Young readers typically focus on fiction books. Since a couple of my first graders were showing interest in nonfiction books, however, I thought it would be a good idea to introduce the whole class to this genre and take the opportunity to also teach them about nonfiction text features and some basic research steps along the way.
To jump start, I randomly distributed a number of nonfiction books (emergent and fluent reader texts, 0.8 to 4.5 AR book levels) on each of our four group tables and asked students to look through the books, noting any differences to fiction books. I then showed them on the projector screen Big Cats (by DK Publishers) from the wegivebooks.org website. We looked through selected pages and identified various text features, including the table of contents, headings, captions, diagram, and labels, discussing the purpose of each.
Since one of my goals was to introduce very basic research skills to this class, we discussed what research is and established that good research starts with a “Wonder” question. We brainstormed a list of questions students may wonder about an animal.
Each student chose a book about an animal on their reading level. They then thought of a question they were wondering about their animal and wrote it in the organizer I had created.
We spent the next two sessions gathering information from the texts to complete the multi-page organizers. Students drew the animal and labeled it. They drew a picture of its habitat and another of its diet. Then they noted at least four facts about their animal. By far the hardest part was for students to compile a five-word glossary. I decided to model this process by reading a section in a book (projected on the screen) and identifying words that provide information about the animal. This process forced students to read their texts closely to not only identify words (or phrases) but also to figure out their meaning.
I deliberately approached this project step-by-step rather than let each student work at their own speed. So for each section of the organizer, we discussed the type of information to complete and I either modeled or showed examples. Then it was the students’ turn before we moved on to the next part of the organizer. Those students who completed their sections first worked with classmates who benefited from some help or simply encouragement.
It’s never too early to introduce students to the concept of ethical use of information. So one section of the organizer required the “Source of Information”. We discussed plagiarism and the importance of citing information sources. For our purposes, students noted author names and book titles on their organizers.
My 1st graders have experience using various iPad apps, including BookCreator, which they’ve used to create fiction books in the Fall. For this project, I wanted students to again use BookCreator to show their learning. Since it is impossible to create drawings in BookCreator, I decided to introduce the class to ExplainEverything, an app my daughter’s been using for her school work. Its a versatile tool for creating and can also be used for screencasting.
In all, each student created four images: An image for their cover page, a diagram of their animal complete with labels and a picture each of the animal’s habitat and diet. Once finished, the drawings were saved as image files to the iPad’s Camera Roll.
The next step was to import the images into BookCreator app for iPad and transfer the text from the graphic organizer to BookCreator. We spent several sessions on this. Each time, I emphasized the need to make sure all required elements are included and sentences have proper punctuation and capitalization. Invented spelling was just fine.
Our last session was a “quality check”: going through the book to check for all required elements (cover page, table of contents, wonder question and answer, diet, habitat, diagram with labels, facts, glossary, source, headings) as well as punctuation and capitalization.
I was a bit worried that this project would drag on too long for the students to remain engaged, but they displayed an incredible work ethic throughout. They loved to learn about the animals and at all times lots of verbal sharing of information was going on. Also, I do believe that the use of iPads helped to keep them motivated. While I required that students included certain text features and information elements), it also was important for me to allow students to exhibit their creative sides. So even though I mentioned that dark text on light background is easier on the eyes, some students just “really liked” the very light turquoise colored letters on white background, or the rather swirly fonts. Not easy on my much older eyes, but the products are definitely the students’! I believe if we want students to take ownership of their learning and products, they must be allowed such simple freedoms.
The outcome of the digital nonfiction books is incredible! I am so impressed with my 1st graders’ skills. I feel very lucky to be working with such a creative group of kids. Each of them worked hard on their projects (a total of 13 45-minute sessions) to produce quality books about their research. Their books speak for themselves!
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