Friday, March 31, 2017

Nonfiction Pre-writing: An Authentic Example

A few weeks ago,I wrote a blog post called Why Kids Copy their Research Sources, and How to Break the Habit and was blown away by the response. So many teachers told me it was incredibly helpful. I also received some great comments from fellow children’s book writers.

Award-winning science poet Leslie Bulion had this to say:

Nonfiction authors often describe their research process and their writing process, but we don’t usually hear about what comes in between, so I asked Leslie if I could interview her to explore the details of her pre-writing process. Luckily, she said yes.
 
MS: What’s your first step when you begin a new book?
 


LB: Each of my science poetry collections starts with one big idea. For example, the big idea for my next book, Leaf Litter Critters (coming in 2018), was to take readers on a tour through what scientists call the “brown food web.” So I needed to learn how the critter-eat-critter world of Earth’s busy decomposer-recyclers works.
 
I began my research by reading widely about soil and leaf litter communities. When I had a basic understanding of the topic, I returned to the readings I’d found most helpful, and took notes about the many organisms and their brown food web jobs—i.e. which critters start the process (primary decomposers) and how each paves the way for the next level of decomposers to move in and get to work.

Using those notes, I made a list of critters I wanted to write poems about. My choices needed to represent all levels and interactions in the brown food web, and a mix of familiar critters and those that readers may not have met...yet...

MS: Can you tell us about one of the critters on that list?

LB: Here’s a fun example: the nematode. Since I was interested in how these (mostly) microscopic roundworms fit into the brown food web, I researched where they live, what they eat and what eats them. I found information in books and scientific articles. I also watched videos and observed nematodes flipping around in soil and water samples under my own microscope. I took LOTS of notes.

Here are my nematode notes from Life in the Soil by James B. Nardi (Univ. of Chicago Press, 2007):
--“Nematodes graze on bacteria and fungi. They are predators, omnivores, plant feeders (those have stylets). They live in soil water films, or within roots- those are parasitic.
--Every kind of soil.
--Go dormant in hot dry conditions.
--Nitrogen cyclers.
--Different mouth structures.
--Bacteria eaters have lots of lips, narrow mouth, vacuum from soil pores.
--Root feeders—piercing spears ram into roots to tap plant.
--Gulp with a muscular esophagus.
--Springtails eat them, so do tardigrades and mites.
--Larger nematodes predators of nematodes, tardigrades, rotifers, protozoa—lips (up to 6) grinding plates just inside.
--Fungus traps nematodes with a noose—strangler fungi!
--Some fungi have sticky spores that latch onto nematodes—fungal hyphae fill the nematode and digest its contents.
-- Some fungi produce pheromone and work like flypaper for nematodes and rotifers.”

Here are my notes from the video “Nematode Movement," which had a terrific narration:
--“Whip like, coil to change direction almost 360.
--Pressure against cuticle to move.
--Longitudinal muscles only.”

MS: What did you do next?

LB: I asked myself this organizing question: Which “juicy science story” will I tell?

This helped me focus my thinking about nematodes. After all, a poem is not an encyclopedia entry, and the science notes I write to accompany my poems are quite specific.

To answer this question, I took notes on my notes. My goal was to synthesize and condense the information I’d collected and mine the most fascinating bits until I found my “juicy science story.”

From Life in the Soil:
--Nematodes graze on bacteria and fungi, plant feeders (stylets).
--Lots of lips, narrow mouth, vacuum from soil pores.
--Piercing spears ram into roots to tap plant.
--Lips (up to 6).
--Fungus traps nematodes with noose—strangler fungi.

From the video:
-- Whip like, coil to change direction almost 360 degrees.

In my own investigations, I loved watching nematodes in motion!

As I read over these notes and those from other sources, I decided that my poem would tie the nematode’s flicking, whip-like motion to its eat-and-be-eaten relationship with “strangler” fungi. That was my juicy science story.

MS: Was that the end of your pre-writing process?

LB: No. Next, I asked myself a second key question:

Which powerful words associated with this topic might spark an idea and make my writing POP? 

To answer this question, I did another round of taking notes on my notes. The result was a list of power words/ideas filled with action, imagery, music, or humor potential:

wiggle
water films
whip
layers of lips
bacteria
sticky
spores
fungus
everywhere
trap
thread
glassy roundworms
soil spaces
stylets
piercing spears
noose
vacuum
coil
strangler fungi
gulp
ram

Finally, I was ready to write.

MS: Can you tell us a little bit about that process?

