Ever wondered how sticky notes were invented? Or how to differentiate between cannonballs? Or wanted to know more about everyone’s favorite form of capitalism: Monopoly?
Ever wondered how sticky notes were invented? Or how to differentiate between cannonballs? Or wanted to know more about everyone’s favorite form of capitalism: Monopoly? These were thoughts shared by the 5th graders Charlotte, Owen, and Raphael in Mr. Myers’ class, who decided to answer these questions in their write-ups for their writing unit on feature articles.
Charlotte’s writeup today came to her after she looked at her desk and decided to write about the most straightforward thing she could think about: a pile of sticky notes. Although she scrapped her original idea of writing about African clay pots, she hopes she can one day write about it, whether as an assignment or not. While developing her piece, the budding author quickly realized how critical visual elements are to an article, as well as having a subtitle that can match the energy of a catchy title. It’s easy to see this in her work, with its bright images, vibrant colors, and small yet significant detail in her title.
When asked if she wants to become an author, she responds with a small “Maybe,” but quickly follows up with her reasoning. She’s creative, imaginative, and loves fiction–qualities she believes will help her if she decides to write a book someday.
Owen and Charlotte, featuring their work
“People usually read [feature articles] for entertainment, so it should have enough humor to keep them interested.”
Owen, Grade 5 Student
Owen, the class’ resident watercraft enthusiast, found his topic quite quickly: why not write about something that interests you?
This isn’t his first time writing about battleships. In first grade, he wrote a book about torpedoes and hopes to write realistic fiction featuring watercraft in the future, either for an assignment or as an author. When reflecting on how writing assignments have changed since he penned his story in first grade, he believes that over time more structure has been gradually added to these assignments, and you get to learn a little bit more about the rules and twists in writing. This time, Owen learned that feature articles shouldn’t be severe: “People usually read [feature articles] for entertainment, so it should have enough humor to keep them interested.”
Raphael discovered the joys of research through this unit due to the extensive fact-finding he had to do for his writeup on Monopoly. The ominously titled ‘The Dark Journey’ is a writeup filled with facts you probably didn’t know about your favorite board game to flip over at a family dinner, fitted into small boxes. Raphael got his inspiration for fitting his research into small ‘bite-sized’ packets from his friend Adam’s project, which has a similar style. As for the title, he said it came to him in two parts: ‘Dark’ because of the facts he discovered that he realized would be unknown information to many, and “Journey” because ultimately, the game Monopoly, is one long journey. From the process: he learned that he really enjoyed two things when it came to writing feature articles: designing the layout for your writeup, and researching the content. With these newfound skills, the game enthusiast wants to write more about his favorite hobbies, but not another board game: “I’d love to write about video games, like the ones I play on my console!”
Raphael, and the wall outside his classroom.
At the Upper Primary, standards dictate much of what students do in the classroom. In regards to course materials, each year students are tasked with writing fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Then teachers work together to ensure that the units do not repeat across grade levels. This collaboration then creates an intricately planned out curriculum calendar.
The Feature Article unit is just one part of the larger writer’s workshop in the Upper Primary. For Mr. Myers, the aim is to learn a pattern of writing and exploration that enables students to succeed. For example, if a student needs to write a letter to an editor they are able to map out the steps to achieving that by reading examples and taking note of what they can incorporate. The goal is create habits so that when they are confronted with writing a new genre, they have a flexible system to fall back on.
Furthermore, Mr Myers pointed out that “the big change for them [fifth graders] is that they have a lot more independence in how they use the authoring cycle.” This means that students are given the freedom to go back and forth between different steps like reading mentor texts for inspiration or looking back at their rubric to edit their drafts. In addition, students also learn to analyse a genre of writing. With the feature article, students started by reading mentor texts and making their own observation about the creative titles, subtitles, and introductions. When choosing their own topics, Mr. Myers also pushed them to start writing about more specific subjects. Mr. Myers describes the evolution of the writers workshop as “earlier on it’s a lot more hand holding and helping kids and (being) more structured. Further on, it becomes more open ended with more choice with topics and (students are encouraged to) write in a genre based on their exposure to it through mentor texts.”
The Feature Article unit serves as just one stepping stone in the students' journey to becoming skilled, passionate, and diverse writers.
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