Informational Writing in the Primary Grades: Linda Hoyt!

Guest Robb Review Author: Linda Hoyt!

For many years, I have called for a stronger emphasis on informational sources in primary classrooms.  Now, it is exciting to see primary teachers actively helping children understand that they can learn about the world while they learn to read and write.  Everywhere I go, I see more informational selections on display and in the hands of independent readers.  I celebrate as emergent and developing writers capture facts in pictures, labels, notes, sentences and multiple page books!  These eager researchers read and write in collaboration with partners and take great pride in generating questions that fuel more reading, more research, and more writing!  (Can you hear me clapping?)

Most of all, I applaud the increasing number of teachers who are clearly understand that their role is not to transmit information, but rather to ignite a sense of wonder—to help kids live a curious life.  In classrooms that are driven by curiosity and wonder, learners erupt with literate vigor and writing becomes a natural extension of the learning.

Informational writing used to be saved for genre studies in which young writers created a set of directions or engaged in crafting a report about animals.  But, evidence now suggests that this limited view of nonfiction writing is too little—too late!  We now know that forward-thinking educators weave explicit scaffolds for nonfiction reading and nonfiction writing into the fabric of daily literacy instruction, making sure that children write for a wide variety of purposes and experience a broad base of nonfiction text types in every subject area—every day.

Some teachers express concern that informational writing should wait until foundational skills are in place. But, extensive evidence suggests children do not need to have correct spelling, complete sentence structures, deep content knowledge, or well-developed writing traits in place before they begin to engage as nonfiction writers.  They will develop these essential skills as a natural extension of modeled writing, coaching conferences, revising, editing and presenting their work.  They WILL learn as they go.  With each successive writing experience, word-building skills will grow and the writing will gain sophistication.

The key:  Don’t expect perfection—expect growth.

Modeled writing is a critical element of accelerating the development of informational writing. Take time to think aloud as you write under the watchful eyes of your students.  Let them hear what is in your mind as you capture an interesting fact on paper, insert a label on a diagram, or list the attributes of a tree frog.  Help them to notice that sketches carry information and support the message, and that even adult writers pause frequently and experiment with different ways to craft a sentence.  When young children see you write, they have a powerful window into meaning, grammar, word construction, and use of space on the page.  So, dive in and “Just do it!”

I am so excited about how the children are writing, especially in comparison to years past.  It is early in the year and my kindergarteners are confident with several text types and absolutely love to write.  We have lists, notes, and multi-page books that look like they were done by much older students.  Thank you for helping me to believe… They are more accomplished writers and I am a more accomplished teacher.  

 Sandy Gordon, kindergarten teacher, Hudson, Ohio

Learn more about Linda! Check out her website!

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The Reading Teacher – Choosing “Just Right” Books

Is there a perfect or best way for students to select an independent reading book? I don’t think so. Since I’ve been teaching, the five-finger method is a strategy that teachers pass on to students. This technique asks a student to read 100 words and if there are five the student can’t say and/or understand, they look for a different book. I am not a fan of the five-finger method. Having difficulty with five words per one hundred words can be problematic for students with fluency issues. For me, there’s no one method of selecting a book that students use. It’s all about relationships that enable you to offer guidance that resonates with each child and meets that child’s needs.

I wish I could offer you one or two methods that always work. I can’t. My teaching head believes that for students to enjoy an independent reading book, it should be close to 100% accuracy. However, my students have taught me that exceptions to this belief abound! Take Marta, a third grade student who was instructionally on grade level. She checked out The Wizard of Oz on a visit to the library. Definitely, far above her instructional level, so I asked Marta, “Tell me why you want to read it.”

“I’ve seen the movie three times. I really want to read the book.”

“You certainly have a lot of background knowledge, “ I said. “Try it. Know that you might have to reread parts.” A happy Marta skipped to the computer to check out her book. Marta read The Wizard of Oz three times. “The second to get it [the story] better. The third ‘cause I could really read it.” Marta shows us that choosing books is more complicated than we thought. Here are five suggestions to guide you.

