6 Tips to Teach Informational Writing to Elementary Students
Elementary school is a critical time for teaching students how to write effectively. One of the most important types of writing to teach in elementary school is informational writing. Here are 6 tips that will make your expository writing unit a success!
There are several ways to make sure that your informational writing unit goes well. One way is to choose a good topic. You can also organize the facts, have students write frequently, and give feedback. Finally, it’s important to focus on one skill or writing strategy at a time when teaching informational writing.
Choose the Right Topic for Informational Writing
Selecting the right topic for your informational writing assignment is critical. If you choose a topic that students are not interested in or passionate about, it will be difficult to produce high-quality writing. Students won’t know what to write without enough background information about the topic.
On the other hand, if you select a topic that students are knowledgeable about and interested in, they will have more success crafting an informative and interesting paragraph or essay. The more students know about a topic and are motivated by it, the more easily they can access information about it and write about it.
Some great topics for informational writing include animals, science experiments, historical events, or famous people.
So how do you choose the right topic?
There are several factors to consider, including the grade level of your students, the amount of grade-level appropriate information about the topic, and your own interests and expertise.
When choosing a topic, consider how much information can you find on the topic for your students to read and research.
Concrete, tangible topics are easier for elementary students to write about. Students love animals, so I focus most of our informational writing on animals. We also do a biography report later in the year about famous people. While students may not know as much about specific famous people, I have access to age-appropriate biographies and information that makes producing informational writing about the topic easier.
Animal Articles & Biographies for Elementary Students
Animals and historical people are great topics for elementary students. Each student can pick a different animal or person. While they’re writing about a unique topic, there is enough similarity to teach informational writing as a whole-class unit.
I have collections of animal articles and biographies specifically written for elementary students. The structure of all of the articles is similar to one another so that teachers can use them with their whole class.
Help students take notes about the topic
There are a variety of graphic organizers students can use when taking notes about an informational topic. I enjoy using a word web or a circle map. Model how to take notes about a topic using the graphic organizer with many different pieces of text.
In general, we focus on one piece of text per week. We move through the whole writing process each week, taking notes on a circle map, organizing the facts, and writing about the topic.
Practice Taking Notes with Phrases or Words, not with Whole Sentence
When helping students take notes on the topic, show students how to write down phrases or keywords vs. the whole sentence. It’s helpful to practice this skill orally.
After reading a sentence or a paragraph, have students tell their neighbor two or three keywords or phrases that summarize the sentence or paragraph. Elicit a few responses from different pairs of students, then have the class help you determine what to write down. Orally summarizing a text removes the pressure of writing. Sharing words and phrases helps students see how their ideas are similar to or different from others’ in the classroom.
While we do want students to answer questions in complete sentences, we want them to take notes in phrases. This can be a disconnect for students, but if you make the purpose of each type of writing explicit, they will start to see how to write differently for different purposes.
Organize or Sort the Facts
Once students have their facts written down, the next step is to help students organize their facts. Again, you’ll want to work with students using multiple examples. Start by giving students the topics and have students sort the facts into categories. After students have had some practice with given topics, have students complete an open sort where they create their own topic from the group of facts.
In the beginning, I type up the facts from our graphic organizers so that the phrases and sentences are more readable. Once students have experience sorting facts that I have typed up, I move on to having them sort the facts directly from their graphic organizers. I first take a photo and print and photocopy our class graphic organizer for students to sort and organize. After practicing with our class graphic organizer, I have students sort the facts using their own graphic organizers.
Write, Write, Write. Continually write informational sentences and paragraphs.
It’s no secret that writing is an important skill for students to learn. But what may be a secret is how best to teach writing so that students develop a love for it. One way to do this is by having students write often.
The more students write, the better they get at it. And the more they enjoy it, the more likely they are to want to write. Make sure your classroom has plenty of opportunities for students to write.
I structure our informational writing unit so that students write an organized informational paragraph each week. Each week is a new topic. We go through the whole writing process weekly, but each week is a different focus.
Focus on Skill Development one skill at a time
When it comes to teaching students how to write, one of the most important things teachers can do is focus on skill development one skill at a time. If students are constantly switching gears between different skills, they will not be able to develop any of them adequately.
This is especially true when teaching elementary students who are just starting out with informational writing. It’s important for them to get into the habit of writing often and gradually improve their skills over time.
If you try to teach too many skills at once, students will become overwhelmed and frustrated. They may feel like they’re never doing it right and give up altogether.
Teach one skill at a time and make sure your classroom has plenty of opportunities for students to write. This will help your students develop into confident writers who enjoy writing more than anything.
Each week, I focus on a different skill. Here are the weeks and skills on which I focus:
- Week 1 Overview of the Process with Sea Turtles
- Week 2 Introduce the Topic with Spade-Foot Toad
- Week 3 Organize Facts and Find Related Facts with Wolves
- Week 4 Use a Checklist with Ladybugs
- Week 5 Organize Facts from a Graphic Organizer with Bird Migration
- Week 6 Write about Problem and Solution with Lionfish
The above blog posts are an example from one unit on expository writing. I tend to change it up a bit each year, depending on the needs of my students and the required assessments.
Give Feedback & Opportunities to Revise Writing
When students write informational paragraphs, it’s important to give them feedback so that they can improve their writing skills.
Offering constructive criticism is one of the best ways to help students develop their writing skills. You can point out where students may need to revise certain sentences or how they could improve the flow of their paragraphs.
I use a rubric and a checklist when giving feedback to students. I generally start out with the checklist in a bookmark format so that students can focus on what they have done well and what they need to improve. We use a rubric to guide our discussion and use the checklist to list actionable steps to revise writing.
It’s important for students to get into the habit of writing often and gradually improve their skills over time. This will help your students develop into confident writers who enjoy writing more than anything. Choosing relevant topics with plenty of information to write about, taking notes on the topic, organizing facts, writing, and giving feedback are all a part of the teaching process. Be sure to teach one skill at a time and make sure your classroom has plenty of opportunities for students to write. These will all help your students develop into confident writers who enjoy writing more than anything.
More Ideas to Teach Informational or Expository Writing
Are you gearing up for an expository writing unit? Here are some more ideas for you!