Texas Teaching Fanatic

A look inside a 4th grade classroom

Expository Writing Samples

Our first day back from the holidays was a success.  My students, although lethargic at the start of the day, worked hard and finished up their expository essays they had started before the break.  Some are still working, but since it is time to move on to narratives, I told them that they can revisit their pieces a little later if they had not quite finished.

For this essay, we used a different prompt and text structure than our first attempt. This time, I gave them the prompt: Everyone has something that they consider special.  Write about your most prized possession.  Explain why it is special to you.  We used the following text structure: I just couldn’t do without… –> It has the most… –> It also has… –> Before I had it… –> That’s why… –> Without it… What I found the most interesting was that my students were already taking risks and changing up the text structure to make it relevant to what they were doing.  They would ask, “Can I change the text structure around?” and “Do I have to use that sentence starter, or can I change it a little?”  Yes, yes, YES!  Music to my ears.  Soon I will be posting their altered text structures and labeling them with the students’ names to give them credit.  Love it!

All this being said, they didn’t have a real long time to work on their papers this time due to testing and interruptions in our schedule.  I chose 3 papers from my homeroom to share with you.  I’ll be adding more from the other class, but this is what I have for now.

Cats by Mallory  (This one is a little shorter, but this is a student that did not come to me as a natural writer.  She has great ideas and is able to write very quickly and very well about things that mean a lot to her.  You can really tell that she admires her cats–she wrote about them for our other expository prompt, too.  I like that she is using the same ideas for more than one prompt.  I give her lots of credit for that!)

Multi-Tool Knife by Andrew (This one is longer than the first sample.  This student actually got to come into my classroom last year as a 3rd grader since he was more advanced in his writing than the rest of the students in his class.  He has learned a lot and is getting better and better by the day.  He has a wild imagination and his personality shows through his writing.  He has taken to heart our mentor text, Barbie, and incorporated some of her ideas.  If you’ve read it, you’ll notice!)

Balloony by Avery (This is the longest one–longer than 26 lines.  She is an AH-MAZING writer…and I can’t take credit for much of it.  She is definitely a natural.  She soaks up every lesson and incorporates new ideas in every piece of writing.  She, like Andrew, has taken ideas from Barbie and run with them.  She also uses a thesaurus just about every time she writes to be sure she uses just the right vocabulary to get her point across!)

You will also notice that all 3 of these kiddos modified the text structure to make it their own.  I will try to find some papers that used the text structure as it was given for my next installment.

We all hope you enjoy reading these papers.  I show my students my blog posts that relate to them, and we look at your comments together.  They LOVE to read your comments, so leave them some love! Let them know how awesome they are!!  😉

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Narrative vs. Expository

Texas requires all 4th graders to write a narrative AND an expository piece for their state assessment.  Now, if your school is anything like mine, students very rarely (if ever) write any sort of expository piece before stepping into a 4th grade classroom.  Nope, I’m not blaming the other grade levels because I know that they have their own battles to fight and win, I’m just stating reality.

So how do we tackle this?  How do we get students to understand the difference (and similarity) of narrative vs. expository writing?  What do we tell these kids?  My answer is simple.  Make it concrete.  Make it relevant and meaningful.  Allow students a visual that shows them, rather than just telling them.  I use grandma.

Grandma, you say? Yep.  I use an activity that I created (mostly on my own) that helps kids to compare narrative and expository writing.  It takes several glances at it to understand it completely, but my kiddos love to take “grandma” out and look at her and talk about writing.

"Grandma"

Here goes: I searched for kid-friendly grandma and balloons clipart.  I just googled it and found some that I liked.  I saved them, and then put the grandma pic in the center of a Word document.  I inserted a dashed line down the middle of the page.  I put the pics of the balloons on separate pages, so the students actually started with a page with only grandma and then a separate page with balloons.  I like to talk them through the process and leaving the balloons for later helps with our discussion.

I give the students about 10 minutes to color their grandma (helps with the management since they just HAVE to color her), and then we get down to business.  We then add Narrative and Expository labels at the top of each side of the page.  We talk about how grandma represents our topic.  I choose grandma because all students have some experience with a grandma, whether their own or someone else’s.  You see, the topic can be the same for both types of writing–it’s how the piece is written that makes the difference.  We notice how she appears on both sides of the page because of this.  We then label her as, “topic.”

Then we fold our page down the dashed line and talk about one side at a time (hence the lighting in the picture).  We start with narrative which is most familiar to them.  Narrative writing is when we tell stories from our hearts about a time we did something.  We use our Writer’s Tools to tell a story in the order that it happens.  In narrative, order matters!  I refer to the story of the 3 little pigs.  It just wouldn’t make sense or be the same story if the wolf visited the third pig’s house first.  It would change the whole outcome of the story, thus proving that order matters!  We discuss other stories and even refer to their own stories and think about how the stories only make sense in order.

Next we cut out and glue the cluster of balloons in her hands and label them one through five.  This represents the paragraphs that happen–yep–in order.  We put our own ribbons on the balloons and attach them to her hands.

Last, we add our sentences to the side that remind us of our purpose for narrative writing.

When we have finished with the narrative side, we flip our paper over and begin our discussion about expository writing.  This type of writing is not a story.  Instead, we are required to explain our beliefs on something and give reasons why we believe it.  In expository writing, order doesn’t matter.  We discuss various topics and give reasons why we believe what we believe, flip the reasons around, and then talk about how the reasons don’t have a specific order–unless you have a spectacular reason (like why you just can’t do your homework) that you want to save for the “grand finale,” as one of my students mentioned.  But overall, the order of your reasons really doesn’t matter.

