4th Graders Negotiating Informational Text for Learning

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Conversations to organize comparisons

Student conversation about informational text: Yellowstone Park and Yosemite National Park

Common Core RI.4.9

Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.

Last spring, I worked with teachers to develop a better understanding of how to develop comparison and contrast skills in elementary readers and writers. A few weeks ago, Illinois principal Susan Grzanich tweeted out an image showing how her teachers reinvented the flat graphic organizer I had introduced to make it alive and interactive on the wall. How exciting! The students were having conversations around text and organizing their thinking as they talked.

Principal Grzanich went one step further—she asked fourth grade teacher, Lindsey Welsh, to share her practice with me so that I could share that practice with you, my readers. Here is what Lindsay explained:

“I spread the lesson out over two days. On one day, students read a short informational text article on Yosemite National Park. The next day, they read a magazine article about Yellowstone National Park. We then used the chart to compare and contrast these two articles. Students had never used this chart before, but they picked up on it quickly. We compared information within the article, as well as text features of both articles. The chart was easy for the students to understand and helped them stay organized.

“At the end of the week, I gave students an option: they could either write a comparative written response for their weekly reading test OR write a comparative written response over the national parks. Over half of them chose to write about the parks. And the writing was very well organized! Their thoughts were based on textual evidence and their ideas flowed clearly and smoothly.”

As a teacher of teachers, I often do not have the opportunity to see how our professional development work transfers from conversations about teaching to actual instructional performance. And like any teacher, I appreciate hearing the stories and seeing the images of how my students make our learning come alive in their instruction.

Lindsey’s sharing went one step further. Below, you will see some of the early essays her fourth graders wrote. As I look at their work and consider the standards, I see how they are growing and I recognize the potential for their writing.

The writing sample at the  right is representative of many of the essays Lindsey shared with me. These texts demonstrate that the students are able to meet much of writing standard W.4.2: They introduce a topic clearly; they group related information in paragraphs and sections; they provide a concluding statement. Granted, as the year goes on, they could begin to craft more developed introductions and conclusions: W.4.2D: Provide a concluding statement or section related to the information or explanation presented. However in light of the time, several days early in the school year, these essays also showed many if not most students were beginning to meet several aspects of W.4.2, including their ability to develop the topic with facts and domain specific vocabulary (hotsprings and mudpots), evidence of W.4.2D. Where might the teacher ask students to further develop writing with definitions or  concrete details?


Comparison 3 At the left is an example of one student’s attempt to craft a side by side comparison. First, the author looks at the different kinds of bears in each park, then at their  size, and finally by their spelling. The block comparison is a much easier format or structure for third and  fourth graders to apply in writing, especially at the beginning of the  year when they are first learning the structures of formal informational writing. the right is a block comparison. The author sets out to tell us first what the two parks have in common, and then, in a separate paragraph sets  out to explain what is different about each park. however, what I found striking in this example was the author’s use of linking words “but” and “although.” The Common Core Standards lists “but” as a third grade transition word (W.3.2C) and “although” as a fifth grade linking word (L.5.6). Comparison Essay 1

The third example is another strong example of a block comparison, this time focusing on the animals and landforms of Yosemite (rather than the similar and dissimilar) and then the animals and landforms of  Yellowstone. As in the first example, the author is attentive to the facts learned through reading the instructional texts. The organization is clearly representative of fourth grade standards. In this essay, I notice the author experimenting with punctuation–a teaching opportunity!


comparison 2The fourth sample is an interesting mix. The author is clearly attempting to craft a side by side or point-by-point comparison: first to write about  animals at each park with plans to  develop the landforms at each park. To a structural degree, the writer accomplishes the intent. On the other hand, s/he falls short of information to share with the reader.

In looking at these essays, the structure of the  comparison chart was indeed a helpful cognitive tool in both talking about and writing about multiple texts. Regardless of the writing sophistication, the students demonstrate an ability to integrate information from two texts to write knowledgeably–the primary goal of the lesson. Asking students to take talk and thought into writing is the  next logical step. Analyzing that writing further demonstrates their skill at constructing knowledge.

Next steps? You tell me. What would your next steps be with these essays?

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