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Expository Essay For 8th Graders

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This unit of study is designed to guide your students through the research writing process. Includes mini lessons, anchor charts and more.
Mention the words “research writing” in an intermediate classroom and you might be met with moans & groans or perhaps even see fear in the eyes of some students. 🙂  In all seriousness though, writing can be intimidating for many children in our classrooms.  The more guided and focused your mini-lessons can be, the more examples you can get students to interact with and the more modeling that you do for them can make a huge difference in how they view writing that can sometimes be thought of as difficult or scary.

**You will find the link to the FULL SET OF RESOURCES at the bottom of this post in BOLD BLUE PRINT.  Just click to download the entire set of pages. 

Below are some descriptions and/or ideas for possible mini-lessons to go along with the resources we created for research writing.

Lesson 1: Noticings – Begin by getting your students familiar with what research writing looks like.  Have them work in pairs or small groups to read pieces of research writing and record their “noticings” about the writing.  Then come together in a community circle to discuss those noticings and create a class anchor chart.  For this lesson we have provided a chart you can use to put up in your classroom after the discussion or that you can use simply for guidance during the discussion.  We have also provided a blank chart in case you would like to create your anchor chart from what your students share.  Here is a link we found that contains some student-created examples of research writing you  might want to use for this activity: Student Writing Models.  Simply scroll through the grade levels for different samples.

Lesson 2: Opinion vs. Facts – Before getting truly into this unit, you might want to do a brief review of opinions vs. facts.  After a brief discussion you can use the six paragraphs in our resources to give your students some practice differentiating between the two.  Each of the paragraphs contains both opinions and facts.   You can print several of each paragraph for independent student work or you might put students into pairs or small groups to work.   Students will read the paragraphs and record the facts and opinions from their paragraph onto the recording page.

Lesson 3: Choosing a Topic – Although at times we might be required to give students topics for their research, we know that providing choice will allow for greater engagement and possibly success.  We want to help students to narrow their choices by giving them some guidance.  Gather students and begin a discussion about choosing a research topic.  Ask them to think of topics they already know a little about, have interest in or something that is important/relevant to their lives.  You might pose the question “Why is that important in research writing?” and discuss their thoughts.  For this lesson we have provided a page where students can individually brainstorm topics. You can circulate the room during this process to have short conferences with each student and help them to narrow their topic.  If you feel your class may need help to narrow their choices, think about giving them a broad topic, such as animals, and then have them choose a sub-topics from the bigger umbrella topic.  If you feel like your students need an added level of support you might think about creating an anchor chart from a class brainstorming session about possible appropriate topics and then display this in your room.

Lesson 4: Where to Find Accurate Information about a Topic – For this lesson an in-depth class discussion will help students to begin to understand where they might find accurate and appropriate information about their topics. You might think about posing these questions: Where are the places you can begin to look for information about your topic?  Why would the copyright date on a book be important in doing research?  Is everything on the internet true? Why is it important for your research to contain accurate information?  Where do you begin to look for information that will accurate?  One way to help students think through appropriate sites on the internet is to pass out the ten cards provided in our resources.  Have students read the cards one by one and discuss what kind of a website it is.  Talk about whether they know or have heard of the sites and whether or not they would consider the sites “trusted” enough to gain knowledge about their topics.  Then have them talk about why or why not these sites would be trusted.

Lesson 5: Double Check  Your Facts –  We want our students to get into the habi of double checking their facts against two or more sources as well, so that they can be sure what they are learning is correct.  To do this, you might want them to practice this skill.  In this lesson use the page provided to have each student find a fact about a topic of their choice on the internet and write it down.  The page then has students write where they found the fact, and also has them list a corresponding fact from a different source.  Finally they determine if the facts are the same or different. You may have to further the lesson by discussing approximations.  For example one site might say that an animal can weigh up to 1,500 pounds, while another might state that the animal weighs between 1,200 and 1,500 pounds.  You will need to talk about how those facts might both be accurate even though they are stated differently, and if they seem to check out, then how can students generalize the information for a research paper.

Lesson 6: Taking Notes – Sometimes giving students resources and a blank sheet of notebook paper can be too overwhelming for them. You have students who simply copy everything from the text or you have others who have no idea where to start.  We need to guide them to read to pull out facts & relevant information to use later in their writing.  For this lesson we have provided various templates for note-taking that you might choose to use for your students.  Whatever method or template you choose for helping your students learn to take notes, be sure to model it several times in front of the class – demonstrating for them how to write the notes as they read about a topic.  After initial teaching, you may find that you need to pull small groups for extra practice and even conference with students one-on-one once you take a look at the notes they are taking.

