.Teaching students to become better writers is something I enjoy because I'm working on becoming a better writer too. When they write, I write. As we say in my class, "Great writers, write, a lot!" Enjoy! 

Click {here} to view more of my writing resources. 
This has been another blog post in collaboration with the fabulous Jasmine McClain
Don't forget to hop around to the other bloggers for more innovative and interesting ideas that you oughta know


Time Saving Remediation Procedures: For Middle School ELA Teachers

"Yay, state testing time"... said no teacher ever! In my first year in the classroom, I received a humongous packet of "resources" that was labeled "Countdown to the FCAT (our old state test)." I also received a clear scope and sequence of when each "passage" should be read in class, aligned questions, and a reminder that using the materials was a requirement. As a new teacher, I didn't see the harm, and assumed they'd help my students out. Wrong.

"Drill and Kill" not only hurt my class culture, but drained the joy out of reading.  

We read 25 different passages with the intent of students getting better at reading, and demonstrating growth on their state assessment scores. The impact was a classroom full of young readers who viewed reading as a task chalked full of disconnected dots. So I wondered:

How can I make reading remediation a meaningful part of class that doesn't drain the joy of reading, and assists students with becoming better readers? 

No.easy.task. That said, below is my approach. I fully recognize that some school districts have systems in place that require teachers to use scripted programs. I hope teachers can glean something from this posts that works for them! Happy Reading!!!!!!!!

Start with AUTHENTIC TEXTS! Students deserve texts that are engaging, appropriate, and at their reading level. Below is a "mini"student anthology (for reading literature) I created for my students. After you have your texts, move on to the key questions.  

1) What skills do students need assistance with? Remediation starts with knowing what your students need.  

2) What type of practice do students need? In my opinion, practice for students should be twofold. First, students need opportunities to practice with items that are similar to questions on assessments. Second, assessment questions should be blended with opportunities that inform teachers of where student learning broke down. In my practice, there are scaffolded questions that allow students to explain their thinking using graphic organizers.   

3) How can students assist one another in building reading comprehension? There is real power in students pushing each other in conversations about the text. Set students up to come prepared to engage in text based discussions by assigning questions, or activities. Click {here} for a starter pack to teach students about collaborative conversations.
4) What other activities will allow students to deeply engage with the text, and "show what they know?" Giving students other opportunities to process the text allows students to demonstrate comprehension in different ways, while fostering creativity.  Some ideas include:
  • Graphic Organizers
  • Creative Writing  (e.g. change the ending of the text, write yourself into the a part of the story)
  • Interview a Character 
  • Turn the text into a Comic Strip 

Well, that's what I have. Hope something is helpful. The one thing I didn't mention, but implied, is that students reread the texts in the anthology over and over again. There is no end to how many times you can pull one of the texts, and use it to guide students through different skills. Additionally, teachers do not have scurry around to find texts and questions for standards. The student anthology can be found {here} for free. I'm working on posting my informational text anthology, and an additional reading literature anthology. If you are interested in the activities in this post, click {here
Need more test prep resources? Click here

Secondary Writing: Let's Make a Claim



One of the shifts in the Common Core Standards was the focus on argumentative versus persuasive writing pieces. My students had had years of persuasive writing, and I had to work to orient them towards the changes. The first misunderstanding I had to debunk with my students was "Oh, this is just persuasive writing." My students immediately saw the connection to persuasive writing, but struggled to see the nuances that made it different. I was hitting a wall, so I made this poster and focused on breaking down the parts of argumentative writing. My starting point was making a claim. I sought for my students to think about how to make a specific claim that could be supported with data, evidence, and examples. I coined the phrase "My Big FAT claim" to assist students with remembering the qualities of a claim.


Focused: Does the topic make a focused argument (MTV's popularity is waning because it no longer plays music videos) rather than a general one (MTV is not popular).
Arguable: Can reasonable people disagree with it? Is there more than one side, or a counterargument?
Telling: Can it be substantiated with details, evidence, examples, and data.?

