Reinvigorating Informative Writing

Students love to argue, debate, tell stories, or so much that informative writing can sometimes feel like boring, or even unnecessary, work. As a result, the informative essays or summaries that are turned in can feel uninspired.

I've been working on how to keep students motivated when they are explaining, teaching, or reporting instead of persuading, and here are some of the things I've learned in my classroom.

Tip #1: Provide expectations and examples

While it's essential to briefly review the difference between informative and argumentative writing, my students also needed help realizing when they were unintentionally making biased word choices, and they only somewhat understood the importance of including a balance of viewpoints. Even when we had read sample articles as mentor texts first, they were still accidentally writing moments of persuasion during informative pieces. (Depending on your students' needs, they may also need help with lessons like formal writingconcise writing, and using the pronoun "you" less often.)

Once they understand what informative writing LOOKS like, then they need to get excited about the possibilities!

Download these three FREE posters to help illustrate what the genres are AND what task opportunities await!

Tip #2: Create an air of mystery or investigation
In my experience, students are much more willing to ditch persuasion if they are uncovering the truth in a mystery. Even an informative or research essay is more fun with the right topic (or the right set of directions).

For example, some of the projects in my Informative Writing Bundle include Unsolved Mysteries, basic News Reporting, or telling Both Sides of the Story, and those have had higher levels of student engagement than a summary assignment with less interesting context.

The bundle is a 10-pack of projects so that you can assign one to the whole class or provide a menu of options!

Tip #3: Get an audience
The best experience I've ever had with informative writing, to date, was when I recently made an Intro to Journalism unit from scratch (designed for beginners). After a crash course on journalism and informative writing, students applied for jobs in our newspaper "staff", wrote individual articles, and created a one-time newspaper. (However, if you're pressed for time, you can stop after writing the articles and omit the Project-Based Learning newspaper staff portion.)

My point is that the imminent threat of having an audience read their newspaper was far more motivating than grades alone. Providing an audience will make any genre more authentic, but especially informative writing.

My second-favorite informative writing experience is when we write mock TED talks, which technically includes speeches that are a blend of informative, argumentative, and narrative writing.

Spark Joy...
Modeling enthusiasm and generating excitement can happen for informative writing just as much as in any other genre! Even without persuasion, students still have worthwhile things to say and a world that needs truth.

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Staged Readings in ELA: A Play in a Week

Drama in ELA: Rigorous & Collaborative

It’s no secret that I love using Drama in ELA! I’ve written before on the Coffee Shop blog about getting started with Drama in ELA and different ways to spice up your Shakespeare unit. On my blog, I’ve shared about my own experiences doing a Class Play. Still, many teachers tell me that they don’t have time for drama. They point to their literature anthologies that present a lengthy Shakespeare play. Teachers say they can barely have students read it in five weeks, let alone act any of it.

Making the Case for Drama in ELA:

Incorporating drama in ELA isn’t a “fun” thing your students do after hitting standards. Instead, it’s an activity that supports your standards in a big way. Besides building student confidence, promoting collaboration, and getting students moving, drama is rigorous.

When students take on a role, they’re interacting with a character from a page. Actors make inferences about character motivations based on textual evidence (RL.9-10.1). Acting requires fluency and learning the meaning of new words and phrases (RL.9-10.4). Students also see text structure and pacing in action, making choices to build mystery, tension, or comedy (RL.9-10.5). These are just a few concrete examples, but drama really “does it all.”

Performing a Play in a Week: A Staged Reading

Many teachers are familiar with Reader’s Theater. Having students read aloud lines they’ve practiced is better than a cold reading (what many of us were forced to do when we first encountered Shakespeare!), but it’s not enough. Reader’s Theater doesn’t promote as much movement or collaboration, and students don’t have time to walk around in the character’s skin.

Instead, I encourage teachers to try a Staged Reading. Your students will have their scripts, but they’ll come up with blocking and use some props and costumes. This really elevates your production, and you can accomplish it in a week. I have a whole collection of abridged plays called Shakespeare in 30 in my TpT store to help you with this. Clocking in at 30 minutes, each adaptation is short enough to get from page to stage in a week.

 Before You Start

You can do a great staged reading in as few as five class periods, but first, front load some knowledge. I recommend introducing to Shakespeare’s language before starting your Staged Reading. In my TpT store, I have a Webquest to get students engaged and thinking about the language and rhythm. You can also grab these free bookmarks to help increase your students’ fluency and comprehension.

The following five-day plan has all students perform on one day. If your timing and number of students doesn’t allow that, you’ll need to add a performance day. For example, if your class is working on three different 30-minute plays, you might need to break these up across two class periods.

You’ll do your students’ families a great service if you have your Day 1 as a Thursday or Friday. Students will have all weekend to negotiate and find props and costumes.

The 5-Day Rehearsal Plan

Day 1: Plays & Parts
Students read through the script aloud. They negotiate parts. Decide on necessary props or costumes.

HW: Students read through the script again (aloud), looking up any unknown words and figuring out a meaning for each line they speak.

Day 2: Table Work - 
Students read through the script again with their groups. They should read with much more rhythm and expression. They can negotiate meaning and expression here, as well as make initial notes for blocking ideas.

HW: Read your lines aloud for improved rhythm & expression. Imagine what your character could do at each point.

Day 3: Blocking
On Day 3, you’ll need a big space where your groups can block their plays without stepping on each other. Students need to figure out how and why their characters move throughout the play. You can also go over very basic concepts like “staying open” (avoiding turning one’s back to the audience). Students should write their blocking down.

HW: Read your lines aloud. As you do this, find some space where you can stand and move around, imitating your blocking the best you can. Gather props & costumes.

Day 4: Rehearsal
Students rehearse with full expression, volume, movement, and props. They should attempt to go through the whole script without stopping, learning to “just keep going” if they mess up.

HW: Practice, practice, practice! Read through the script at least once with movements. Try to recruit a friend or family member to watch you.

Day 5: Performances of your Staged Readings! (And reflection) - 
Before students perform, you can run a couple warm ups and a breathing exercise (to calm any frayed nerves!). All students not performing should have their scripts, costumes, and props completely put away in order to be in the moment and be the best audience members they can be.

Remember to put a “performance” sign at your door and let the office know you need limited interruptions.

After your performances, give students an opportunity to reflect on their experience in writing.

But what about the rest of the play?

When I suggest Staged Readings, teachers often worry that they’re shortchanging their students by withholding the unabridged text. This is not the case. Getting to know the play first, in an interactive way, is a wonderful precursor to reading the whole play. If you choose to dig deeper, the abridged plays provide access. Your students will have a strong sense of plot and character, leaving them ready for a deeper analysis of the text. For example, they can analyze how a gender-swapped version of Romeo & Juliet changes the audience’s connection to the characters or these subplots of Hamlet work to build different perspectives on his character.

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Check out other Drama resources from Coffee Shop teachers:
Scene Starters from Presto Plans

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