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Read About Best Practices in 3-8 Reading and Writing Connections

Introduction/Overview

In this module, you’ll learn about the purpose of utilizing reading and writing connections in the various genres and content areas, strategies to target, and how to design and implement related mini-lessons, including the teacher's role, the student's role, scheduling concerns, and analyzing assessments for planning purposes.

Since we all benefit from studying models as we acquire new tasks, we can conclude that students will grow as writers by reading and analyzing texts written by professional authors. A student who is exposed to a wide variety of genres, topics, perspectives, and styles has a well-stocked toolbox from which to select when making personal writing decisions. Effective teachers help students:

  • discover the writing strategies used by particular authors to craft particular texts,
  • record the strategies in reading-response or content-area journals or on graphic organizers; and
  • use the same strategies to create their own pieces of writing.

The Teacher's Role

As students move through the grades and the stages of writing development, teachers plan and provide reading-writing connection mini-lessons in which to model and reinforce new writing strategies, skills, and behaviors. Explicit, effective instruction is based on frequent assessment of what students know and need to know and on the requirements of district and state grade-level standards.

The Student's Role

First, students must attend to the strategy work that is modeled and apply the demonstrations and think-alouds about reading-writing connections to their independent writing work. Next, students should be prepared to discuss the books they choose as models and how they utilize them in their writing during group sharing sessions and informal chats with the teacher and peers.


Genre and Content Connections

Below are possible genres to cover when planning reading-writing connection mini-lessons:

  • Narrative: fairy tales, folk tales, legends, fables, mysteries, science fiction, historical fiction, contemporary fiction, plays, short stories, memoirs, personal letters, journal entries, autobiographies, diaries, notes, poems
  • Procedural: recipes, maps, games, science experiments, math explorations, manuals, directions, instructions, how-to books
  • Expository: biographies, research projects, newspaper articles, Internet articles, magazine articles, encyclopedia entries, textbooks, technical notes, brochures
  • Persuasive: editorials, letters requesting aid or action, campaign posters, reviews, advertisements

Below are possible content-area topics students might explore in writing throughout the school year:

  • Math: word problems, symbols, graphs, charts, money, angles, sets, area, factors, formulas, operations, percentages, probability
  • Science: plants, astronomy, technology, food chains, light, oceans, machines, animals, inventions, flight, anatomy, energy, chemical changes, dinosaurs, drugs, magnetism, ecology, natural disasters, electricity, first aid, rocks, insects, microscopes
  • Social Studies: state history, branches of the government, economics, wars, world leaders, ancient civilizations, regions, holidays around the world, character development, explorers, presidents, continents, islands, careers, languages, the Constitution

Many students and teachers confine content-area writing to the expository or procedural genres. However, one key to successfully utilizing reading-writing connections is to mix and match topics and products. For example, writers can describe the food chain in a poem, create an advertisement for a particular character trait, or write a dollar bill's autobiography. Students who are given these types of choices in which to demonstrate both their acquired knowledge and their writing skills are much more likely to be excited about and engaged in the learning process.


Instructional Strategies for Reading-Writing Connections

Reading-writing connection mini-lessons include not only looking at writing strategies used by authors but also recording these strategies in a logical manner so they can be used as a resource. Following are descriptions of three effective recording devices: reading-response journals, content-area journals, and graphic organizers. As with any new procedure, spend plenty of time modeling and thinking aloud about how to set up and record the various types of information before expecting students to use these tools on their own.

Reading-Response Journals

A reading-response journal is a personal notebook in which readers record thoughts, ideas, questions, connections, and reflections about texts they have heard and read. For example, when working on reading-writing connections in fiction, students could explore and comment on one or more of the writing strategies used by an author to depict essential story elements, such as:

Characters

  • What relationships exist among the characters?
  • How do the characters change over time?
  • What do the characters value?

Setting

  • In what period of history does the story take place?
  • What social, cultural, or political issues particularly impact the characters?
  • In what other ways does the setting affect the story?

Plot

  • What is the problem in the story? What is the solution?
  • How does the story’s pacing vary from beginning to end?
  • What is theme of the story?

