Empowering Writers

April 2011 Lesson of the Month

Spring has sprung – and along with the budding trees and blooming flowers we’ve got a lesson for you that you’ll want to use year after year when April rolls around.

We often think of research as relating mostly to expository texts. But, in fact, authors of all genres use research as a tool for enhancing their writing. This lesson explores online images of spring, and uses these for two purposes – to fuel powerful descriptive narrative writing and to inform expository writing. The lesson also compares the style and tone of language most conducive to each genre, that best serves the purpose of each – to entertain (narrative) or to inform (expository)

Have a look at the lesson that follows, and download a copy for your files!

Here’s what you’ll do:

1) Google “Signs of Spring – images” and, if possible project these for the class. Click on a variety of realistic photographs of the changes in nature we see in springtime – daffodils, crocus, birds, butterflies, bullfrogs, jack-in-the-pulpits. Discuss these.

2) Divide students into small groups (2 or 4 students each), and have each group select their favorite sign of spring. Try to avoid duplication – the more variety, the better. Explain that they will be creating side-by-side narrative and expository segments for a class big-book. Their writing will appear in a left/right spread, with a narrative descriptive segment (beginning with a “looking statement”) on the right spread page, and an informational, expository paragraph on the left spread page. Remind them that the purpose of narrative writing is to entertain, the purpose of expository writing is to inform. Discuss how the right and left pages of each spread will differ. You can have the entire team research their spring selection to contribute to the expository task. Provide books and/or websites. Perhaps, use your media center time for the research aspect of this project.

3) Remind students that authors ask productive questions in order to generate ideas and specific details for their writing. List/display the following questions for their reference:

(In the narrative segment, ask children to imagine that they are a character in a situation where they come into contact with their particular sign of spring. Be sure to tell them that it can be “make believe.” That’s what fiction is all about!)

Narrative

  • Where were you when you saw this sign of spring? What were you doing?
  • How did you feel when you saw/experienced this? What did that feeling look/feel like?
  • What did this sign of spring look, feel, smell, sound, seem like? (Include size, color, texture, how (or if) it moved, etc.)
  • What did it remind you of? (Was it as graceful, playful, elegant as something else? – simile)

Sentence Starters:

While _____ I noticed _____. “What is this?” I exclaimed. It was a _____.

When I saw it, I _____. Amazed, I _____. I stopped and exclaimed, “_____.”

It seemed _____. I imagined it felt _____.

When I bent to get a closer look I realized___. This incredible sign of spring _____.

Gazing at it I thought, _____. It reminded me of_____.

Expository

  • What is this sign of spring – an animal, insect, plant, weather pattern?
  • What does this sign of spring look (feel, sound, smell) like?
  • Why is this important to the environment? (food source, contributes to habitat somehow, as sign of something important – attracts insects, part of the food chain, etc.)
  • How/why is this sign of spring important to people?

Sentence Starters:

Let me introduce the _____. Have you ever seen _____?

Have you ever wondered about _____? Let’s learn about the _____.

Examining it closely you’ll notice _____. One interesting characteristic is _____.

It’s interesting to note that _____. When spring arrives it _____.

This is important because _____. It plays a part in _____.

People enjoy _____ because _____. When people see _____ they know _____.

Have students answer these questions. Provide sentence starters (listed beneath each set of questions, above) to aid in sentence variety and fluency.

5) It is helpful to MODEL an example of both a narrative and expository segment. You can use the “cherry blossom” segments, below, as the basis for your modeling.

Here is an example of this side by side springtime genre study:

Narrative:

I gazed at the cherry trees outside my window throughout the winter, their bare brown branches reaching toward the sky. As the days grew warmer, I watched them, until one day I gasped and exclaimed, “What is this?” There, at the ends of the branches I saw small whitish buds. They looked soft as silk. Each day the buds would unfold a little farther. It seemed as though they were bursting into soft pink clusters. I reached up and touched the fluffy blossoms and felt a little thrill. “Cherry blossom time,” I whispered and smiled to myself.

Expository:

Let me introduce the cherry blossom – a sure sign of spring. When spring arrives the blooming begins as soon as the weather gets mild. The cherry blossom season is short, usually a week or two at most. It’s interesting to note that each blossom later becomes a cherry! Examining a variety of cherry blossoms closely, you’ll notice that there are many different kinds. Some are pink, others white or yellow. It’s interesting to note that some have only five petals, others have twenty or even one hundred! People enjoy cherry blossoms because they are very beautiful. Birds enjoy them because they are a sign that soon there will be plenty of sweet fruit to eat!

6) Then, have half of each team respond in writing to the narrative task (describing, in an entertaining way, their springtime topic) and the other half respond in a straight-forward expository style, (providing information about their plant, animal or weather pattern.) Circulate as they work, guiding them, sharing interesting writing aloud to inspire others.

7) Finally, add an art component. You can print out your google image, and/or have the narrative teams draw or paint an evocative image, the expository group create a diagram, labeling the parts. Pair with the writing, and place in a class book, in expository-narrative spreads, emphasizing the differences in purpose and style.

8) In the end you will have an attractive, inspiring springtime field guide to share with your class and beyond. Remember – having an enthusiastic audience really motivates students!

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