LB: I played around with my word collection and said the words aloud. Sometimes I walked as I spoke, using my body to feel the rhythm. The short “i” sound in the word whip seemed to evoke the nematode’s short, quick movements.

Whip led me to flip, slip, lips, flick, quick, sticky, and tricky, which then led to trap, attack and finally a fun rhyme—snack. That’s when I knew where I was headed. Here’s the final poem:  

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Behind the Books: Milford, CT PD Handout

Building Research Skills in K-3
Author-educator Melissa Stewart introduces scaffolded visual, information, and digital literacy activities to help K-3 students develop the observational, inquiry, and critical thinking skills required to evaluate print and digital resources for nonfiction reports. Supports Common Core RIT Standards 6 and 7 and Writing Standards 7 and 8.
 
The content presented in this two-hour session is summarized in two sets of blog posts. In the first part of the session, I discuss ground-breaking work being done at Teacher’s College at Columbia University, showing the most effective way to introduce nonfiction writing and research to early-elementary students. These posts provide an overview of TC thinking and include related activities that I’ve developed to reinforce the concepts.


Introduction

Easy-Access Research

Research from Observations
 
Conducting Guided Research

Conducting Cold Research

 
In the second part of the presentation, I provide ideas for complimentary activities to help students learn skills need for research, without actually doing research. These include visual literacy, information literacy, and digital literacy.  

Introduction



Additional suggestions for wordless picture book read alouds

Visual Teaching Strategies Method

Extracting Content-Area Information


Tricks for Evaluating Websites
http://celebratescience.blogspot.com/2016/03/behind-books-getting-ready-to-research-6.html

Monday, March 27, 2017

Teaching Science with Kidlit

NGSS PE 4-LS1-2. Use a model to describe that animals receive different types of information through their senses, process the information in their brain, and respond to the information in different ways. 

Try these book pairs:
For more suggestions and full lessons, check out Perfect Pairs:

Friday, March 24, 2017

In the Classroom: Vivid Verbs in Expository Literature

After sharing the Using Vivid Verbs video mini-lesson available on my website with your class, invite students to look closely at one of their rough drafts.

Encourage the children to circle the verbs in a few paragraphs and then search for spots where adding vivid verbs could strengthen their writing.

CCSS.ELA—Literacy.CCRA.R.4: Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Behind the Books: Vivid Verbs in Expository Literature

What’s the difference between an active verb, like walk, and a vivid verb like stomp or tiptoe? A vivid verb does double duty.

If you read the sentence, “The girl walked across the room,” you know one thing—the girl moved from Point A to Point B. But if you read the sentence, “The girl stomped across the room,” you still know that she moved, and you also know how she feels. She’s angry. And if you read the sentence, “The girl tiptoed across the room,” you know that she moved and that she’s trying to be quiet or sneaky. A vivid verb is powerful because it allows you to pack a lot of information into a single word.

Consider this brief excerpt from Rain, Rain, Rain Forest by Brenda Z. Guiberson (Holt, 2004):

“Splitter, splat, splash! Rain gushes into the rain forest. It soaks the moss, drizzles of dangling vines, and thrums against slick waxy leaves.”

As you read this, can’t you see what’s happening in your mind’s eye? When writing is steeped with vivid verbs, it can paint a picture with words.

How can we encourage students to notice how an author uses verbs as they are reading and think carefully about their own verb choices. I'll provide a fun activity on Friday.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Teaching Science with Kidlit

NGSS PE 4-LS1-1. Construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction.

Try these book pairs:

For more suggestions ad full lessons, check out Perfect Pairs:

Friday, March 17, 2017

In the Classroom: Comparisons in Expository Literature

After sharing the Power of Similes video mini-lesson available on my website with your class, encourage students to find and circle similes, metaphors, and other kinds of comparisons in a rough draft. Then invite the children to identify at least two places where adding a comparison will make their writing more engaging.

CCSS.ELA—Literacy.CCRA.R.4:  Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning.

CCSS.ELA—Literacy.CCRA.R.5:  Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Behind the Books: Comparisons in Expository Literature

As nonfiction writers do research, they learn a lot of facts and ideas that their readers won’t know. How can a writer make that information accessible to his or her audience? By using similes, metaphors, and other kinds of comparisons to use what readers do know as a launching point.

Many books do this effectively on an as needed basis, but a few books use comparisons as a central focus to make abstract ideas relevant to their readers’ lives and experiences.