We then cut out and glue the one balloon onto the paper and label it with “central topic” and “WHY?”  This represents the main idea of our paper and the purpose for writing.  We draw only one ribbon from the balloon to grandma’s hand and put flags on it with our Writer’s Tools.  Those tools help us to explain our beliefs and make our papers longer and coherent.

When finished, we add our sentences to the side that remind us of our purpose for expository writing.

It is very detailed and takes lots of time, but the students really respond to it, especially when you tell them that they will be required to add to a final discussion about the similarities and differences of these two types of writing!

Hopefully this makes sense to you.  It makes sense to us.  Please feel free to ask questions if you have them!

What do you do to help your students with this?  Leave a comment with your ideas!!  🙂

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Peek At My Week

Last week was an awesome week!  If you’ve been following along, you know that my students just really learned a lot last week.  Those light bulbs were going off and my students were actually THINKING!  Ya gotta love that! 🙂

Peek at My Week

My week this coming week is going to be another great week!  Here’s what we have on the agenda:

In Writing:  Monday we will write letters to veterans, thanking them for their service and time spent away from friends and family.  After that, it’s back to the grind with a new expository piece.  We are writing about our most prized possessions this time around.  We have already planned it out and written our kernel essays, so the next steps are putting it into a flipbook, choosing icons, and then drafting our piece.  Oh, and at the end of the week we will be discussing schesis onomaton (a big fancy word for renaming).  Come back to see some final copies!  (I’ll be posting some expository pieces from our first attempt pretty soon)

In Math: This week is a time to put our skills to the test with related data sets (aka: tables).  Since we have our first district benchmark next week, the end of this week will succumb to review of all that the students have learned this year, with a focus on multiplication and division with word problems.  Another week requiring loads of thinking!

In Social Studies: We will be discussing the impacts of Stephen F. Austin and Martin DeLeon on the settlement of Texas.

It’s another jam-packed week, and I’m praying that we have time to squish it all in!  I’m excited for what this week has in store for us!

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Gretchen Bernabei’s 11-Minute Essay (In 9 minutes)

Earlier this week, I challenged my students with the 11-minute essay that Gretchen Bernabei uses with her students…only we did ours in 9 minutes.  The text structure she uses is this: Truism–>How this is true in a book or personal life–>How this is true in a move or TV show–>How this is true in history–>What I think or wonder.  Because 4th graders don’t know all that much about history (and because our truism was about pets), I omitted the paragraph about how it’s true in history.

The students were excited about this challenge I set forth for them.  I gave them 1 minute for paragraph 1, 3 minutes for paragraph 2, 3 minutes for paragraph 3, and then 2 minutes for the final paragraph.  The truism they were expected to write about was: Pets are an important part of a family.

Considering this was their first attempt, I thought it went extremely well.  Were they perfect?  No.  Will they EVER be?  No.  But this was an eye-opener for them (and for me, too)!  When they were finished, I told them that they had just written an expository essay in 9 minutes.  The looks on their faces was priceless!  They were so darn proud of themselves, beaming from ear to ear!

Curious about how they did?   Click here to see a sample of what they wrote.  😉

This has been an amazing week in writing.  Here’s to hoping it continues!!

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Expository Writing: Gretchen Bernabei Style

My class has officially started their expository writing pieces. This is very new to them, so we are taking it slowly. Thank goodness for Gretchen Bernabei! She makes it so much more fun, interesting, and easier for these little people to understand!

We began by brainstorming people we admire. I told my students that this person could be a friend, family member, singer, entertainer, sports star, or anyone they like or look up to. They had to understand that admire doesn’t mean that you like them in a romantic way because they automatically think of a secret admirer. Haha.

Then I gave them a planning sheet from Gretchen’s resources. Hers was just drawn out on paper, but my OCD wanted needed it to be typed up, so I spent about 45 minutes perfecting it (to my standards) on the computer. I handed them out, and we filled in our topic and text structure. Before I knew about this amazing woman, my explanation if expository writing was pretty lame…and the students’ writing showed it. That’s not to say it was bad, but it definitely was NOT to the level it is now. The text structures she has developed has raised the level of their writing tremendously!

After that, we came up with our kernel essay about our peeps. When you see the text structure we used, you’ll see that it wasn’t easy, but it made them really think! And that’s what we’re going for, right? 😉

From that kernel essay, I told them to find at least three people who would listen to them read their kernel essay. The listeners were required to ask two questions about their kernel essay. They wrote the questions down in the box, and tomorrow they will use sticky notes to answer those questions. These sticky notes will go in the flip books they have created. This will help them fill out their paragraphs with valuable information that readers want to know.

When we finished the questions, we thought about where that information should appear within the writing. We put paragraph numbers beside each question to be sure the information arrives at the correct destination. Again–extending their thinking.

This is as far as we have gotten. I’m looking forward to reading what they write. I have a training tomorrow, but I know they will be in good hands with my student teacher. I can’t wait to read them on Wednesday!

Below you will find pictures of two planning pages and two kernel essays written on their flip books.

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I have uploaded the planning page to the Writer’s Workshop page here on my blog. It’s the last resource listed under Gretchen’s resources.

What do you do to help your students understand expository writing?

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