More formal sections in the reading-response journal on which to capture information about authors’ strategies could include Books I Have Read and Favorite Authors, utilizing the following formats:

Books I Have Read

Title and Author Genre Start/Finish Reflections
Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner Narrative Jan.1 to Jan.4 The plot is exciting, but the author uses lots of incomplete sentences, and not just in the dialogue. I don’t think that’s as acceptable today.
Conquering Mount Everest by Jackie Glassman Expository Jan.5 to Jan.7 On page 23, I like how the author uses a quote from a primary resource to make an important point.

Favorite Authors

Author Titles Strategy Notes
Jeri Cipriano Native Americans
 
Colonial Times
NA: She has pronunciation guides next to words that are hard to pronounce.
 
CT: On pages 23­–24 she has blurbs on famous people in colonial times.

Content-Area Journals

In a content-area journal, students record facts and details, text features, text structures, and personal responses to texts they read. Students should have separate journals for science, social studies, and math and should use their recorded observations about authors’ strategies as tools in their own writing. The following two forms can be utilized in the journals to help students pay special attention to the ways authors use text feature and structures to organize information:

Text Features

Title   Photos Labels

Captions

Diagrams

Maps
Table of Contents

Chapter Headings
Glossary

Index

Bold Wordsfont-family:
Sidebars

Text Breakers
Front/Back Cover Blurbs

Author Photo and Bio

Pronunciation Guide
American History Adds Up            
Volcanoes
 
 
           

Text Structures

Title
 
 
Cause/Effect
 
 
Problem/ Solution
 
 
Description
 
 
Sequence
 
 
Comparison/ Contrast
 
 
Native Americans Because they were hunters, tribes in the plains were always moving.        
 Volcanoes         Some are not much of a danger, but others can cause great damage.

Graphic Organizers

Making connections between reading and writing are inherent in the use of graphic organizers, and an endless variety of these exist for every possible genre and topic. The following are two simple organizers that can be used in a variety of ways:

Heading and Subheadings Graphic Organizer

Title: Snow Adventures

Heading (Topic): snowboarding

Possible Subheadings (Subtopics): equipment

locations to snowboard

dangers

tricks


Scheduling Reading-Writing Connection Mini-Lessons

Reading-writing connection mini-lessons can occur at any time of the school day, but should be formally scheduled during Writers’ Workshop as well. Select a particular genre, share many examples through read-alouds, shared reading, and think-alouds, model how to incorporate authors’ strategies, and then provide time for students to practice. Following is a reminder of how to organize a 60 or 90-minute workshop:

60-Minute Writers’ Workshop:

15 minutes: Whole-group mini-lesson

40 minutes: Independent writing, one-on-one teacher conferences, small-group instruction

5 minutes: Whole-group debriefing, sharing independent strategy writing work

90-Minute Writers’ Workshop:

25 minutes: Whole-group mini-lesson

60 minutes: Independent writing, one-on-one teacher conferences, small-group instruction

5 minutes: Whole-group debriefing, sharing independent strategy writing work


Using Assessments from Reading-Writing Connection Mini-Lessons

Since assessment drives instruction, informal observations can help you determine what reading-writing connection mini-lessons to hold next. Remember to address all strategies mandated by your grade-level school, district, and state standards in addition to responding to individual students’ strengths and needs.

Informal observations can occur during the mini-lesson as you pay close attention to students’ Think-Pair-Share responses, during independent writing, and during sharing time at the end of Writers’ Workshop. Since documentation is critical, use a chart like the one below to keep track of your informal observations.

Class Reading-Writing Connection Mini-Lesson Record Sheet

Date Reading-Writing
Connection Lesson
Observations/Next Steps
1-7-05 Analyze sidebars in magazine and newspaper articles in preparation for adding sidebars to current informational science pieces Observations:Students noticed that sidebars (1) are very focused, (2) use briefly stated phrases or sentences, and (3) expand on rather than repeat information from the main article.
 Next Steps: Work together as a class to create a sidebar for a published article, then allow students to do the same in small groups before trying one on their own.

 


Sample Reading-Writing Connection Lesson

Back-Cover Blurbs

Introduce the Lesson

Stand by a chart, chalkboard, or overhead as you think aloud.

