Teaching the two sides of writing is the essential piece in your ELA instruction. First and foremost, kids must understand structures of fiction and nonfiction writing. Fiction writing uses a story arc. Nonfiction writing is built like a hamburger. Once they know this, their reading and writing improve.
Teaching the Two Sides of Writing
When you’re ready for teaching the two sides of writing, just stretch your arms out wide. On the right, you have your expressive side. On the left, it’s informative. The right side generally uses a story arc. The left has the look and feel of a hamburger.
Of course, some forms of writing don’t fall on either side of the continuum. For example, personal narratives fall somewhere in between, and persuasive writing can be expressive. Discussing each piece of reading and writing in your classroom will help kids understand the gray areas.
When Kids Read
Before reading, train kids to ask, “Which side of writing is this?”
If it’s the fiction side, they should expect a story arc. The beginning will introduce the setting and characters. Soon after this, the character’s goal or motivation will be established. As the character tries to reach the goal, obstacles will get in the way. The character struggles along; this is rising action. When the goal is met (or not), we reach the most exciting part of the story, the climax. After that, the action falls, and the plot is resolved.
How helpful is this for finding answers in text? If kids want information about the characters or setting, they should start at the beginning of the story. For the character’s goal, look just after the beginning. When you need to know what problems the character faced, look in the middle. Answers are easy to find because the plot is predictable.
To summarize, kids just need the main parts of the story arc.
- Write a sentence to explain the characters and setting. A dog was crossing a bridge.
- Explain the goal. He was carrying a bone home to bury it.
- Tell the obstacle. Looking down, he saw a dog carrying a larger bone.
- Express the climax. As he opened his mouth to grab the bigger bone, his bone fell into the water.
- Provide the resolution. The poor dog now had no bone.
Look at the way the character reacted to obstacles to find the theme. In this case, the dog tried to grab a bigger bone. This shows that he was greedy. Kids will quickly see that the moral is “Don’t be greedy.” The theme of “greed” can be taken away.
If the text is on the nonfiction side, kids should expect a hamburger. The first paragraph is generally introductory, but it many times includes the main idea. The following paragraphs support the main idea with details. Each of those paragraphs likely has a topic sentence, which expresses the main idea of that paragraph and states one key supporting detail. The final paragraph is really important. It almost always has a thesis statement, which clearly expresses the main idea. The conclusion may also list all of the supporting details.
Knowing this structure will help kids answer questions. To find the main idea, look in the first and last paragraphs. Details can be found in the middle. To summarize, students should include the main idea and key supporting details. Drawing a stool like this can help.
When Kids Write
Teaching the two sides of writing improves writing too. Before beginning a piece, stretch out your arms and help kids figure out where it should fall.
The Fiction Side
Yes, this piece should use a story arc. Kids will write the exposition first. This introduces characters and setting. Then they’ll divulge the character’s goal and set them in action to achieve it. Of course, obstacles are expected. This builds tension, which all high quality stories have. Finally, at the climax, the goal will be met (or not met). The story quickly wraps up with a resolution.
Knowing that a piece is on the narrative side also tells kids that they should be expressive and use dialogue. Using sensory language will help their audience experience the story. Sprinkling in figurative language will help them connect to personal experiences. Dialogue also plops the audience in midst of the story, as well as building knowledge of characters and their motivations.
The Nonfiction Side
For this piece, kids should build a hamburger. In the top bun, they’ll introduce the topic and express the main idea. Each hamburger patty will provide a key support and elaborate to give more information. The bottom bun will restate the key supports and the main idea.
Since it’s on the informative side, this piece should be factual (or at least supported by facts). Language and tone are generally more serious, specific, or even technical. Unless the piece is opinion-based, children should not use “I” or “you.”
Why not begin your school year teaching the two sides of writing? Just stretch your arms out wide. Explain that fiction is on the right and nonfiction is on the left. As the year goes on, add all sorts of terminology to both sides. Kids will soon be talking like writers and reading like pros.
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