African Animals Project. Teacher Kristen Nordstrom begins mini lessons with her first graders on their African animal reports. Published author Alexis O'Neill visits to share her research and writing process. Students use a variety of sources to research their chosen animals. Students share drafts in small groups. Students read revisions. Final projects are placed on display.
On August 22, Kristen Nordstrom and I conducted a workshop for teachers in the Conejo Unified School District called, “Amazing Transformations: Helping Students Turn Informational Reports into Narrative Nonfiction” a blending of Common Core, common sense, and creativity into a successful approach to informational writing for grades 1-3.
We showed how a published author (that would be me!) and a first grade teacher (that would be Kristen!) worked together to help kids as young as first grade make their reports “pop” using narrative techniques to engage readers.
To see a short film about this featuring the young writers, go my blog post entry for July 14, 2014. (Also, Blog posts on 5/31/14 and 6/18/14 have additional information.
Here are samples of how her first graders incorporated rich language and images in the openings of their informational reports:
Animal Reports with Reader-Engaging Openings
Topic Sentences with a Twist
Elephants are scuba divers! They use their trunks as snorkels to breathe underwater. Elephants are also the biggest land animals in the world.
CHIMPS ARE AWESOME!
Chimpanzees are very smart primates. Each night they build large nests in trees. These nests keep them safe from predators. Chimps are so smart they use tools to get food. They crush nuts with rocks and catch termites with sticks.
Chimpanzees are strong apes. Do you know what they might do at night? Take over another chimp’s territory! Chimps get their community ready to raid the rival group.
Grab ‘em with a Question
Do you know a cow that doesn’t moo and has gigantic ears? Give up? The answer is a female adult elephant. Females start to have calves when they are 12 years old, and are pregnant for 22 months.
LIONS, LIONS, ROAR EVERYWHERE!
What African cat is a strong and brave hunter? Need another clue? This animal’s roar can be heard 5 miles away. It is an African Lion.
Did you know that chimps are very smart? They use tools to eat termites and large rocks to crush nuts. Chimps use their five-fingered toes and hands to eat, build nests, and climb trees.
Nonfiction Narrative Opening
On the savanna in Africa, with tall yellow grass all around, one male cheetah is sprinting towards a gazelle. Suddenly, three fast male lions and two loud hyenas, sprint past the racing cheetah and catch the gazelle.
A cheetah family, a mother and her cubs, are eating a freshly-caught gazelle in the hot African sun on the savanna. Suddenly, a big male lion comes up to the cheetahs and takes the gazelle they are eating. The cheetahs make a loud hiss and hump their backs aggressively, but the strong lion takes their food without a fight. Cheetahs are interesting animals to watch and learn about.
If first graders can do this, your kids (and you) can do it too!
Alexis loves to play with words and find out more about how the world works. The result so far? Picture books for kids and nonfiction articles in kids' magazines. And she's working on many more writing projects, too!