Friday, November 15, 2019

AASL Handout: 5 Kinds of Nonfiction

Many school librarians have worked hard to add award-winning narrative nonfiction to their collections, but studies show that 42 percent of elementary students prefer expository nonfiction. This session breaks down the five categories of nonfiction children’s books (four of which have an expository writing style), offers tips for updating book collections, and provides strategies for integrating a variety of nonfiction texts into reading and writing lessons.

I’ve written about the 5 kinds of nonfiction on my blog:

I’ve discussed the 5 kinds of nonfiction in this video created for Colby Sharp’s vlog:

Narrative vs. Expository Sample Texts

Red-Eyed Tree Frog by Joy Cowley and Nic Bishop (Scholastic, 1999)

Frog or Toad? How Do You Know? by Melissa Stewart (Enslow, 2011)

Citations for Articles about Student Preference for Expository Nonfiction
Caswell, Linda J. and Nell K. Duke. “Non-Narrative as a Catalyst for Literacy Development.” Language Arts, 1998, p. 108-117.

Doiron, Ray. “Boy Books, Girl Books: Should We Re-Organize Our School Library Collections?” Teacher Librarian. 2003, p. 14-16.

Hynes, Myrna. “‘I Read for Facts’: Reading Nonfiction in a Fictional World.” Language Arts, 2000, p. 485-495.

Mohr, Kathleen A. J. “Children’s Choices for Recreational Reading: A Three-Part Investigation of Selection Preferences, Rationales, and Processes.” Journal of Literacy Research. 2006, p. 81–104.

Repanskey, Lisa L., Jeanne Schumm, and Jacqueline Johnson. “First and Fourth Grade Boys’ and Girls’ Preferences for and Perceptions about Narrative and Expository Text.” Reading Psychology, 2017. p. 1–40.

Characteristics of the 5 Categories and Activity for Students

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

It’s Time for the Sibert Smackdown!

The Sibert Smackdown is an activity intended to build enthusiasm for the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal, which is given each year as part of the American Library Association’s annual Youth Media Awards. It focuses on picture books because they are more manageable to read in a school setting.

Here’s how it works. Students in grades 3-8 read the nonfiction picture books on your class’s Mock Sibert list. You can use the list I’ve compiled below or you can create your own list. My list includes titles that have strong kid appeal, will promote good discussions, and can be used as mentor texts in writing workshop. They reinforce the research techniques and craft moves included in most State ELA standards.  

The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Sarah Jacoby 

Little Libraries, Big Heroes by Miranda Paul, illustrated by John Parra

Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist by Julie Leung, illustrated by Chris Sasaki 
A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech that Inspired a Nation by Barry Wittenstein, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

Two Brothers, Four Hands by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper 

Wait, Rest, Pause: Dormancy in Nature by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

Will some of these books be named on Monday, January 27, 2020, when the Sibert Medal committee announces its winner and honor titles at the ALA Youth Media Awards ceremony? Who knows, but I do have a pretty good track record. 

You may also want to consider titles on the Mock Sibert list created by Alyson Beecher.  Anderson’s Bookshop creates a Mock Sibert list that includes picture books as well as middle grade titles. The last time I looked, they hadn't posted this year's list yet, but keep checking the link.

After reading your Mock Sibert titles, students choose their two favorites and use this worksheet, which you can download from my website, to evaluate and compare the books before they vote. The worksheet features a kid-friendly version of the critera used by the real Sibert committee.

I also suggest using the guidelines developed by former Sibert judge Melody Allen. They are available here, here, and here.

I’d also recommend reading this post, which describes how some educators have modified or enhanced the Sibert Smackdown! in the past. It's so important to create learning experiences that are perfect for your particular students. 

I’d love to hear how your students are progressing, and so would other participating teachers and librarians. Please use the Twitter hashtag #SibertSmackdown to share what you are doing.

Happy Reading!

Monday, November 4, 2019

Writing Expository Nonfiction that Sings, Part 8

Since the beginning of the school year, each Monday, I’ve been posting  about the importance of understanding the key elements of finely-crafted expository nonfiction and helping students identify those features as they read and include them as they write.

For the first few weeks, I focused on the pre-writing process. Then, I turned my attention to text characteristics and discussed text format, text scaffolding, and text density. You can scroll down to read those posts.

