Writing to inform is one of the common, yet most complex types of writing. Students are always asked to write to demonstrate that they understand the facts, statistics, and examples that they are presented with. Some of the most common types of informational writing include: brochures, feature articles, and essays.
No fairies or genies…
Informational writing is not the time for students to make use of their vivid imaginations. Due to this, the more creative writers may struggle with organizing facts into forms of informational writing. To simplify this process, teachers will want to present students with information about the types of details that are appropriate for developing informational content.
As students choose a topic, they will need to develop a research question. This will provide them with a main idea that won’t be too broad or unmanageable. For example, you cannot write a great feature article that is simply about “Animals”. This topic is too broad, but could be narrowed down to explore “Jungle life”.
Once students have a main idea, they will want to begin researching. This process can begin by simply answering the five Ws.
Answering the Five Ws:
When writing informational pieces, students are informing the reader regarding a topic that will be of interest to them. Consequently, they must strive to answer: who, what, where, when, and how? This is a basic model for what students need to know about the main idea for their topic before they begin more in-depth research.
Students will need to use a graphic organizer to keep track of the details that they will be gathering to support their main idea. While there are a number of graphic organizers online, if you want the students’ writing to display certain characteristics, it may be best to create your own graphic organizer.
Common graphic organizers that work well with informational writing include: a KWL chart, a web, or a Venn diagram. Providing students with a graphic organizer to use, rather than having them choose their own, will speed up the time that it takes students to gather information.
There are a variety of resources that students should use to gather the details to sufficiently support their main idea. Encyclopedias, books, magazines, and the Internet are all great resources for students to use during the research stage. Important points to emphasize during researching include:
- All books and magazines should be fairly recent. Checking the copyright date will insure that students are not using outdated resources.
- Internet web site should be verified to be accurate and from reliable sources.
- While encyclopedias provide a wealth of information, they are often written on a level that makes it difficult for students to understand.
- Model how students should take notes, not just copy from their resources.
- Show students how to properly cite quotations that they are copying directly.
Informational writing will need to be organized in a way that suits the topic. For example, writing about a historical event would require the author to organize the information in time order. Meanwhile, writing about how to do something should be organized using the correct sequence of events. Other strategies may be to compare and contrast how two main ideas are similar different. Students will need to have a concept of what organizational type will work for their informational writing prior to composing the rough draft.
The Rough Draft:
Regardless of the form, informational writing should have an introduction, body, and a conclusion. The introduction is a chance to hook your reading by offering an opening lead and indicate your main idea. Talented authors will piqué their readers’ curiosity and make them eager to read more.
The body paragraph is a chance to develop your main idea. The traditional form requires that the main idea be broken down into three main points that can support the central idea. The ideas should be broken down and developed using supporting details. Allowing students adequate research time will insure that they have enough supporting details, but it will also encourage them to truly inform their reader writing from the perspective of an informed author to a less informed reader.
Detail types include the following:
- Personal examples
When students vary the type of details that they provide, their informational pieces will contain more variety, thus increasing the readers’ overall interest.
In addition, to each body paragraph having elaborated points that build on the main idea, the author should utilize transitions to organize their writing in a way that allows it to flow smoothly.
Keep in mind that there is no set rule that an author needs three body paragraphs. To adequately develop a main idea, this should be the minimum, but certainly do not limit the author by making this the required number.
The final paragraph is the conclusion paragraph. It is not the place to add in new information, but instead a place to summarize. This paragraph will restate the main idea, but should do so authentically, not in the same way as the introduction. Furthermore, the author will want to connect back to their opening hook to give the reader the sense of coming full circle with the topic, if possible.
Revising and Editing:
Once students have finished their rough drafts, you will want to check them for areas that need to be targeted for revision. Mini lessons should be created and taught to allow students to truly see the need for revision. For example, if you see that many students are overusing their opinion in informational writing, model some examples that are very limited with the opinion provided. Additionally, students may need lessons in how to add personality and correct tone into their writing. These are areas where mini lessons can show them how to make changes in their rough drafts to create a more meaningful final copy.
Editing will need to be as well. Students may want to peer edit each other’s drafts to identiy capitalization, usage, punctuation, and spelling errors. Another idea is to simply mark these errors in the margin of their paper by marking a “C” in lines that contain capitalization errors, “U” in the margin of lines that contain usage errors, “P” in the margin of lines that contain punctuation errors, and “S” in the margin of lines that contain spelling errors. It is not appropriate to actually mark the error itself, but marking the lines that contain errors, studnets are building their editing skills with some scaffolding from you.
The Published Piece:
Once students have revised and edited their pieces, you may want to find an authentic way to publish their informational writing. This could be through submission to a student magazine or via a web site. Other suggestions include writing contests and publication in the school hallway for top-notch writing.
Students love seeing their writing on display and truly feeling like all of that work went for more than simply completing an assignment!