Lesson 7: Paraphrasing vs. Plagiarism – Students will need to learn how to paraphrase their research so that they don’t get into the habit of plagiarizing words from their resources.  To start this lesson, gather students and ask them if they have heard the word “plagiarize” before. Listen to student responses and use references to look up the word if necessary.  Discuss why plagiarizing is something that they should never do in their writing because it essentially “stealing” another’s words and using them for their own.  Tell the students that there is a way to use another author’s ideas in an appropriate way without copying their words. First, they need to paraphrase and then they need to cite the source where they found the information/idea in a bibliography at the end of their writing.  Display the anchor chart “What is Paraphrasing” and discuss the definition. Then read the example on the chart, discussing the similarities and differences.  Emphasize the fact that it isn’t the author’s original words, but contains the same overall idea. Next, pass out copies of “My Own Words” to pairs of students. Explain that their task will be to find a paragraph or passage in a nonfiction book and then paraphrase the author’s words, keeping the same ideas.  Send them to their work, circulating the room as needed for support.  Finally, gather students together to share their paraphrasing efforts. For each pair of students direct one to read the paragraph/passage from the book and the other to read the paraphrasing that they wrote.  Discuss the words and decisions the students made in their paraphrasing.

Lesson 8: Word Choice in Research Writing – To help students think about making their writing more interesting, have them begin to brainstorm words about their research topic that could add some voice to their writing.  After working independently on the word choice page provided, have them meet with partners to to talk about nouns, verbs and adjectives that relate to their topic and might add to the engagement of readers of their pieces.

Lesson 9: Writing Sketch – This graphic organizer can be used for students to plan their writing.  If your writers are more advanced you might choose to skip this step, but it could be a big help for students who have taken notes and have too many facts.   So, it might better be used in one-on-one conferencing or in a small guided writing group.  Be sure to model how to write the facts & ideas from your notes onto your planner so that students see first hand how to make sure to only add what is relevant and important to their writing.  Some questions you can pose: What will be the focus of each paragraph in your research writing?  What do you want to include from your notes?  Why is it important to the research?  What facts don’t quite fit into the paragraphs you’ve decided upon? Should you change some of the paragraphs so that they better support the research and what you want your readers to learn?   Once the planner is finished, they can use it as an initial guide to help their writing stay focused.

Lesson 10: Writing Introductions to Research – Teach students how to think about their introduction as a way to grab their readers’ attention.  We have created an anchor chart with some ideas to get them started, but you might also extend the anchor chart to include ideas from your students. (We have included some blank anchor charts at the very bottom of the download.)  Discuss the parts that need to be included in the introductory paragraph first and then move on to some of the ways that might engage readers. As always be sure to model how you would go about writing an introductory paragraph using your notes and/or Writing Sketch.

Lesson 11: Developing Your Paragraphs – To help students to stay focused and develop complete paragraphs we have also provided a graphic organizer that will get them to think through the specifics of each paragraph.  Again, this may not be needed for all of the students in your classroom, but it might be something to think about using with all of them for at least their very first attempts at writing research papers.  Model how to use the Writing Sketch planner to develop their paragraphs more fully on this organizer.  Be sure to emphasize that while there is a specific number of boxes provided for details, they may not use every one or they may choose to add another detail or two to one of their paragraphs.

Lesson 12: Writing a Conclusion to Research – Providing a solid concluding paragraph is also something that needs modeled for your students. We have provided an anchor chart with ideas to get you started with the modeling of this as well.

***If you would like for your students to write their first drafts on something that continues to support organization for them, we have also provided some lined paper that might lend them the extra guidance.

Lesson 13: Research Rendezvous Celebration – We always suggest that no matter the age of the students, a writing celebration is a great way to end a unit and have students share their writing.  For this particular celebration you might invite students to bring in some type of visual that will help to illustrate their topic and create more interest for their readers.  Invite parents and other special adults from your building to the celebration and think about providing light snacks and drinks if possible.  You can also print out our “Congrats Author!” certificates to give to each student during the celebration.


All the research writing resources described above can be found in one download here: Writing a Research Paper Resources





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