Our kids have been waiting and waiting and waiting all year long for us to get to the nonfiction writing unit. The time has finally arrived! We've worked for three weeks and are in the middle of publishing our nonfiction books.
When we began our unit, we talked about thick topics and thin topics. Nonfiction writers write their books to teach the reader, so they should choose a topic that they know a lot about and consider themselves experts on. Thick topics are those that they know a lot about - they could get up and talk and talk forever about those things! Thin topics are those that they may not know a lot about. They may know a few bits and pieces of information, but not enough to teach the reader anything. To start the unit we brainstorm examples of thick and thin topics for us and zoom in on a thick topic.
After choosing a thick topic, we start making notes and jotting down everything we know. We start by working in our notebooks and just listing things, but then we shift to a note facts page and start organizing our thinking. We cut the notes apart into strips, sort them into categories and glue them down to keep everything organized. This is an important part for kids. If students only have two or three notes for that category, we discuss if that category should be included. If students have only 1 or 2 categories of information, we go back and think about if the student truly is an expert on this topic or whether we need to go back and choose a different topic.
(Here's my example - my topic is Disney World)
Once our notes are organized, then we start drafting paragraphs and think about what text features we could add to really teach the reader and help them understand. We talk with partners about what would be helpful and what vocabulary words unique to the topic might need to be explained. We use a planning map to help us jot down what order the information will go in and what text features we might use.
Then it's time to work on the final copy. We let the kids bring in photographs from home, but all other text features need to be hand drawn. Publishing can take a while for this unit simply because there's a lot to do! But the results are usually fabulous. Here is my nonfiction book that I made as a sample.
table of contents
text page - there is a definition for the word resort in one of the sentences
text page - the pictures are from a Disney World brochure that I cut up! I added the captions myself. I also included a pronunciation guide in the text.
maps - I drew them myself. I don't include anything in my samples that they can't do.
more text with photographs
a table to organize information
photographs with captions
the back cover - it truly is the Most Magical Place on Earth!