When I’m looking for a book to read, I want to know what it’s about. Reading the title helps, but sometimes that doesn’t even tell me whether the book is fiction or nonfiction. I’m always happy if the book has a blurb on the back cover that gives me the quick overview I’m looking for. For example, I picked up this book called A Voice For The Animals. I already know that I like animal books, but I can’t really tell from the title if this is a story about animals or an informational book. Now, listen to the back-cover blurb:

When animals are injured or abused, who will speak for them? Since the late 1800s, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) has been their voice. Whether an animal is lost, abandoned, or abused, the SPCA is there to help. Learn how the first SPCA was created and how this important organization works to ensure that pets and other animals are treated with kindness.

Now I know that this is an informational text about an organization that takes care of animals. It sounds interesting, too. The blurb gives me just enough information to make me want to read the book.

Set the Purpose for the Lesson

Today we’ll look at back-cover blurbs for three fiction books and see if we can find some common characteristics that we might be able to use when we write blurbs for our own stories. A graphic organizer is useful for this task. We could use many types of graphic organizers, but an Attribute Chart fits our purpose today. Let’s make one now.

Introduce the Graphic Organizer

First, I’m going to make a column for the book titles and write in each one. Next, I’m going to make several blank columns in which to write the back-cover blurb characteristics that we discover.

Title        
Olympic Dreams        
Storm Chasers        
The Treehouse Club        

Continue the Thinking

Listen to the blurb for Olympic Dreams:

Everyone at school believes that Deb is the fastest girl on the track team—everyone except Benny. He’s sure his friend Mara can beat her if she trains hard enough. Benny helps Mara build strength, speed, and endurance through a scientific training program. Will she beat Deb in the trials for the All-City Meet?

The first thing I notice is that the blurb mentions the names of the main characters. I’ll write that on the chart. Next, I notice that the blurb tells a little about the story problem to get me interested in reading the book. I’ll put that on the chart, too. I also see that the blurb ends in a question, which gives me a purpose for reading. I’ll put that in the next column. Let’s look at our Attribute Chart now:

Title Names Main Characters Mentions Story Problem Asks A Question  
Olympic
Dreams
 
Storm
Chasers
       
The
Treehouse
Club
       

Now, listen to the blurb on the back of Storm Chasers:

Twins Jack and Julie want to be nature photographers. When they get new cameras, they can’t wait to try them out. There isn’t a cloud in the sky as they ride off on their bikes to look for prairie dogs on the flat open plains. By three-thirty, however, a storm is racing toward them faster than they can pedal home. And this is no ordinary storm!

This blurb names the main characters and mentions the story problem, so I’ll mark those two columns on the chart. The blurb doesn’t ask a question, but I did notice that it uses an exclamation mark at the end. That might be another characteristic of a back-cover blurb. I’ll add that information to the chart.

Title Names Main Characters Mentions Story Problem Asks A Question Uses An Exclamation Mark
Olympic Dreams  
Storm Chasers  
The Treehouse Club        

Here’s the blurb for the last book, The Treehouse Club:

When the kids in the Treehouse Club find a lost kitten, everyone wants to help find its owner— everyone, that is, except Carlos. He wants the kitten to be their pet. Will the kids listen to Carlos and keep the kitten, or will they do the right thing?

This blurb names the main characters, mentions the story problem, and asks a question. I’ll mark these columns on the chart.

Title Names Main Characters Mentions Story Problem Asks A Question Uses An Exclamation Mark
OlympicDreams  
Storm Chasers  
The Treehouse Club  

Now I know that when I’m writing a blurb for a story, I should always name the main characters and mention the story problems. Then, at the end of the blurb, I can ask a question or make an exclamation to help hook the reader.

Follow-Up Activity

Now I want you to get in your small groups and create a chart similar to this one using some nonfiction books. I’ll bring each group three books, a large sheet of paper, and a marker. Take turns reading the blurbs and thinking aloud about the characteristics you notice, and then decide with your group members what to put on the chart. When we meet tomorrow, be prepared to share one characteristic from your chart. I’ll be available to help you as you work, and I’ll look forward to seeing your completed charts. Later, we can use these charts to help us write blurbs for our own nonfiction writing.