Our Epic Nonfiction Project

I don’t share specific lessons on here often but this time I have to because this one has just made the last 6 weeks, yes 6 weeks, fly by. Not just for me either, most of my students that reported on their survey that they hate writing but love this project. So without further ado, let me tell you all about our rather epic nonfiction picture book project.

The goal of the project is rather simple; create a 30 to 50 page nonfiction picture book meant for a K or 1st grade audience on anything you wish. Throughout this project we have been able to successfully marry tech tools with writing, as well as using Skype, Twitter and other interactive tools.

Why this project? Because within it we have been able to work on:

  • How to take organized notes in a way that works for them.
  • How to write a paragraph and all of the myriads of lessons that are attached to that.
  • Grammar! Spelling! Punctuation!
  • How to find legal images.
  • How to cite sources, including images, books, and websites.
  • How to uncover reliable sources (yes, there is a place for Wikipedia in our research).
  • How to search the internet better.
  • How to conduct market research using Skype to ask K or 1st grade classrooms what they want to read and how they want to read it.
  • How to rewrite information in our words.
  • How to do design and layout on a page to make it inviting.
  • How to create good questions.
  • Exploring our own interests.
  • How to write assessment rubrics.

I had a hunch that it would be a success, but I didn’t know how much. Yet the conversations that have happened within our room have been incredible. The hush that falls over the room when 26 students are all intently researching, writing, and quietly conferring with me or friends have been amazing to witness. They get it. They know what their purpose is. They are writing an authentic piece for an authentic audience who not only is guiding them forward but will also be providing feedback once it is complete.

So a few details about the project:

  • This is a 6 week long project, anchored by a 10 or so minute mini-lessons every day and then work time the rest of class.
  • Mini-lessons have centered around how to take notes ( I showed them 3 different ways), how to research well, how to write paragraphs, how to rewrite information, and anything else we have had to address.
  • Students were able to ask questions to K and 1st grade classrooms via Skype to do market research, they are also asked to do a live interview with a child ages 5, 6, or 7 and incorporate that feedback into their project.
  • I reached out through Twitter and Edmodo to find classrooms that will assess the final product, they are asked to fill out this Google form with their feedback.
  • Students created their books in Google Presentations for easy access for all (we checked out Chromebooks), as well as easy design and layout.
  • To see all of my handouts and resources, go to my classroom’s English Resource Page where all the nuts and bolts can be found.

Why have we loved it so much?

  • Using Skype in a meaningful way to interview the audience we are writing for got the students on-board and excited right away.
  • Audience became an ongoing conversation and what we kept in the back of our mind throughout the process.
  • It allowed me to really dig in with each student through mini-conferences.
  • I was able to cover basic grammar over and over without the students finding it repetitive.
  • Students were in charge of their project starting with the choice of their topic to what they would write about.
  • It is an authentic project, not just being written for me.
  • Plagiarism is easily circumvented because students have to simplify the language of their research.
  • We were able to meaningfully collaborate between English and their Tech Tools class.
  • Students have been able to finish the project within English class if they spent their time wisely.
  • We were able to delve into nonfiction in an exciting way, students sometimes hate nonfiction because they find it boring, they forget how much of our life is surrounded by nonfiction and how much fun it can be.
  • And yes, it covers 4 of the 10 standards I have to cover which should never be the only reason we do something but is still a reality of my day-to-day.

Tomorrow they hand in their projects. They will present by having them run on Chromebooks and students doing a gallery walk, that way we can show off all of them within our 45 minutes. Then students will self-reflect as always and I will spend a lot of winter break poring over their hard work and assessing them. I can’t wait.

cross-posted at pernillesripp.com.

Pernille Ripp is the the author of Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students, creator of Global Read Aloud Project, and co-founder of EdCamp MadWI. She teaches fifth grade in Verona, Wisconsin, and blogs at http://pernillesripp.com.