Here are a couple of examples from If You Hopped Life a Frog by David M. Schwartz (Scholastic, 1999):

“If you swallowed like a snake . . .
you could gulp a hot dog thicker than a telephone pole.”

“If you scurried like a spider . . .
you could charge down an entire football field
in just two seconds
.”

Actual Size by Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin, 2011) and How Big Were Dinosaurs? by Lita Judge (Roaring Brook, 2013) are also chock full of visual comparisons that will delight as well as inform young readers.

How can we encourage students to be on the lookout for comparisons in the expository literature they read and enhance their own writing with fun, creative comparisons? I'll provide an activity on Friday.
 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Teaching Science with Kidlit

NGSS PE 4-LS1-1. Construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction.

Try these book pairs:
For more suggestions and full lessons, check out Perfect Pairs:

Friday, March 10, 2017

In the Classroom: Text Format in Expository Literature

After reading aloud When the Wolves Returned: Restoring Nature’s Balance in Yellowstone by Dorothy Patent Hinshaw and my book Feathers: Not Just for Flying, invite students to compare and contrast the two books, using these guiding questions:

·         How is the main text in the two books different?

·         Does the secondary text perform the same function in both books?

·         What is the text structure of each book?

·         What do you think was each author’s purpose for writing her book?

·         Does the layered text format help the authors achieve their purpose? Explain your rationale.

Next, read aloud An Egg Is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston and Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate, encouraging students to discuss the following questions in small groups:

·         How is the format of the two books different?

·         What do you think was each author’s purpose for writing her book?

·         Does the format of each book help the author achieve her purpose? Explain your rationale.

As the group discussions wind down, encourage each group to share its ideas with the rest of the class. 

CCSS.ELA—Literacy.CCRA.R.5:  Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.
 
CCSS.ELA—Literacy.CCRA.R.9: Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Behind the Books: The Importance of Text Format in Expository Literature

Many high-quality expository titles, especially science-themed picture books, make skillful use of layered text, which consists of a short, simple primary text that conveys main ideas and a more substantial secondary text that provides supporting details.

As you read books like When the Wolves Returned: Restoring Nature’s Balance in Yellowstone by Dorothy Patent Hinshaw (Walker, 2008) and Pink Is for Blobfish: Discovering the World’s Perfect Pink Animals by Jess Keating (Knopf, 2016), you will notice that the primary text, which is set in larger type to let children know that they should read it first, can stand on its own and provides a general introduction to the topic. It whets the reader’s appetite, inspiring children to continue reading, so they can find out more.

The rich, provokative primary text of A Seed Is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston (Chronicle, 2007)  and the surprising comparisons in my book Feathers: Not Just for Flying (Charlesbridge, 2014) awaken a child’s sense of wonder, while the playful, interactive quality of the primary text in How Many Ways Can You Catch a Fly? by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page (Houghton Mifflin, 2008) invites students to read and explore and discover.

This engaging, kid-friendly format allows a broad range of students to access the book. It also helps students learn to differentiate between main ideas (the gist) and supporting details, which is an important goal of the Common Core State Standards.

As a result of the recent popularity of graphic novels, authors are experimenting with nonfiction in a graphic format too. Many of these titles present information within the context of a storyline, but a few notable exceptions are entirely expository. These ground-breaking titles include Human Body Theater by Maris Wicks (First Second, 2015), Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate (Candlewick, 2013), and How to Clean a Hippopotamus: A Look at Unusual Animal Partnerships by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page (Houghton Mifflin, 2013).

How can we encourage students to think critically about the text format of the expository literature they read and experiment with various formats in their own writing? I'll provide a helpful activity on Friday.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Teaching Science with Kidlit

NGSS PE 3-LS4-4. Make a claim about the merit of a solution to a problem caused when the environment changes and the types of plants and animals that live there may change.

Try these book pairs:
For more suggestions and full lessons, check out Perfect Pairs:

Friday, March 3, 2017

In the Classroom: An Idea Jar for Nonfiction Reports

We all know that students do their best writing when they select their own topics. They’re more invested in the whole process, from research to revision.

But we also know that choosing a topic from the wide world of possibilities is intimidating, even paralyzing, for some children. How can we support them?

During school visits, I tell students about the idea board in my office. Here’s a video of my lovely nieces describing how I use it.

I’ve suggested that young writers keep their own list of possible future ideas on the last page or inside cover of their writer’s notebooks. But what if even that is a struggle, or what if they just plain old forget to do it?

