Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Turning facts into scenes - Nonfiction writing

My third graders are working on writing nonfiction. One skill that my students struggle with is elaboration.  So, I began searching through my professional resources that might guide my instruction in order to strengthen my students writing. 
Georgia Heard's book, Finding the Heart of Nonfiction is a great resource.

Two pieces of advice that Heard gave in this book were: 
  • Turning Facts into Scenes - Writing with Imagery
  • Precise Language - Concrete Nouns and Active Verbs
I've always found that first I have to experience the process before I can guide my students. A topic that my students are familiar with around our area in Michigan is white tailed deer.  One technique that Georgia Heard suggested is to take a fact bit from an encyclopedia definition and transform it into a more descriptive passage that paints a vision for the reader instead of regurgitating facts.

My attempt:

Wikepedia Definition:
White-tailed deer typically respond to the presence of potential predators by breathing very heavily (also called blowing) and fleeing. When they blow, the sound alerts other deer in the area. As they run, the flash of their white tails warns other deer. This especially serves to warns fawns when their mother is alarmed

Prompting Questions:  What pictures do you see in your mind?  What are the facts that you need to weave into the passage?  What concrete nouns or active verbs can you use that is precise?

My Model:
The white-tailed deer nibbles on the tall grass in the open field, her spotted fawn is curled up hidden on the edge of the field where the forest begins.  She twitches her tail, swatting at the flies trying to land on her back.  Occasionally the doe lifts her head, staring off in the horizon, motionless except the rotation of her large ears. Satisfied she drops her head, grabbing a mouthful of green grass until something catches her attention.  Her deep breaths, blowing, signals to the other white-tail deer who also pop their heads up.  The mother makes a quick decision to bound across the grassy field away from the forest, away from her baby.  With her long strides she leaps through the air.  A flash of her white tail pointing straight in the air waving like a white surrender flag warning other deer that may be also unaware that a predator could be lurking nearby. 

When I do this lesson with my students I will show my model and then give them a portion of a definition, highlight the facts and then brainstorm some concrete nouns or active verbs to fit the description.  Give them time to draft a descriptive paragraph and then share a few.  Hopefully they can use this when they write their own nonfiction pieces.


  1. It is always good to play out the whole scenario before teaching anything, and a writing process lesson is really helpful. When they can both see you writing and see the results of your writing, they always get a much better understanding. Teaching is about showing and doing. It would be fun to hear the results of the actual lesson now!

  2. It sounds like you had a productive snow day! This seems like a great lesson idea! Good luck - I hope it goes well!

  3. Sounds great. I love your model and you can feel free to just skip on down to my room to do this with my kiddos too! ;)

  4. AWESOME!! I teach 3rd grade and in 3 weeks we are starting our nonfiction writing unit. I am so glad to meet you in this writing challenge. Know that I may use your writing as mentor text in my unit!! Thanks in advance for teaching my writing students in VA too!!