To assist students with this process, I worked on taking statements and turning them into claims. Let's look as the example below:

First, I listed a big topic: Schools and Junk Food
My mini-lesson focused on walking students through the process of making a F.A.T claim based on the topic. The sentence in the gray shaded box (below) is an example of the types of responses I received from students. Their responses were either facts, or still too broad (e.g. schools should only sale healthy food). I modeled turning the broad statement "Some schools sale lots of junk food" into a claim using the acronym F.A.T:

  • Is the sentence focused? Yes. It's focused on the sale of junk food at school. 
  • Is the statement arguable? NOPE! It's really hard to make a case with the statement as no position was taken. Is the writer trying to tell readers that schools should/shouldn't sell junk food? Why? 
  • Is the telling, or something that can be supported with evidence? Yes. We could look up and find the percentage of schools that permit the sale of junk food on campus. 
After establishing that the statement needed to be arguable I asked students to take a position. We took the stance, schools should not be allowed to sale junk food. To push and make the "T" more meaty, I asked students why, and the overwhelming response involved the foods not being healthy. 

Therefore we added our: 
Focused topic (schools selling junk food) + Argument (schools should ban these items) + Telling reasons that can be supported (selling such items is bad for your health) 
AND TURNED IT IN TO A F.A.T Claim:
Schools should ban the sale of junk food and drinks because unbalanced nutrition increases the likelihood of serious health problems. 

Students then practiced going through this process with partner and on their own! Interested in more practice? Check out the resource below!

Teachers Are Heroes

I am grateful for the incredible educators who pushed and encouraged me throughout my K-12 education. This month I am going to spotlight one. If you are joining up, feel free grab the image and share your thoughts about a teacher you admire. 

WHO?
Mrs. Guadalupe Lorenzo 

CLASS?
High School Spanish 

MEMORABLE MOMENT(S)? 
In ninth grade, I joined the Spanish Honor Society, or the Sociedad Honoraria Hispanica (SHH). I thoroughly enjoyed participating in festivals, service projects, and other activities with the group. I also loved the feisty sponsor Senora Lorenzo, who at the time was my pre-IB Spanish teacher. 
Enter tenth grade. 
 I ran and won the Vice President position, which included a VERY SMALL PART during new member initiation. I was excited because I figured I could memorize the part AND not have to sit silently through the boring ceremony again (don't judge me, I was 15). #thepreCELLphoneERA

Well, that small part turned into a HUGE role because our President became very ill and missed most of the school year. Senora Lorenzo informed me that I would have to do the initiation. I tried to back out. I gave every excuse why she should find someone else. My Spanish isn't good enough. I don't have time to learn it. I get stage fright. My voice is too squeaky. I might not make it to the initiation. I am afraid people will laugh at me.  
Senora Lorenzo listened and said, "well, you can eat lunch with me, and we can learn it together." I thought find another excuse, find another excuse, make up something, anything, quickly
As if she could read my mind, in that Cuban mother, I-am-not-playing-with-you-kind of way 
she said,"you're doing it."

For about a month, I had a standing lunch appointment with Senora Lorenzo. I would grab my lunch and run to her room to have as much time as possible to rehearse. She encouraged me not to memorize the lines, but to think about what I was saying and why it was important. She told me to stand tall and be confident.
She praised my progress, and hugged me when I got down on myself. She told me over and over and over again that I sounded like a native. And I believed her.

The night I led the initiation was one of THE BEST NIGHTS OF MY LIFE. 
I remember being in a beautiful Spanish style restaurant, with dim lights, and a room full my peers and their parents. I remember watching Senora Lorenzo nod along with my every word. I remember the sense of pride and accomplishment I felt after delivering a flawless initiation. I remember parents coming up to me and telling me in Spanish how well I did. I remember my mother glowing with pride. I remember feeling like I belonged. 

I don't even know if she remembers this, but it sticks out in my mind as a defining moment in my teenage years. I was the teenage girl who wanted to blend. Who was afraid to shine. Who hadn't found a place. Senora Lorenzo recognized something in me that I had yet to realize. Whenever someone mentions my Spanish I accent, I think back to my moments with Senora Lorenzo. As a Spanish minor, I often thought of Senora Lorenzo.  After becoming a teacher, I gained so much more respect for the sacrifice and attention Senora Lorenzo gave me.While my Spanish certainly improved because of Senora Lorenzo, what I learned most was that it doesn't take much to leave a footprint in the lives of students.
Senora Lorenzo: 
"To the world, you may be just a teacher
  but to MEYOU ARE A HERO"