Recently, I read a blog post about keeping a New Year’s Resolution jar. It’s for people who have trouble coming up with ways to try to improve their lives when January rolls around.

I started thinking about all the ways a jar of ideas could be useful. And it occurred to me that it might really help kids who have trouble coming up with report topics

Think about your classroom. Some students are idea-generating machines. They can help their struggling classmates by focusing on the one idea that speaks to them most vehemently, and adding the others to the Report Idea Jar.

You can add ideas too. It’s a way to anonymously provide guidance rather than dictate a topic. And because you aren't usurping your students' power to choose, they'll be able to take ownership of the project and the process.


Why not give it a try?

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Behind the Books: Finding Photos for Nonfiction Books

In many cases, nonfiction authors are responsible for the photos as well as the words in their books. This means finding the images, securing the rights to use them, and paying any associated fees. Since this process can seem daunting to people doing it for the first time, today I’m turning over my blog to award-winning author Sarah Albee for her best advice on photo research.

Sarah, thanks so much for sharing your knowledge and experience with us.

Hey Melissa! Happy to be back. I love talking about image research!

Authors, it can be a shock to learn that you are responsible for your own image research and rights clearance. And—horrors—that you are expected to pay for the pictures, too.

But don’t despair! Finding great, print-quality images that are free or low-cost has gotten easier in the last few years. Plus copyright holders can be quite understanding if you explain that you’re an author with a limited budget.

For some basic tips about photo research, please read this Q & A post intended to help young writers working on reports. If you’re a professional writer with a book contract in hand, here are a few more things you’ll need to know.

In addition to the public domain photo sources listed on the edtechteacher website, here are some that I use a lot as a history writer.
·         Flickr/The Commons
·         Wikimedia Commons
·         The Wellcome Library
·         National Library of Medicine
·         Library of Congress
·         National Archives
·         New York Public Library

When you’re selecting images for a book, remember that they need to be print-quality, or of a high-enough resolution that they will look good when published.

To determine if an image is print-quality, check the file size. For instance, here are some images of Marie Curie from Wikimedia Commons.
 
This image is just 15 KB (kilobytes). In print, an image with such a small file size would look pixelated, so it’s not a good choice.

This image is 3.19 megabytes. It’s a much larger file, which means it contains more detail and would probably look just fine on a printed page.

If in doubt, your publisher’s art department can help you figure out if an image is high enough in quality for printing.

What if you find the perfect public domain image, but it’s not print-quality? You may be able to find a high-resolution version through a museum or image house, though you’ll probably have to pay a usage fee (even if the image is in the public domain).

Some image houses, also called stock houses, charge fairly reasonable usage fees. Others are more expensive. The upside is that all stock house images come with the assurance that rights are cleared and the quality will be high.

Most image houses will negotiate with authors once they learn you’re paying for the images yourself. Here are some image houses I’ve used a lot.
·      Shutterstock
·         Granger
·         Mary Evans
·         Bridgeman
·         Getty
Of these, Getty is most expensive, but sometimes you don’t have a lot of flexibility when you need that perfect picture.

Once you know what images you want to order, be prepared to give a stock house this info:
·         Size of the image (ie ¼ page, ½ page, etc.)
·         Black and white or color
·         Print run of your book (you probably have to estimate this)
·         Cover or interior page
·         Language(s) the book be published in
·         Countries where it will be distributed
·         Do you need e-rights?

I recommend clearing all-world, all-languages, e-rights from the get-go. It can be more expensive, but it means you won’t have to go back to all your image sources if your book gets sold in a foreign country. 

Library of Congress
Sometimes you can find your own, original images. The Library of Congress in Washington D.C. has a super-cool machine that takes print-quality photos of an open book. (Other big libraries may have this technology, but I love that LOC lets researchers do it themselves!)
 
Recently, I spent a day in the New York Public Library’s microfilm room, learning to brighten/sharpen images from old newspapers and save them to a thumb drive as PDFs that are of good enough quality to use in a book.

Need a specific image? Sometimes, all you have to do is ask. I’ve written to photographers and requested permission to use their images, and they’ve almost always said yes. A few asked for a small fee. Others requested a copy of the published book.

I know I’ve thrown a lot of information at you, but there’s one more thing that I think it’s important to say: image research is really, really fun. It’s one of my favorite stages of working on a book!

Disclaimer: I am not a copyright attorney. Copyright law is full of ambiguity. The information I’ve shared is what I believe to be correct. Please feel free to comment if you see something that you think is inaccurate.