Best Book I Have Not Read

Writing, Reading, Teaching, Life, Attempting to Balance it All

Writing Informational Books with Third Graders-A Unit of Study in Writing August 12, 2009

I went to a great closing session today about Writing Informational Books with Third Graders and took TONS of notes. It is billed as a third grade unit, but in Ohio essays aren’t introduced until fifth grade, so I was thinking for some schools (mine included), this could be a good expository unit for fourth graders.

  • a unit of study to be done in November of third grade rather than the essay unit for fourth and fifth grade. A type of expository writing that prepares them for that future work.
  • unit will be 3-4 weeks long
  • start reading informational books aloud several weeks before starting the unit

Goals to keep in mind:

1. volume-a page a day-not just a few words, but full sentences. Remember where they were in 2nd grade with their All About Books

These will be topics that they are mini-experts in (example-skateboarding, baby sisters, etc.). Research will be light. They will know about their topic and have personal experience with it.

There will be chapters with full pages

2. revision-when we do revision it’s large scale revision-how do I add on a lot more information or how do I change how this chapter looks

3. structure-What is the structure and how will I organize the chapters?

example-if their topic is giraffes and a chapter is about the food they eat, will it be organized by what they eat morning, noon, and night, or will it be a compare/contrast-how what giraffes eat is similar to a horse diet; how it is different from a horse diet.

clear topic with examples-example-is your sock draw a jumbled mess or is it organized so other people would be able to find something in it

4. Writing to Teach-not just writers, but teachers-write with a teaching voice

try to anticipate readers’ questions

have text features in non-fiction that they can use (visual aids)

There are 2 options for how this unit can go:

1. Multiple Informational books (on multiple topics) kept in a writing folder-if your students stamina and volume is low they might benefit from writing one, then going on to another. Then when there are mini-lessons, they can try out the strategies on any of those “finished” books

2. Write 1 books for the whole unit-do more work around revision and see different ideas they can draw out

1 page= 1 chapter

Possible Layout for Informational Book Study


Rally students to the big work of the whole unit, “You are already writers, now you will become teachers!”

Collect (this will be a couple days) Try different topics on for size

  • writers ask “What do I think people are dying to know?”
  1. -think of things you are good at
  2. -think of a person, place, or  thing and information you know about those things (ex-making bed, getting backpack ready, fighting with sibling, soccer, practicing the piano, walking the dog, taking out the trash)
  3. -think about things you care about (ex-people, recycling)
  4. -reread your true stories to get ideas of things they know a lot about (friends-fighting/apologizing, how to make one, types of friends, what do you do in a fight with a friend
  5. -talk to family and friends to tell you what you are good at
  • We make categories of informational and chapters that go with topics
  1. -make lists, webs, or other graphic organizers to think through topics
  2. -in partnerships or small groups, rehearse chapters by taking on a posture of a teacher teaching a course.
  • angle topics towards ideas (this allows for differentiating/making more challenging)


  1. feeding
  2. grooming
  3. parts of a dog

versus more idea based:

Dogs are Man’s Best Friend-

  1. Dogs help you (example-dogs help policemen, firemen, shepherds)
  2. Dogs protect you (example-dogs protect the house, people, etc.)
  3. Dogs play with you (example-dogs chase you, play tricks, etc.)

Gather Information

  • grow ideas about this topic in notebook and then teach
  • decide how you want your informational book to go
  1. parts of-
  2. kinds of-
  3. reasons of-
  4. examples of-
  • create a few chapters
  • gather information (probably should be in separate folders-not in notebook)
  1. information
  2. ideas
  3. personal experiences/illustrative anecdotes
  4. observations
  5. surveys
  6. interviews
  7. notes from books

asthma example-

  1. What is asthma?
  2. How does asthma feel?
  3. What does an asthma attack look like?
  4. Stories of people with asthma
  • Elaborate on information by reusing the notebook
  • use conversational prompts to capture ideas on information
  1. compare-it’s kind of like…
  2. contrast-it’s not like…
  3. find importance/significance of something-this is important because…
  4. question-This makes me wonder…
  5. react-The surprising thing about this is…
  • Reorganize or rename chapters if needed. We push ourselves to organize the information in a logical sequence, asking ourselves, what might the reader need to know first? second? and so on…


loose leaf paper

start drafting out paragraphs with topic sentences and information from folder examples/details

  • read all of our notes and information and decide how the information in this chapter will be organized . Can choose paper type that matches vision (paper can be temporary scaffold with as much or as little support as needed for each student)
  • make sure information goes with chapter heading
  • study words or phrases informational book authors use so we can add them to our writing. Words like “most”, “some”, “for example”
  • elaborate on facts by using partner sentences (definitions and examples-example-Fish have gills. Gills are the slits on the side of the fish’s body that allow it to breath. OR Fish breath through gills. The gills open and close like blinds on a window.)


