Ask Moving Writers: Information Writing That’s NOT “The Research Paper”

AMW Karla (1)

Dear Larken,

On a recent trip back from Texas, we sat behind a couple of teenagers who were having the most incredibly mature, well-rounded, rich conversation about everything from politics to travel to education. As the plane prepared to land, and their conversation came to a close, the 15-year-old boy said to his new plane mate: All education needs to do is teach kids to love learning.

Our hearts leapt out of our chests and sunk at the same time. This statement was so hopeful and profound and somehow freeing, yet it also implied a failure on our part as educators…

How do we teach kids to love learning?

In three words: keep it real.

Make it authentic.

Less like school.

More like life. Continue reading


On Teaching a Genre You Know Nothing About (or: an Infographic Study!)

Sometimes, no matter how good our routine, we need to shake it up. This is true in exercise; our muscles and our minds need to be surprised occasionally with a new move in order to achieve maximum results. It’s also true in writing.  And it’s true in teaching. Sometimes the very thing we need to wake up and recharge our teacher brain is to try something new, experimental, and a little bit unknown.

When my seniors recently finished studying the poetry of Wilfred Owen, none of us could face another essay, no matter how authentic or rooted in the real world of writing. They needed something else — something to re-ignite their brains, something to force new synapses to fire, something to nudge them to view literature with fresh eyes.

So, rather than writing a big paper, I assigned a genre I had never taught and knew little about — infographics!

There are so many good reasons to try infographics — they are beautiful, accessible, offer great opportunities for collaborative work, access different parts of our students’ brains. Best of all, infographic are a very authentic product of real world design and writing. As my students said, “Oh, these are everywhere!”  And they are! Open up a new tab, search “Infographics”, and you’ll see oodles.

But this was pretty terrifying to me. I am neither artistic nor extremely visual. I have no graphic design experience, and although I can tell you when an infographic is attractive and clear, I don’t really know how to define those things or tell students how to achieve them. Allison has bravely taught infographics before, so I relied heavily on her wisdom and pep talks to get me through.

Even with Allison’s help and advice, I was still nervous. Nervous like I used to be before every writing study. Nervous like I used to be before I even jumped into writing workshop — what if students asked me questions I couldn’t answer? What if I couldn’t help them? What if the products were disastrous?

Here’s what I decided: to approach the study with honesty and optimism. I confessed to my students that I didn’t know a lot about creating infographics, but we would figure it out together.

The Assignment
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Building Writing through Independent Reading Projects – a Follow-Up

In January, I reviewed Dan Feigelson’s Reading Projects Reimagined, and I was on fire! I couldn’t wait to take the brilliant-yet-simple idea of inviting students to track an idea of personal interest throughout a book. No more prescribed annotations! No more end-of-chapter questions! No more herding students into tightly-constructed pens of thought built on what I think is significant!

Especially with a book like The Catcher in the Rye, the whole-class novel my ninth graders were about to tackle.

I’ll tell you the end of this story upfront: independent reading projects were a huge success. I’m never going back to what I was doing before.

Here’s the rest of the story and how we walked through the first independent reading project together (chock full of goodies from my classroom for yours!):

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Mentor Text Wednesdays: Infographics!


Mentor Text: See Learnist board 

Genre-Based Workshop: Infographics

Technique-Based Workshop: Using visuals as evidence in writing

Background: We usually study mentor texts in isolation, but sometimes it can be useful to show students a group, or cluster, of mentor texts all at once.

Studying a group of genre-specific mentor texts helps students identify the traits of that genre. Studying a group of craft-specific mentor texts help students understand how certain techniques work across a variety of genres. Rebekah recently wrote about using a cluster of mentor texts to think about purpose and audience.

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