Saturday, April 13, 2013

Research Writing First Grade Style

This week we focused on reading nonfiction texts and writing "research" papers. I'm not sure if I'm doing this right, but I do think it has been a good experience for my kiddos. At my school research writing is huge. Starting in 3rd grade, they are required to do these huge research reports that are presented at our school's State and Country Fair in the evening. 3rd-8th grade students all have their projects with a display and their papers available for parents and teachers to look through. They also have to answer questions on their topic. It sounds super stressful to me and I'm so glad I teach first when that's all going on. Glad I'm not a third grader now-a-days. I remember doing a big report in 5th grade. I think I still have anxiety dreams about it. Ha! 

Anyway... we want to get these kiddos prepared, right? Besides it is in our Common Core Standards to do some research with them. Every year I always think it's going to go so smoothly. This year I tried something sort of new and felt so excited about it. Some parts went really well and some parts of it I wish I would've done it differently. Do you ever have those moments where you feel like you're back in your first year of teaching. Why did I do it that way? Of course this isn't working. I should've done this first. Please tell me you are nodding your heads in agreement and I'm not the only one who has these moments!

I'm backing up now. Here's where I started. First of all, this is not the first time we've read or talked about nonfiction. We've been doing it all year, but this is the first time I've really focused in on the text features. I made this poster last year. I printed parts from a book from (LOVE) and looked for nonfiction text features. I highlighted them and put this little poster together. (Side Note: later in the year, the kids get their own little nonfiction text features booklets where they look for those features and write about them. I hope to make one using images I can share, but I can't share these ones.) As a class, we went through these text features. They were given nonfiction books to look through. As I introduced each feature, they would look for it in their books. This was really helpful because not all nonfiction books (at the first grade level) have every  text feature. 

Since my poster doesn't have a diagram, I referred to this one from Easter.  

In reading groups, each group was given a nonfiction book. First, we looked through the book and identified the text features that we saw in our poster (and maybe  extras that weren't on the poster, like a diagram or map). Then we read through the books, practicing pulling important information out. We practiced using the Table of Contents and glossary and they were asked why these things are helpful. 

On  to the writing. Here's where I had some moments where I wish I would've done things differently. This blog is a safe, nonjudgemental place right? I can trust you all with my shameful mistakes, right? 
First, I read this  book:

THere are TONS of these books and I own a lot of them. They are the perfect level for first graders. We read through the book first. Then I introduced this chart:

We went back and reread the book, adding sticky notes to each section. This part went SO well! Everyone was engaged and excited about it. There was great discussion about where each sticky note went and if it was an important  detail to add. I was feeling pretty good at this point. They totally get it and they are totally ready to do it on their own. Uhh... no. What was I thinking?! They were just SO excited to get started and wanted to do it so badly on their own. So I just let them. I gave them stickies and this organizational sheet:

Holy good gracious. Talk about stressful! I ended up stopping them because I realized my big mistake. Yes I modeled, but I didn't give them enough scaffolding for this assignment. They needed a lot more guidance and more step-by-step instruction. Learn from my mistakes people! So, I we just started over! This time, we went through each sticky background question one by one. They had their books (as partners this time) and looked for things that could work for that particular section. The What is It? refers to what kind of animal (amphibian, insect, mammal, etc.) They wrote one fact per sticky note, so they have 1-4 sticky notes for that first part. 

Continue this with all the sticky notes parts of the worksheet. This person did some complete sentences but I told them they could just do single words or phrases, as I had modeled on mine. This concept can be hard for them since all year we've drilled into their heads that they need to write in complete sentences. The idea of taking "notes" is a toughy!

Now onto transferring the notes to writing. First I modeled. We looked back at our sticky notes about frogs that we made together. We started with the first square and they told me what to write. I "held the pen" but they decided what to write (shared writing). They took my notes and made them into sentences. I circled the connecting words because I've been also teaching them about "glue words". We had 3 sticky notes in one section that said hop, swim, leap. First I wrote three different sentences: They can hop. They can swim. They can leap. Then we decided it would sound better to put those sentences together using a glue word. This is a white board  instead of chart paper because I wanted to be able to erase as needed. Down side is I was running out of room!

I modeled AGAIN, this time they did the writing (more like a guided writing). I took the paper of one of my students who would need some more support. We took off his stickies for the first one. Together, we wrote our first  two sentences. Next time, we'll do the second sticky section together.

Do not make the mistake of thinking they can take off on their own from there. I learned that going sticky by sticky is the best way. Model, practice, then have them do. Repeat with each section. I'm sure next time we do something like this I won't have to go so step by step, and maybe your kiddos are beyond this point. You all know your kids best. But I definitely learned a lesson here! With this particular assignment, I needed to slow my roll a bit! Next week will finish up, but I might try to finish up with small groups. 

So here's the time when you can leave a comment about how you've had a bad teacher moment recently too. Right? Make one up if you have to! OR you could leave a comment with some good tips or tricks. I know you have them! 

click here. You can download that sticky note freebie there too (without the extra words)


  1. I love this post! I just posted my own nonfiction unit for use with young elementary students! I LOVE your sticky notes facts. Super cute :)

    Mindful Rambles

  2. We are reviewing Nonfiction Features right now too and we will be diving into our Ocean Research project very soon. Thanks for sharing your ideas and being so willing to be transparent and honest about what you believed to be your mistake. We all make them and that's how we learn and become better teachers! Your self-reflection just makes it obvious that you are a great teacher! I will try to post and share about my non-fiction reading and research/writing project too.

  3. This is a perfect reminder that the I do, We do, You do structure really does work! :) Thanks so much for sharing your ideas and freebies! It helped remind me that I need to get ready for my research papers!
    Teaching With Style

  4. This post is great! Thanks for posting and being honest. It surely helps the rest of us. And that is why us teachers are SO flexible. So that when something doesn't work, we quickly brainstorm on the spot and try something new!
    I love your chart for parts of non-fiction books. I too have an Reading a-z account! I will be using your idea for my students. Thanks so much!
    Papers, Pencils and Books, Oh My!

  5. I LOVE your writing posts!!! Every bit of them!

  6. Oh Lordy, I have at least one moment a day where I think, what was I doing? And I've been teaching a LONG time:) haha.
    I love the way you've set up your writing unit and I love even more that you recognized when it wasn't working and backed up to try again. I think THAT'S the sign of an excellent teacher!
    Grade ONEderful
    Ruby Slippers Blog Designs

  7. Sarah,
    I love that you tell when things didn't work the way you planned! I have those moments, too, but not everyone is brave enough to share that on their blogs! :)

    Your idea about the sticky note facts is great! I use one that I made, but it doesn't have any labels. I like the labels to support the kids who can't imagine where to start. Thanks for sharing! Have a great week!
    ♥Teaching Fabulous Firsties!♥

  8. Awesome post and sooooo helpful, mistakes and all. We're always hopeful they can do more and faster than they can. Been there, done that many times over my 30+ years. We are getting ready to do this very research with my firsties as we prepare for a beach field trip and need to tie into the CCSS. Thanks for the step by step!

  9. I read this post last weekend and it was EXACTLY what I needed WHEN I needed it! (I love it when that happens!) I shared your post with my first grade team and we are using some of your ideas and are incorporating them with my Shared Research and Writing Projects. I gave you a little shout-out tonight and thought you might want to check it out! Thank you so much for your GREAT ideas!
    Karen Rowland
    Adventures With Firsties

    Here's the link directly to the post:

  10. Love it! Clearly you've got a love of the numerous attitudes of writing custom research papers. Thank you for discussing this brilliant post. I'm making note of all of the tips. :)

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