Today, I’m going to take a fresh look at text structure, which is probably the topic I’ve discussed the most on this blog. Why? Because it’s my biggest struggle as a writer.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may already know that I like to compare searching for a text structure to shopping for a pair of pants. When we shop for pants, we usually know what purpose we want them to serve. Are they for playing sports? Relaxing around the house? Going to a fancy party?

Keeping their purpose in mind allows us to eliminate some pants pretty quickly. We can also rule out pants if they’re the wrong size or a color we don’t like. But at a certain point, we have to try on a few pairs of pants to see how they fit. We might not like spending time in the store’s cramped dressing room, but we accept that it’s a necessary part of the process.

The same is true for selecting a nonfiction text structure. When writers consider their purpose for writing, identify their audience, and decide exactly what they’re most excited to share with readers, they can quickly eliminate some text structures. For example, a sequence structure won’t work if the topic lacks a time element or natural order. Maybe there’s no problem, and therefore no solution.

But like shopping for a pair of pants, at a certain point, a writer often has to try on a couple of different text structures to see which one fits best.

As you can see in this online revision timeline, when I was writing Can an Aardvark Bark?, I experimented with four different text structures before finally deciding that a question and answer structure would work best.

According to award-winning author Brenda Z. Guiberson, “every topic can be approached in numerous different ways.” Before writers can settle on a text structure, they must “figure out what they most want to say, and then pick the approach that says it best.” Guiberson knew that Feathered Dinosaurs “would be a list book from the very beginning,” but “it took a long time, and several false starts,” to find the right structure for Earth: Feeling the Heat.

“I was trying to say too much about a complicated global issue,” Guiberson explains. “Finally I decided to stick with specific details and let the situations speak for themselves. Then it became a cause-and-effect book.” 

Just like professional writers, young writers should understand that “trying on” different text structures is an authentic part of the drafting process. I know this is a big ask because the last thing kids want to do is revise a piece of writing four or five times just to see what happens. That’s why I’m hoping this “shopping for pants” analogy and Can an Aardvark Bark? revision timeline will help.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Revision, Rehersal, Renovation

Since 2019 marks the 10th Anniversary of this blog, on Fridays this year, I’m updating and re-running some past posts that sparked conversation or that I think still have a lot to offer people teaching or writing nonfiction. Today’s post originally appeared on May 18, 2016.

Let’s face it. Kids aren’t crazy about the idea of revising their writing.  

I created revision timelines documenting the 10-year process of creating No Monkeys, No Chocolate and the 6.5-year process of creating Can an Aardvark Bark? so that teachers would have an engaging way to show young writers that professional writers revise. A lot.

For a few years now, I’ve been telling students that revising our writing is really no different than practicing a sport or rehearsing for a musical concert.

Football, soccer, and baseball players practice so they can develop the skills they need to beat rival teams.
Musicians rehearse so that they play a song perfectly when they perform in front of an audience.
Similarly, a rough draft is a way of preparing for what’s really important—writing the final draft, the piece the world sees.

Sometimes this comparison makes an impact on elementary audiences, and sometimes, well—not so much. And so I’ve been searching for an analogy that really hits home for kids, and I’ve finally found one—renovation.
Some students have lived through a home remodel. Others have seen dramatic renovations on HGTV. So when I show them real BEFORE and AFTER photos of a house, and ask which one they’d rather live in, the kids don’t let me down. 

And when I compare the BEFORE house to a rough draft, and the AFTER house to a final draft, their eyes really do light up with understanding. It’s a beautiful thing.

But that's not where my analogy ends. I explain that before someone starts remodeling their kitchen, the room might leave a lot to be desired, but it still functions. You can cook a meal in it.

But after you pull out the cabinets and counters and appliances, the room is a bigger mess than when you started. And in fact, it doesn't function at all. You have to cook in a microwave in the living room and wash dishes in the bathroom sink.

The same is true for revising a manuscript. In the middle of the process, the writing might be a big mess. Maybe even worse than the first draft. It takes time and patience to focus on one challenge at a time and slowly create something better than the original.

In a home remodel, first the new drywall goes up (structure). Then the new cabinets, countertops, and appliances are installed (writing style, voice, point of view). The walls are painted (word choice), and finally the new window coverings and accessories are added (conventions). If students go step-by-step through the revision process and accept that it isn't always easy, they can end up with the manuscript of their dreams.