Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Behind the Books: Starting with a Question

Here’s the question I left off with last week: How do we give students the tools and opportunities they need to become passionate nonfiction writers?

I think the key is to make the process as authentic as possible. And that means looking at the process behind passionately written professional writing.

While every professional writer has his or her own unique process, my guess is that many start the same way I do--with a question.  Something I see or hear or read makes me so curious that I want to know more. And once I knew more, I’m so excited that I want to share it with other people.

Here’s an example. One day, I read a magazine article with a fact that blew my mind—a hummingbird’s eyelashes are the smallest feathers in the world. Wow! Who knew birds had eyelashes? And can you believe that they’re made of feathers?

That incredible fact made me ask a broader question: Do birds use their feathers in other unexpected ways? It was such an intriguing question that I knew I had to explore it. And eventually, the information I accumulated during my journey of discovery turned into the book Feathers: Not Just for Flying.

What can educators take away from my process story:

--Self-generated ideas are powerful
--It’s important to be open to ideas all the time. (When I read the “hummingbird eyelashes” tidbit, I was working on another book, but I still paid attention.)

--It’s important to keep track of questions we have or things we wonder about. (I tacked the “hummingbird eyelashes” article to the idea board in my office.)

Recently, I saw a great classroom Wonder Wall, and I thought, “This is like my idea board, only better.”

Imagine having a Wonder Wall bursting with sticky notes in every classroom. When it’s time to do a nonfiction report, students use one of the sticky notes to fuel their own journey of discovery and then write about the most interesting things they learn.

When natural curiosity guides the research and writing process, and when children are encouraged to zero in on what they find most fascinating, their final piece is bound burst with passion and personality. Why not give it a try?

Monday, May 2, 2016

Book of the Week: When Rain Falls

Educators often ask me which of my books would work best in their classroom. So this year, I’ve decided to feature a book each week and highlight related teaching materials and strategies.

It’s spring! Let’s celebrate by talking about When Rain Falls. This book is perfect for science lessons about weather, habitats, and animal adaptations. It directly addresses NGSS PEs 2-LS4-1 and 3-ESS2-1. You can start your lesson with a fun Readers Theater script that I’ve written to accompany the book.

I’ve also created a Teacher’s Guide that makes connections to a wide variety of NGSS and Common Core standards as well as a Where Do Ideas Come From? Video that takes readers to Gates Pond in Hudson, Massachusetts, the place where I had the experience that led me to write When Rain Falls as well as Under the Snow.

Because When Rain Falls features a wondrous, lyrical voice it’s a perfect choice for lessons that focus on why voice is an important element of nonfiction writing. I have paired this book with Animal Grossapedia, which has a strong, sassy voice to create a Voice Choice mini-lesson (scroll down to bottom on page) that students love.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

NESCBWI Handout: The Nonfiction Triumvirate

Nonfiction Categories

Life Story
The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman

Brave Girl by Michelle Markle

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

El Deafo by Cece Bell

The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming

Lives of the Presidents (and What the Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull

Separate Is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatium

The Right Word by Jen Bryant

 

Survey Book
Eyewitness Books
The Horrible, Miserable Middle Ages by Kathy Allen

Lightning by Seymour Simon

National Geographic Readers

Spiders by Nic Bishop

Why’d They Wear That? by Sarah Albee

 

Specialized Nonfiction
Chasing Cheetahs by Sy Montgomery

Handle with Care by Loree Griffin Burns

Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart

Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story by Tom Yezerski 

Sniffer Dogs by Nancy Castaldo

Sugar Changed the World by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos

The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin


Concept Book
Actual Size by Steve Jenkins

Just a Second by Steve Jenkins

Lifetime by Lola Schaefer

Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature by Sarah C. Campbell

No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart

A Place for Butterflies by Melissa Stewart

Seeing Symmetry by Loreen Leedy

A Star in My Orange by Dana Meachen Rau

Trout Are Made of Trees by April Pulley Sayre

 

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Writing Styles

Expository
Facts Plus
A Black Hole Is Not a Hole by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano

Born to Be Giants: How Baby Dinosaurs Grew to Rule the World by Lita Judge

Bugged: How Insects Changed History by Sarah Albee

Eye to Eye by Steve Jenkins

Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies

 

Fast Facts
Animal Grossapedia by Melissa Stewart

Eyewitness Books

Guinness Book of World Records

Time for Kids Big Book of Why



Narrative
Ballet for Martha by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

Bomb by Steve Sheinkin

Buried Alive by Elaine Scott

The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton

The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming

Red-Eyed Tree Frog by Joy Cowley

Redwoods by Jason Chin (due to the art)

Vulture View by April Pulley Sayre

When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan

 

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Common Text Structures

Description/Explanation  
A Black Hole Is Not a Hole by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano

The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins

Creep and Flutter by Jim Arnosky

Dolphins! by Melissa Stewart

Frogs by Nic Bishop

Lightship by Brian Floca

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies
 
 
Sequence

Chronological narrative

Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet

The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman
Buried Alive
by Elaine Scott
The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton
Marvelous Mattie by Emily Arnold McCully
Noah Webster & His Words by Jeri Chase Ferris
Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai by Claire A. Nivola
Pop: The Invention of Bubble Gum by Megan McCarthy
The Secret World of Walter Anderson by Hester Bass
What to Do About Alice? by Barbara Kerley
 
Episodic narrative
Ballet for Martha by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan
Brave Girl by Michelle Markel
When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan

Braided narrative
Amelia Lost by Candace Fleming
Bomb by Steve Sheinkin
The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming
Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson
We’ve Got a Job by Cynthia Levinson
Journey narrative
If Stones Could Speak by Marc Aronson
Lost Treasure of the Inca by Peter Lourie
Quest for the Tree Kangaroo by Sy Montgomery
Saving the Ghost of the Mountain by Sy Montgomery
 
Cycle narrative
A Drop of Water by Gordon Morrison
Frog in a Bog by John Himmelman
Red-Eyed Tree Frog by Joy Cowley
Redwoods by Jason Chin (due to the art)
Beneath the Sun by Melissa Stewart
Vulture View by April Pulley Sayre
 
Chronological expository
Bugged: How Insects Changed History by Sarah Albee
Poop Happened!: A History of the World from the Bottom Up by Sarah Albee
Why'd They Wear That?: Fashion as the Mirror of History by Sarah Albee
Cumulative expository
Here Is the Tropical Rain Forest by Madeleine Dunphy
No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart
Older Than the Stars by Karen C. Fox
How-to expository
Dessert Designers: Creations You Can Make and Eat by Dana Meachen Rau
How to Swallow a Pig by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
The Klutz Book of Paper Airplanes by Doug Stillinger
Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes by Josie Fison and Felicity Dahl
Try This! 50 Fun Experiments for the Mad Scientist in You by Karen Romano Young
 
Compare & Contrast

Dueling spreads
Frog or Toad? How Do You Know? by Melissa Stewart

Mosquito Bite by Alexandra Siy

Neo Leo by Gene Barretta

Those Rebels, Tom & John by Barbara Kerley

 

List book
Born in the Wild by Lita Judge

Born to Be Giants: How Baby Dinosaurs Grew to Rule the World by Lita Judge

Eye to Eye by Steve Jenkins

Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart

Move by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

My First Day by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

Just One Bite by Lola Schaefer


Cause & Effect
Earth: Feeling the Heat by Brenda Z. Guiberson

Frog in a Bog by John Himmelman

A Place for Butterflies by Melissa Stewart
When Rain Falls by Melissa Stewart


 
Problem-Solution 
The Great Monkey Rescue by Sandra Markle

A Place for Butterflies by Melissa Stewart
Mesmerized  by Mara Rockliff

Stay: The True Story of Ten Dogs by Michaela Muntean


Q & A Books
Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sarah Levine

Good Question series (Sterling)

Creature Features by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page
Hatch! by Roxie Munro

Hello Bumblebee Bat by Darrin Lunde

Scholastic Question & Answer series
What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

 
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Mixing & Matching
If you’re writing a Life Story . . .
  • Probably sequence (chronological) structure
  • Narrative writing style
 
If you’re writing a Survey Book . . .
  • Description/explanation, sequence, Q & A
  • Expository writing style
 
If you’re writing Specialized Nonfiction . . .
  • Probably sequence, compare & contrast
  • Narrative or expository writing style
 
If you’re writing a Concept Book . . .
  • Sequence, compare & contrast, Q & A, cause & effect, problem—solution, or invent your own
  • Probably expository writing style
 

 

 
 
 

 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Behind the Books: Is “Write What You Could Teach” Good Advice?

Lately, I’ve heard teachers advising young writers to choose nonfiction topics “that you could teach someone about.” For instance, an avid soccer player might write about the rules of soccer. I have just one word for that kind of writing . . . BORING.

Why would a child want to rehash something he or she already knows backward and forward when there’s a wide world of ideas and information out there just waiting to be discovered?

Think about it this way. I could teach someone how to make a sandwich just the way my husband likes it. I could explain how to wash windows so they don’t streak or how to make “hospital corners” when I change the sheets on a bed. I could describe how to sort trash according to my transfer station’s rules. But why would I want to write about any of these things? I’d be bored, and so would my readers.

I write about science because I’m fascinated by the natural world. When I’m engaged in the world, I’m constantly encountering things that make me ask questions. And to satisfy my curiosity, I want to know more, more, more. Learning more gets me so excited that I’m dying to share my new knowledge with other people. That’s what fuels my writing.

Kids are no different from me. When they focus on ideas and information that they care about, when they conduct research to satisfy their own curiosity, they will craft lively, interesting writing just brimming with passion. And, really, that’s the goal of nonfiction writing—crafting prose that our intended audience wants to read.

How do we give students the tools and opportunities they need to become passionate nonfiction writers? I’ll talk more about that next week.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Book of the Week: Butterfly or Moth? How Do You Know?

Educators often ask me which of my books would work best in their classroom. So this year, I’ve decided to feature a book each week and highlight related teaching materials and strategies.

Last week, I discussed A Place for Butterflies. If you pair it with Butterfly or Moth? How Do You Know?, you can create a great lesson that looks at text structures and how decisions about text structure impact the research process.

After reading the books to your students, ask them to discuss this following questions:

What is the primary text structure of each book?

Do you think Melissa Stewart used the same body of research to write both books? What is your evidence?

Do you think her information came from the same sources or different ones? What is your rationale?

The primary text structure of A Place for Butterflies could be described as either Cause & Effect or Problem-Solution. But Butterfly or Moth? How Do You Know? has a strong Compare ? Contrast text structure.

Hopefully, students will realize that even though both books are about butterflies, the content of each title is quite different. For Butterfly or Moth?, My main sources included books and personal observations in the natural world. For A Place for Butterflies, I relied heavily on scientific journal articles that I found using a database and interviews with scientists.