As I try out new methods of instructing, I fell that it is important that I take a few minutes to look back and reflect on what worked well and what didn’t. This week my 5th graders began their second nonfiction writing project. And my 6th graders finished up their first project. Both classes took part in a technique Aimee Buckner refers to as “Topic Change Up”. For this technique students need to know what topic they will be writing about and have already done some research about the topic. Students also need to be familiar with the types of formats they will be asked to write in. I used the following formats for this activity: magazine article, newspaper, advice column, picture book, graphics (charts/ maps/ diagram/ picture with captions), timeline, annotated timeline, readers theater, and poem. Every three minutes the teacher calls out one of these formats and the students continue writing about their topic, but in the format that was called out. I explained the activity to the class and then began. The entire activity took about 30 minutes. A little longer than most of my daily writing activities, but completely worth it. Both classes absolutely loved it!
Not everything has been as much of a hit as “Topic Change Up”. Throughout the past two weeks, I have had a few hiccups along the way. I let the excitement of the project over take the class and allowed the focus of the project to shift away from writing. Students wanted to create and build, but didn’t want to doing the writing aspect. I learned that I need to guide students a little bit more. With my 6th graders I began the same way I did the 5th graders. I used writing methods to help them discover their topic, learn what they needed to research, guided the research process, helped to organize their information, and decide on a format. After this I let students work more independently. My 6th graders proceeded to discuss what they were going to do, build models, decide on costumes, create posters and props. However, only a hand full had written more than a page. They were so eager to create everything else they forgot the project was a WRITING project. While all of the things they were doing was fabulous and supported their learning, I should have provided a little more structure to help students get the writing aspects done.
Learning from the experience with the 6th grade class, I have decided to have my 5th graders do all of their writing first. I have followed the same steps with 5th that I did with 6th and we are know to the point of organizing research and then beginning rough drafts. I plan to help students with their beginnings and not allowing any type of major art/craft work until the writing process is complete. I have also asked 5th to choose 3 out of 9 formats and to tie them together in some way. An example would be to create a magazine that contains an article, a poem and a picture with captions (like an advertisement). After they have create a rough draft of this, revised and edited they will be allowed to create the final piece.
Photos to come….topic change up