Monday, March 17, 2014

Deadliest Animals: Chunk and Check

As I’m researching, I type notes into a Microsoft Word file, always using my own words to avoid any possibility of accidental plagiarism (as I recently discussed here). By the time I’m done, I might have 20, 30, 40 pages of notes. I save that file, which includes bibliographic references, as is. Then I make a copy of the file and get to work on the next step in my process. I call it Chunk and Check.

To organize my material, I start to think about what information I’d like to include. What’s most important? What will really interest and/or excite kids? I jot down a quick list. Some of the items on this list might become section headings in my Table of Contents.  Others will become subsections, and some may not end up in the book at all. After all, this is just my first stab at wrangling all the information I’ve collected into a fascinating 48-page book for kids. I’m not too worried about specifics right now. In fact, I need to stay flexible as I move from the act of organizing to the act of developing a structure for the book.
In The Art of Information Writing, Colleen Cruz and Lucy Calkins say:
“Writing is a tool to synthesize, organize, reflect on, and teach knowledge.”

I’d change their word “teach” to “share,” but otherwise, I really like this quotation. And it’s what I’m just starting to do as I make my list. (Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find that initial list for Deadliest Animals, but it must have included topics like “Snakes,” “Sea animals,” and “Plant eaters.”)

Next, I cut and paste, cut and paste. I move around the information in my research document until I have perhaps 10 clusters, or chunks, of information. Sometimes I highlights text blocks in different colors. It helps me see what I have. Plus the colors are just fun.

As I go through this process, I delete redundant information, and I flag facts that I’d like to double check for accuracy. By the time I’m done chunking, my 40 page research document might be whittled down to 20 pages, which is much more manageable.

What happens next? Come back next week to find out.

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