  • write detailed descriptions of objects in ways readers can picture it (baseball-not just word, red stitching, words, etc-precise words, colors, textures)
  • determine importance and pump up the parts that are important
  • clarify for the readers information/questions readers might have
  • increase believability-don’t exaggerate
  • try something from a mentor text-text features: pictures with captions, charts, diagrams, glossaries, headings)
  • look at informational in the chapter and ask, “Is this logical?, “Is this in order?”


  • edit for clarity
  • make important vocabulary and terminology stand out with bold, italics, or underlined
  • teach conjunction words, colons, commas, or other structures student writers will encounter



Buying souvenirs….

Filed under: authors,books,KidLit — bestbookihavenotread @ 5:56 pm

You have to understand that I had never been an business trip or a trip without spouse and/or children until this year. There were a couple teacher workshops where I had gone with a couple other colleagues for a night or two, but hadn’t traveled by myself until this year. With that time away, came a little (or a lot) mom guilt for being gone-that part wasn’t different from the times I had gone away overnight for a teacher conference.  More often than not, when I came home from one of those events, I had an autographed book for them from one of the speakers. It helps my kids know I am learning things to help teachers and students in our districts and that those things are linked to literacy, reading and writing. When I came home from NCTE it was like I’d won the lottery of books-galleys, promotionals, ARCs-my kids of course assumed it was all for them, like the mother load of souvenirs. I guess that’s better than coming home with junk I’d bought in the airport kiosk for them.

This time I was very strict with myself and refused to buy any book for myself, professional or pleasure reading, that I would be able to easily obtain at home. Dragging my luggage up and down the hills of Columbia’s campus, and not just pulling it out of the back of my mini-van has shown me the wisdom of packing light, among other things.  On the other hand, I can’t come home empty handed or I will have disappointed children. I prefer to return home the hero-mom who was missed dreadfully AND bears a new book rather than having my youngest look at me with disappointed eyes when I announce there is no new book.

My son is easy-I found a new Geronomio Stilton book-A Fabumouse School Adventure and knew he’d love it. While I was at, I even bought a book for my husband who usually gets short-changed. He is getting The Demigod Files by Rick Riordan as he has torn through the first four books in that series in the last two weeks. I love that he reads KidLit as well!

My daughter is harder and I’ve been thinking about her choice all week. Her favorite book has been The Magic Half by Annie Barrows for a couple years now and while I’ve gotten her to read much more than in past years, she still doesn’t have that passion for books that I wish for her. Well I am darn pleased with what I found for her when I returned to the bookstore today-a new Moxy Maxwell book! Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Practicing the Piano-but she does love being in recitals. Yeah! She will be able to power right through it, already find Moxy funny from her previous books, AND has her own history with not loving to practice the piano. Perfect! It just came out yesterday which is why I couldn’t find the perfect book for her when I found my son’s.

moxy maxwellNow, just to fit them into my suitcase.

P.S. Book 5 of the 39 Clues Series-The Black Circle also came out yesterday. I haven’t read of any of them, but I did help a mom find it for her son as she came in frantic that it might be sold out-I love that a Children’s Book can cause  a stir. Her son had even informed her how many days until Book 6 comes out (November 3rd if you want to know).


Lucy Calkins-Teaching the Inner Writer: Putting Our Lives on the Line-Opening Keynote TCRWP

Filed under: Calkins,TCRWP — bestbookihavenotread @ 1:22 am
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Have I mentioned that I adore Lucy Calkins? Even my husband knows of my adoration, something that would be easy for him to miss in all the “teacher/school” talk I do that is without context for him. On the phone yesterday, he even joked that I can have some additional spending money while I am in NYC in case I need to get a lawyer to represent me just in case Lucy gets word of my adoration and presses stalking charges. Ha!

I do believe that one of the greatest gifts a person can have is the ability to be a wonderful public speaker with presence and grace.

Lucy Calkins has that, as do many of her staff developers.

In July I learned that Donald Graves, THE Donald Graves, was of all things, her youth minister. Donald Murray was her mentor. How could anyone else come to the knowledge about the teaching of writing that her life has led her to? I don’t think the cosmos could have conceived it possible.

Lucy Calkins shared that she always starts each institute the same way. “You come from Michigan and Montana…” which is the same way Donald Graves started the sermon at her wedding. I personally find that very moving.

She makes me want to be not just a better teacher, but a better person-more reflective and better connected to the universe– not just moving through it.