Editor's Note: This blog was previously published, we're re-sharing it today.
by Susan Weaver Jones, Reading Recovery Teacher, Guest Blogger.
Using a variety of leveled informational books on a single topic can address the challenge of finding appropriate, content-area texts for elementary students to read. Now, imagine how those same selections could help students successfully transition from reading about the topic to writing about it!
The jot chart (see an example below) is used to record answers to specific questions about a content-area topic during reading can be modified slightly to support students who will use their notes for writing about the topic (for more information on this topics, click here). Adding space to record an interesting fact and/or a thought-provoking question, as well as providing room to write a short conclusion, gives young writers an organizational structure from which to form their paragraphs.
Guiding students through the reading, questioning, note-taking, and paragraph formation to create a class product, in which each student produces the same written report, can serve as a model for their future content-area writing. Unfortunately, when students begin working more independently on content-area research, they sometimes have difficulty combining and/or rewording the information they've located, so they resort to plagiarizing their sources. How can teachers guide students through content-area writing that reflects students' own wording and voice?
An engaging approach that reduces plagiarism while blending creative writing with factual information is the RAFT writing strategy (Santa,1988). RAFT is an acronym that stands for Role, Audience, Format, and Topic. Often in school, the role of the writer is that of a student, the audience is the teacher, the format is a report, and the topic is whatever the teacher assigns. With RAFT, new possibilities abound!
Recently, I worked with second-grade students on a nonfiction selection about the desert. After they read about desert animals included in the selection, I referred the students to additional resources about the desert. I asked each one to choose a desert animal they found interesting. Once the animals were identified, students worked with the different texts to locate details about their animals. They used their jot charts to record what their animals looked like, what the animals' habitats were like, and what the animals ate. They also had to find at least one other interesting fact for each animal that could become the basis of an intriguing, introductory question.
At the outset of this writing project, I advised the students that they would end up writing as if they were the desert animals they had picked instead of just reporting on the animals. The change to a first-person perspective meant that the students would use the pronoun I in their finished products instead of it or they, as would usually occur in reports written from the third-person point of view. The students were initially uncertain about this unexpected twist, but they soon warmed up to the idea!
This RAFT assignment allowed each student to assume the role of a desert animal, write to the audience of someone wanting to visit the home of the animal, and use the format of an introduction, all based upon the topic of the desert animal chosen. Many of the students discovered that their animals weren't particularly friendly, so we decided to use that characteristic to advantage. For animals that were especially fierce, the students had great fun writing with a hostile attitude towards their imaginary visitors! They also enjoyed creating pictures to accompany their introductions.
When students shared their written animal introductions with the class, interest was high for them (and for me), as we listened to factual information about various desert animals presented in a format that was entertaining, as well as informative! Such variety would not have been likely if students had been limited to a single text that some could read and some could not. Using different leveled books on the same general topic allowed for differentiation in reading and writing!
Susan Weaver Jones has taught students in kindergarten through eighth grade as a classroom teacher, reading specialist, Reading Recovery teacher, and literacy coach. She is also the author of three leveled readers in Hameray's Kaleidoscope Collection.