Writing informational text: Scaffolding our instruction

Do you work on writing with upper elementary students? If not writing, how about improving students’ abilities to describe, compare and contrast, or sequence information? Thought so. The authors of this study developed an intervention that addresses these skills that you need to write informational texta pretty complex task when you stop and think about it

Informational text writing requires students to read some sort of source material, connect the content with their background knowledge, organize their thoughts, and then write about it. What’s novel about the authors’ approach is bypassing the source material altogether. Struggling 4th and 5th grade writers (likely to also struggle with reading) read a condensed information set—called an “information frame”—rather than an entire excerpt or passage. For example, an information frame could look like this:

Copy of Structure_ SD (simple description) Topic_ Baseball Characteristics%2FFacts_ Sport played outside on a field Nicknamed “America’s Pasttime” Nine players play defense at a time One player bats at a time Players u.png

Next, students learned a set of strategies:

  • Pick your idea

  • Organize your notes

  • Write

  • Review

… which they applied when writing passages that were 1) descriptive, 2) compared and contrasted information, or 3) sequenced information. Students who received the intervention made gains in each of these informational writing areas at posttest—not bad for only 6 hours of intervention time. The appendices include a sample prompt and scoring rubric if you’d like to get a feel for the writing tasks. 

Although this particular intervention needs additional research, the ideas behind it make a lot of sense for writing instruction. Reducing the cognitive load (i.e., requiring that students read less material) allows space for focusing on writing, especially planning, organizing, reviewing, and revising. Since writing skills can be challenging for us to teach and for our students to learn, this article is worth a look for ideas on how to scaffold your instruction.

 

Hebert, M., Bohaty, J. J., Nelson, J. R., & Roehling, J. V. (2018). Writing Informational Text Using Provided Information and Text Structures: An Intervention for Upper Elementary Struggling Writers. Reading and Writing. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1007/s11145-018-9831-x