Following Good Advice: Teaching Kids to Write Nonfiction

I have been reading Patricia Zaballos’ blog for some time now, and was especially intrigued by a post about helping your child learn to write reports. Although my two older children have proved to be excellent writers, I think this is mostly because their wide variety in reading material has “rubbed off” on them. I really believe that it is possible to learn writing by osmosis. Apparently, reading Ms. Zaballo’s most recent post, that is something she believes as well.  However, never having given my seven year old any kind of writing assignment before, I wanted him to have a great first experience.  Since we have  been studying caves for our science projects, I assigned a cave report.

First, as this post suggested, I wrote down his thoughts about caves on sticky notes. I wrote one sentence per note, and allowed him to move around while he thought. I did this in several sessions, so that we ended up with a large number of notes, as you can see in the picture.  He was extremely proud to stick them together to show how much he had learned.

The following day, we put the sticky notes into piles. He was somewhat stumped as to how to group the information, so I guided him to make piles for “Caves we could visit,” “Cave formations,” “Animals that Live in Caves,” and “How to Explore Caves.” We then began putting the information in order inside the piles. I instructed him to think of the
thing that was most important, or that had the most information about it, and put it first in the pile, then following with things of less importance.

Once the stacks of sticky notes were made, we began writing the report. With me typing in a large font so that he could easily read the computer screen, I prompted him to tell me a topic sentence that would describe what the whole pile was about. We then went through the sticky notes one at a time, sometimes copying them directly onto the screen, at
others adding and revising before typing. I helped him put the paragraphs in a logical order, and his finished product was excellent.
Not that length was an issue, but in a size 14 font, he was very proud of his three page report. We taped it in the center of a large paper, and he made another poster (his second during this unit about caves) around the sides to illustrate his work, since he really enjoys making posters.
I was very pleased with the way this instruction worked step by step to help Max to success on his first report ever. Lucy, because she has more writing experience, insisted on working on her own, and the sticky notes were not quite as successful for her. She was not able to release herself from her sticky notes to fill out the report to a product that
really satisfied her. I would like to try this method again with her, insisting that she work right alongside me so that I can help her with organization and revision. I highly recommend reading the wonderfarm blog and learning from her as a writing instructor.
In other writing news . . .Have you heard of NaNoWriMo? Are you a winner? The kids and I are gearing up for their 3rd and my 2nd attempt at writing a novel in a month. Stay tuned for upcoming information!
How do you begin teaching nonfiction writing skills? Do you teach nonfiction or fiction writing first in your homeschool? Please leave me a comment below.

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  1. I’m thrilled to see that you tried out my process! Thank you for sharing specifically what you did. The photo of your son with his list of Post-Its is priceless! I’m so glad it helped him write a report that he’s proud of. That’s the goal!

    Making the transition from the Post-Its to the actual report writing can be a bit tricky at first. It sounds like that was your daughter’s experience. Getting a little help from you, as you’re planning to offer, might make a difference. If she balks, you could always offer to help with a single paragraph, and then assure her she can try the rest on her own.

    Thanks so much for sharing!


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