Empowering Writers

December 2010 Lesson of the Month

Whether you live in the sun-belt or the north pole, everyone loves the image of a snow covered Arctic landscape. Everyone’s favorite Arctic inhabitant is, quite possibly, the penguin. Regardless of the grade you teach, students will enjoy researching fun facts about this comical, flightless bird. The class will put together a collection of “golden bricks” (powerful details) and “word referents” to describe the amazing penguin.

Here’s what you do:

1) Gather some photographs, books, and articles about penguins. Some helpful websites:

2) Gather your students and ask them what they already know about penguins. Chart the information they provide.

3) Ask them what they’d still like to know about penguins and chart their questions. (This will drive their research.)

(More on this process in Write About Science – Pick, List, Choose, Ask, Find, p. 10 – 12.)

4) Introduce the “Golden Bricks” – our name for some of the more powerful details we use in expository writing to “show” rather than “tell”. These include:

  • quotes
  • statistics
  • amazing facts
  • anecdotes
  • descriptive segments

Discuss, as appropriate, with your class, explaining that their job will be to research and locate samples of these about penguins. (Hint: primary students might stick to descriptive segments and amazing facts, middle grades can include statistics, and middle school might include quotes. Anecdotes, based on personal experience, will only be relevant to students who may have seen a penguin at a zoo, water park, or on a nature program.)

(More on Golden Bricks in The Comprehensive Expository Writing Guide, p. 241-243.)

5) Make a poster or chart for each of the “Golden Bricks.” Label each and hang around the classroom. As students discover these powerful details, have them write them down on an index card or sticky note and attach it to the respective poster/chart. As a class, compare and discuss. This is also an opportunity to check their original informational brainstorm charts for accuracy, and to add additional facts. When satisfied that you have sufficient detail, have the class transcribe their information clearly onto each poster/chart. (NOTE: you might want to have students cite their sources for each Golden Brick or piece of information by writing an asterisk after each entry, followed by the book or magazine title, author, page numbers, or web address.

(Tips on Research and Citing Sources in Write About Science, p. 41-51.)

6) Once all of your poster/charts are complete you can have students create some “Penguin Art”. Just google “Penguin Art for Kids” for tons of ideas.

7) Finally, engage in some creative writing about penguins. Ask students to create “word referents” to describe these birds. Begin by generating a list of nearly synonymous words or phrases, then come up with some adjectives:


Adjectives Nouns

flightless birds

black and white creatures

hardy Arctic dwellers

comical nest sitters

tuxedoed cold water swimmers

entertaining winter acrobats

8) Make a hallway bulletin board that combines the Golden Brick and Information Charts and penguin art. Use creative word referents for the title of your display.

9) Extension Activity: As a culminating activity (maybe in January) have older students use the information they’ve gathered to write an expository report on penguins that includes the golden bricks and word referents. Add these to your bulletin board. (See Write About Science – The Final Report, p. 53-61 or The Comprehensive Expository Writing Guide, p. 426-427 for guidance.)