Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What is Expository Text?


I love teaching with nonfiction.  There are so many possibilities for my students to fall in love with informational text.  The topics are endless and I'm lucky to have quite a few books in the nonfiction section of my classroom library.  I decided to return to a focus on nonfiction, specifically expository text for the three weeks between Thanksgiving and our holiday break in the middle of December.  We've had many conversations about hybrid texts and now we are studying how expository text is different.  I'm amazed at how astute my students are.  

We started the week with an inquiry about expository text. We looked at lots of different examples and wrote about what we noticed.  It's always amazing to me how observant kids can be when we give them opportunities to slow down, think, and have conversations.  They noticed the usual things...captions, titles, index, glossary, headings, subheadings, etc.  They also noticed things that my students in the past haven't noticed before:  acknowledgements from the author, dedication, additional websites and author notes.  Our chart is filled with their noticings.  (I think I may have just made up a word).

Inquiry Leads to Definition

This year, I decided to add a component to my nonfiction study.  I wanted the kids to write their own definition of expository text, instead of me just giving it to them, or assuming that they had a good understanding from our conversations.  I adapted the Zoom In Zoom Out graphic organizer that we had used in our inquiry teacher group last summer when coming up with a definition of teacher inquiry.  I gave it to the students to complete with a partner before we gathered as a whole group to create our own definition.  It was very interesting to listen in on the conversations between students as they shared their thinking.  I was quickly able to ascertain who understood certain concepts and who still had some gaps in their understanding of nonfiction.


Here is some of their thinking:

Expository Text is Similar To:

The Important Parts:
  • It has true facts
  • You can learn something new
  • You can read it for pleasure or to do research (Isn't that an interesting observation?)
  • Title, Index, Glossary, Headings (we decided to call these ways to organize the text)
  • Diagrams, Photographs, Captions, Bold Words etc. (we agreed that we learned important information with these features too)
  • The author can be talking to you
  • It is about a lot of different topics
What it's Not:
  • A story
  • Fiction
  • Made up
  • Fantasy
The next step was to synthesize our information...I wanted the students to own the definition.  We decided which parts were most important to include. This is their final definition:

Our Definition:

Expository nonfiction is text that has facts where you can read and learn new information.  It is organized and has visual information that gives the reader more information.

We will hang the definition on a bulletin board that is dedicated to our thinking and learning about expository nonfiction.  

I'm looking forward to the rest of this unit.  We'll be delving into: 
  • how the different organizational and visual features support readers, 
  • taking notes and learning which note taking tools best help us (different readers will find that different tools better support them)
  • favorite authors and series
  • evaluating the author's credentials
  • studying different text structures
  • finding other sources of nonfiction we like (we already love Wonderopolis, other webistes, magazines, etc.)
I'll be using Steve Moline's book I See What You Mean to guide my students in critically analyzing the visual features of nonfiction and how these features can be used as readers and writers.  If you haven't seen this book, you need to check it out.  I also just ordered Chris Lehman's Energize Research Reading and Writing.  I wasn't able to attend his session at NCTE.  A friend took notes for me and went on and on about how great the session was.  Right after receiving Robin's notes, I read Franki's post.  Five minutes later, the book was in my Amazon cart.  (Gotta love "One Click" shopping).

Now that I'm back into blogging mode, I'll keep you posted on our progress.

What mentor texts do you like to use when studying nonfiction?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Importance of Community Slice of Life

I moved to a new school and new grade level this year and also  started working on a doctorate program this semester.  I vowed to not take on any extra commitments so I didn't overcommit myself.  Those of you who know me, know that I have a little problem with over commitment.  :) I started out really well...I didn't join the social committee, I didn't start an after school writing club, and I didn't volunteer for any committees.  However, early this fall, I got an email from Cathy Mere of Reflect and Refine: Building a Learning Community wondering if I'd like to teach a blogging class with her. We had presented at the Summer Academy in our district and several teachers showed interest in beginning a blog.  Whenever I get the chance to work with Cathy, I always say, "Yes!"  I love working with her and  learn so much.  So, I immediately forgot about my promise to not "join any clubs" and jumped on the bandwagon with her.  And I am so glad I did.

I looked forward to each night that we met.  The group came from different backgrounds:  classroom teachers, guidance counselor, teacher leader, and intervention teacher.  They all had something in common though; each of them wanted to connect with their students, parents and other teachers using technology.  It didn't matter how tired any of us were at the end of our school day, our time together rejuvenated us as we worked together and learned from each other.  That was the beauty of this group...everyone brought an expertise in one area or another.  So, even though this class started out as a place to learn how to blog, it became much more. We shared book titles, favorite websites, and strategies to use in our classrooms.

Once again, I am reminded of the power of community.  We spend so much time building community in our classrooms.  We know how important it is for students to feel safe to take risks, to have a place to share their thinking, and make mistakes.  As teachers, we need that support too.  When we embark on a new journey, we need to have others beside us to catch us when we stumble and cheer us on.  This group gave us that.  We carved out the time to think, play, experiment, and take risks.  We gave each other the support we needed to move forward.  Tonight as I watched one of the teachers excitedly launch her new website and student blog, I was thrilled for her.  I am so grateful for this group and excited to see them join the blogging community.  The students whose lives they touch are very lucky indeed.

Thanks to Stacey and Ruth for hosting Slice of Life Tuesday.