Writer's Workshop - Informational Writing and Summaries

Writing informational text, researching and summarizing is hard work!!! The common core says upper elementary students should be spending at least 60% of their time reading and writing informational text.  So we are pretty much immersing ourselves in nonfiction for the rest of the year!!!

Right now we are writing informational books during writer's workshop.  What was supposed to be a 4-5 week project though, is turning out to be twice as long!  We started by brainstorming topics that we know a lot about. We then chose two ideas and wrote everything we knew about the topics in our notebooks. I modeled with my own topics - cheerleading and red eared slider turtles. We then moved on to organize our information into categories to create subheadings. We also spent a good two days narrowing down our large topics to a specific focus.  Mine became - How dangerous is the sport of cheerleading?  And, what is the best way to keep a red eared slider turtle's tank clean?  We ended this focus on ideas, by creating a table of contents page with our subheadings and a glossary page with potential vocabulary words. All of this took about two weeks.  This was the easy stuff!  I imagined the rest of the unit would go as smoothly, but boy was I wrong!

During the third week we took a look at all of our work in our notebooks and had to make a decision about which of the two topics we would turn into an informational book. We thought about which topic we knew the most about, or had the most interesting subheadings.  Mine was narrowed down to 'How dangerous is the sport of cheerleading?'  Then we headed to the computer lab to begin our research.  We needed to supplement what we already knew about our topic, with some additional facts and information.  I gave the students the task of finding and printing at least three articles that would provide research for their topics.  Whew!  This was way harder for them than I thought it would be.  Who knew that my fifth graders, whizzes on iPads and iPhones, wouldn't know how to properly find appropriate articles on their topic, let alone print them out.  Eighty five copies of the same article on the printer anyone?????  So, we slowed WAY down.  I taught a whole lesson on how to use search engines to research.  I also had to squeeze in a lesson on how to skim and scan an article to know if it's useful.  Then, I actually had to teach a whole lesson on how to print from the internet.  We're like in week four by now people!!!!!!!  Panic was setting in.

Once we got a handle on the research (and after the targeted lessons they did it beautifully) we needed to read and summarize our research.  Whoa!  I knew this would be hard, my students are great fiction summary writers, but we hadn't tackeled nonfiction summaries yet.  But, double Whoa!  I had no idea.  We started by spending three days, yes 3 days, highlighting the important facts and crossing out the irrelevant details in each article.  I of course modeled first the cheerleading articles that I had found.

Things were going pretty smoothly and my kiddos were having great discussions about what was important and what was not. Yay!  But that was just the beginning, we had to turn those important facts into a summary.  We started by creating a gist statement about each article (based on the highlighted important facts) to use for our beginning sentence of each summary.  Narrowing a whole lot of highlighted facts (and by a whole lot, I mean a whole lot, some of my kids are still working on the "less is more" highlighting skill LOL) down to a one sentence gist is a very hard skill to think aloud and model as a teacher, and it was even harder for my students to do it without latching on to specific details or examples from the article.  But, we accomplished the feat (we needs lots more practice though to reach fluency).

This week, week six (Yikes!), we are going to determine the text structure and author's purpose of each article so we can reflect that text structure and author's purpose in our summaries.  Then, we will write the summaries, and begin to disuss where to put them into what we already have written about our topic.

Then we have to revise, edit and publish.......  More to come on that later.

I'm working on an informational summarizing product for my TPT store that will show you how we are breaking down each step of this process.  I hope you'll find it helpful.  The step by step task analysis of what skills my students would need to successfully write an informational summary, has made my instruction more focused and targeted.  As soon as I've classroom tested all parts of the product, I'll post it in my store.  Until then, we'll be happily summarizing, summarizing, and summarizing!!!!

Enjoy :)


  1. Wow - what a great, comprehensive blog post. Tons of great details.

    We're immersing ourselves in non-fiction in the next couple of weeks too! I can't wait to see the pictures and future packet you come up with.

    Joy in the Journey

  2. Thanks Jessica! Good luck with your nonfiction immersion too!!

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