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Friday, June 28, 2013

Common Core Writing Standard 2

Today's topic is informative/explanatory writing. College and Career Readiness Anchor Standard for Writing 2 (CCRA.W.2) states: "Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content."

What are third, fourth, and fifth graders required to do in regard to this standard? The main standard for all three grades asks them to "write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly." Expectations, however, vary from grade to grade.

  • Third Grade - When writing informative pieces, third graders are asked to write an introduction; "develop the topic with facts, definitions, and details;" group information logically and use linking words; write a conclusion; and include supporting illustrations. 
  • Fourth Grade - In fourth grade, students are expected to write an introduction; "develop the topic with facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations," etc; organize information in paragraphs and sections; use linking words and phrases; "include formatting (e.g. headings), illustrations, and multimedia;" employ precise/domain-specific vocabulary; and write a conclusion.
  • Fifth Grade - Expectations for fifth grade are similar to fourth but also include "a general observation and focus" (which means thesis to me) and use of linking clauses.
The Common Core spells it out clearly: by fourth grade, students must be able to write informative pieces with multiple paragraphs. Of course, traditional research papers are not the only type of informative writing. In my class, for example, students read a full-length biography and several primary and secondary sources on one person who has made a difference in the world. Each student creates a timeline of important events in the person's life then further synthesizes the information into a first-person narrative. For another project, students explore an issue before our state's General Assembly, and the end product is a persuasive letter (full of information) to a member of Congress. Although these creative and blended writing projects are wonderful, I hold firmly to the belief that each student should produce a formal research paper at least once each year.

When researching, even young children need to think about the reliability of the sources they choose. I like using the "C.A.R.S. Checklist for Evaluating Internet Sources," which originated at It asks kids to look at credibility (C), accuracy (A), reasonableness (R), and support (S). Using this checklist helps kids find the most reliable information.

How should students organize this information? It seems that note cards have gone the way of the dodo bird. I, however, still see value in them. Since fourth graders tend to lose note cards, I began using note sheets like this:

It takes a little work up front, but preparing note sheets helps my students with organization and topic development. Although students could simply use these sheets to draft their papers, I want my students to know what an outline is and how to use it. For their first research paper, I prepare an outline that matches the note sheets and have them simply transfer the information to a different format. This paves the way for organizing information into paragraphs and writing topic sentences.

I find it ironic that the Common Core insists upon citing and quoting when answering questions but makes no mention of it in the informational writing section. No matter, I ask my students to do it anyway. A simplified works cited protocol gets fourth graders started with the process. This gets them used to locating author, title, publisher, etc. in print and digital sources.

The examples above came from my "Animal Research Packet" ($5 at my Teachers pay Teachers store). I have also found that research writing is a great way to differentiate for high ability students. This free product provides some ideas for younger students:

Looking for resources and ideas for informative writing in your classroom? Here are a few additional sources:
"My Hometown" from K12Reader
"Rules of the Game" from K12 Reader

I'd love to hear your ideas and/or opinions about informative writing for middle grade students. Feel free to comment below.