Non Fiction Text Features

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”

“It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.”

These quotes, both by Albert Einstein (!!), leave teachers with a dilemma. How do we encourage that innate questioning, still “cover the standards,” and not quash curiosity? 

 One of the 7th grade Common Core Standards is to “write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content” (CCS W7.2).  Add in standard W7.8 – “Gather relevant information from multiple print and digial sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.” Oh, and how about some grammar and mechanics standards, too?

 A research paper—kind of deadly sounding, right? But, it doesn’t have to be.

 In my two ELA blocks, students were allowed to choose a topic that was interesting to them but they didn’t already know a lot about. Students learned how to do an effective Internet search, how to determine if a website was reliable, and how to paraphrase and not plagiarize. They learned the proper punctuation for a direct quote and how to cite sources. They learned about text features and text structures (CCS RI7.5) to help make reading all of those sources easier and more productive. They took notes. Then they organized everything and wrote the essay.

 Sounds like typical research paper stuff, doesn’t it? So how did they stay motivated and focused?

 Students created informational essay magazine articles, professional-looking and complete with text features such as vocabulary, pictures, subheads, etc. And best of all? The reason they worked so hard? A real audience!  Not just their teacher. Not just their parents. Not even just their classmates--classrooms of elementary school students in the district, and the potential for a nationwide or even global audience using social networking.

 Working with one of the District 100 iCoaches, who found my students a way to publish in a creative way (Google’s LucidPress) and an audience outside their classroom, these 7th graders learned a lot about writing informational essays and publishing for a real audience.

 The students are hoping you will learn a lot when you read their articles and that you will enjoy it, too.

 “Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.” Author Zora Neale Hurston