Category Archives: Non-Fiction Writing

Research Skills

When asked about students and researching, most teachers feel that students are often lost when they begin researching online. It can be overwhelming for students, struggling to pick a topic, refining their search using keywords, or choosing valid reliable websites. It is important that teachers give students the tools they need to become critical thinkers as they search the vast web.

Probably the easiest thing to do is explain the terminology.  I am always amazed how many students and teachers, do not understand the difference between a browser and a search engine, or even what is a URL.  Students need to know that domain name in an URL can tell them so much about the owner of a site.

Before students begin research, do a general research on a topic to help students come up with key ideas or key words they could use in their search.  Use general reference sites such as WikipediSimpleWikipedia, or Wolframalpha,

It is important to ask the students to think about: Who created the site? What information is relevant, and reliable? When was the information posted? Why was the information published? Show the students a variety of different sites which are posted for fun.   I definitely like talking to students about tree octopus or flying penguins.  Use Wikipedi to show students that the sites were created for fun.

Try this fun activity

WebSitesstudent

When students are using search engines, talk to them about using key words, (“”),  (-), or  (*) if they are unsure of a word. Using the term “for kids” also refines the search for students.   If they are looking for a specific file then adding filetype:pdf to their search will limit the results to pdf only.  Substitute doc, ppt for pdf if looking for document or PowerPoint. Searching for pdf’s really is valuable for those students who have no access to internet at home.

The Google search engine has a variety of ways to narrow the search.  Try limiting search by choosing Search Tools. Search Country, Time.  Or change to “Request Desktop Site” and choose advance search and filter out words.

When you send your students off to research, make their initial researches successful by chunking the research for them.  One of our WWP teachers, (thanks Melissa) developed daily learning goals the students had to research.  Over the period of the research they collected these facts, and then were asked to present their research in a product of their choice.

Give the students choice in how to present their research and you will find that students are more willing to complete the research when they feel they have ownership for the project.

Creating Fictional Origins of Idioms

Idioms and jargons are used everyday in our lives. We know that for our EL Learners and a lot of students in our classes, idioms and jargon can be difficult.  As a literary device, idioms are extremely effective and add to “style” of writing.  Idioms are colourful, personal and vivid.   I could describe our WWP project as an effective or as a well oiled machine.  In order to have students use and understand we need to explore idioms for all our learners.

Exploring the literal  meaning of an idioms is fun and allows students to be creative with pen and pencil, or specifically with an app (Pic Collage, Explain Everything, Drawing Box etc) .fullsizerender

Years ago, students and I watched a funny podcasts from Animal Planet called Animal Crackers.  In this podcast actors portrayed two fictional and one historical story of where specific idioms originated.

Podcast

After watching one podcast an activity would be to challenge the students to create a similar type of media presentation.

  1. They could research meaning and origin of an idiom. 
  2. Create a literal and actual visual representation of idiom (as above)
  3. Create a script for two fictional origins and true origin. (Pages or Doc)
  4. Use another App to illustrate
  • Explain Everything
  • Bookcreator
  • iMovie
  • StopMotion
  • Scratch Junior

Creating Comics on your iPad

Comics are very powerful pieces of writing.  Students enjoy reading and creating comics. Two apps on the iPad,, Comic Life and BookCreator, allow students to create their own comics. ComicLifeSample

One of the best ways to engage your students in a story writing dialogue activity, is to use Comics.   What better way is there to show how writing dialogue needs to appropriate, clear and effective?  If their characters’ dialogue does not drive the plot, then the audience cannot follow their story.

Students can use Comic Life or BookCreator  to display their understanding of any topic in their non-fiction writing:

  1. Autobiographies or Biographies
  2. Speech Plan
  3. Instructional/Procedural Write
  4. Travel Guide
  5. Poster

Comic Life and BookCreator have many unique comic features and the purpose for using these features needs to be explained to students.

  1. Panels and Pages
    • a panel is like a paragraph, with one main idea
    • size of panel shows time and importance
    • we read panels left to right, top to bottom
  2. Pictures
    • Background
      • shows us setting
      • develops mood
    • Foreground
      • Characters and important objects
  3. Text Features
    • Captions
      • carries the narrative of the story
      • tells us about setting
      • explains what happens between panels
    • Speech and Thought Bubble
      • displays characteristic of characters
      • Is often the core text feature, giving the most information
    • Lettering
      • Onomatopeias
      • Title
You can also have students explore App Smashing by:
  1. Adding themselves as characters on a background in PicCollage
  2. In Drawing Box, create their own drawings and add to their comic
  3. Create their own characters in Avatar Creator

Here is student instructions for using Comic Life

ComicLifeiPad

and Comics in BookCreator

BookCreatorComics

Using Book Creator to Explore Non-Fiction Text Features

Before you have students create a non-fiction book in Book Creator, you must explore the features in a non-fiction piece.

Text features in a non-fiction piece of writing, is like story elements in a fiction piece of writing.  Just like you need to teach students about characters, setting, problem, plot and resolution before writing stories, you must also teach students about specific features of non-fiction writing.

These feature are there to help the reader make sense of what is written.

Features include and are not limited to:

  1. HeadingsText Features 1
    • Helps to know what the text topic is about and help make predictions.

  2. Timeline
    • Helps determine the time an event happens.

  3. Labels
    • Helps identify a picture or photograph, and/or its parts.

  4. Photographs
    • Helps understand exactly what something looks like.

  5. Captions
    • Helps better understand a picture or photograph.

  6. Comparisons
    • Helps understand the size of something by comparing it to the size of something familiar.

  7. Cut Aways/Cross Sections
    • Helps understand something by looking at it from the inside.

  8. MapsText Features 2
    • Helps understand where things are in the world.

  9. Types of Print
    • Helps by signalling, “Look at me! I’m important!”

  10. Close-ups
    • Helps seeing details in something small.

  11. Graphs
    • Helps in a visual way so that it is more easily understood by readers.

  12. Charts or Tables
    • Helps by giving information in a visual way so that it is quicker and easier to read.

  13. Diagrams
    • Helps with a drawing  of the parts of something.

  14. Indexes
    • Helps with an alphabetical list of most everything covered in the text, with page numbers.

  15. Table of Contents
    • Helps identify key topics in the order they are presented.

  16. Glossaries
    • Helps define words found in the text.