Today we launched our non-fiction unit, which I love because kids are naturally so curious that they get so excited about this unit. However, one of the biggest struggles that I have every time we start to work on non-fiction is that so many of the texts are not accessible to our young learners. I do love some of the emergent readers and early readers that are offered by Scholastic and I LOVE the National Geographic Kids sets. They are colorful, full of details, have beautiful pictures, and cover a variety of topics and levels.
Our first lesson for this unit is always spending time just looking at nonfiction texts and coming up with topics. The kids have their own recording sheet or a sheet of paper, and then we also make a working list that hangs in our classroom. I want the students to have an idea bank of topics that they are truly interested in, because that will fuel their desire to write quality nonfiction.
I always model how to read a book and gather ideas in my first mini lesson. I model 4 different ways that students can use a mentor text to get ideas.
1. Taking the topic directly from the text
2. Finding a similar topic to a text
3. Using pictures to find a topics/ideas
4. Passing on a topic (I want kids to know it is okay to look at a mentor text, decide that they don't know anything about that topic, and pass to the next book. Quality non-fiction writing needs a "buy in", or a topic that kiddos are interested in writing about).
In my lesson today, I used 3 different books and quickly paged through the books to build my list of ideas and model my thinking as I found topics. We used the Ladybug Life Cycle book to decide that we could write about the life cycles of other things, like butterflies and frogs.
Next, we used the Reducing Recycling book to notice that they were writing about ways to use things for crafts. I then told the kids that I know how to make a bird feeder from other things and I could write to teach others how to do that too (indirectly introducing how to writing).
Finally, we looked at the Thunder and Lightning book. While I was looking at this book, I told the students that I didn't really know anything about this topic, but maybe the pictures could give me an idea. When I got to the swimming picture, I modeled that I know a lot about swimming and I could write about how to swim, or I could write a biography about a famous swimmer like Missy Franklin. A few pages later, one student suggested that I could also write about rainstorms because those are different than thunder storms, but something I might be interested in.
Our mini lesson ended with this list of ideas from our picture walk with nonfiction that I modeled creating for the students.
I am excited to continue this work tomorrow with my students, as we continue to get really excited about writing non-fiction. The keys to this lesson is really showing students how to read their nonfiction books like a writer, so that they can gather ideas to write about. My hope is that by having a comprehensive list of ideas, it will be awhile until they say "I'm done..." or "I have nothing to write about..."