  1.    Have students share what they want to read with you. Go to library period with your students and be there to suggest books, to hear why they “must” read a book. Invite students to run by you books they select from your classroom library.
  2.    Offer alternatives. Avoid taking a book away from a student. Instead, suggest two alternatives just in case they want to switch. Abandoning a book should be a student’s choice.
  3.    Listen to students’ reasons. Always ask “why” and listen. What the student says can support your suggestions. If you’re unsure, let the student try the book and explain that it’s okay to abandon it.
  4.    Adopt book talking. Each month, invite students to book talk a favorite independent reading book. Spread these over two days. Just imagine, a class of twenty-five students will hear 250 book talks in ten months. They’ll discover many books that interest them—books they choose to read based on peer recommendation.
  5.    Approve of abandoning a book. When I was in school, I had to finish a book, even if I disliked it. The idea was that I’d learn the discipline of completing what I had started. That doesn’t work. It creates anger and intense dislike—two emotions you don’t want student to associate with reading. When a student abandons a book, I like them to tell me why, only because I’m interested in what causes this decision.


Your advanced and proficient readers have learned, through experience, how to select a book to enjoy. However, English language learners and students reading below grade level benefit from your support. So say “good-bye” to strategies that don’t work for them, including the five-finger method. Instead, take the time to deepen your relationships with students by supporting their independent reading choices! With practice, they’ll figure out how to choose, but also know it’s okay if they recognize the book is not for them YET and find another.  One day, if the student still wants to read it, he or she will.

Learn more about Laura’s ideas on reading- check out- Teaching Reading in Middle School

Leadership:Let’s Build Our Brand!

As a new school year begins, take time to reflect on how you can promote your school to parents, staff, and students.  Reserve time to build your school’s brand!

In this blog, I am posing some questions for educators to reflect on as you think about creating and promoting your school’s brand.  Branding is the art of aligning what you want people to think about your company or school with what people actually do think about your company or school. And vice-versa. Jay Baer Convince & Convert by Jay Baer with Amber Naslund who wrote The Now Revolution.


How we communicate and how our communication is interpreted is important as you work to define your school’s brand.  Certainly, we can all find inspiration from Eric Sheninger’s well-known quote, “ Either you tell your school story or someone else will.”

How you tell your story requires you to be  intentional. Communication will happen no matter what, but without some thought and planning, it might not be the communication you want nor the type of brand you want to define your school. So, how is your school telling its story?  What do the current communication methods say about your school? How are you controlling the narrative to form and communicate your school’s brand?

Reflect on my top 7 questions and thoughts, then decide which ones you and your team do well and where you can improve.  Pick three or four new focus areas to be part of your communication and branding plan for the new school year.

  1. When a person comes to the front door of your school does signage say visitors please report to the main office or does it say visitors must report to the main office?  This may seem small but words send messages and inform people about a school.
  2. Does your front office staff give a great impression to all who enter the office?  How they communicate tells people a lot about the principal. Do office staff have training on customer service? First impressions always count. Ensure that every person who enters your main office experiences a welcome that generates positive feelings.
  3. Is there an updated calendar on your school website?  Who updates the calendar and how often?  Updated and communicated school information sends a message that you care about informing and communicating all the events and activities that are part of your school. If done well, what does this say about your school?  If done poorly, what might people conclude?
  4. If your school is using Google, are staff using Google Sites or Google Classroom?  If yes, have you communicated standards for updating and formatting?  Or are some staff using this great way to communicate while others are not?  If so, what does scattered communication say about your school and you as a leader?
  5. Does your school have a schedule for parent newsletters?  Do grade levels or teams send parent communications home on a set schedule? Consistent and coordinated communication should always be the goal. What message is sent when schedules are not followed or one group in a school communicates much more than another group?
  6. Consider a school-wide positive communication effort to connect with families.  I have no doubt that all schools have some staff who make positive calls to parents. However,  imagine the impact on parents  if all staff commit to making at least two positive calls during the year for each student they teach.
  7. Is your school using social media to effectively connect with families and tell the story of your school?  Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are all free and can communicate messages the school needs to send.  Do you have a plan for who manages social media in your school along with defined expectations including a minimum number of communications per day?  Social media communicates what you value.  If a school only Tweets out athletic information, what does this communicate about what they value? Balanced communication to celebrate all the great happenings in your school sends a powerful message!

I started my list with an easy change; the others are more challenging.  Communication is like a garden; it needs sunshine, water, and sometimes some weeding.  I suggest choosing no more than four focus areas for the year ahead.  It can be tempting to choose more.  Avoid doing too much as this can derail successful change.  


Finally, I encourage a purposeful plan to communicate in a coordinated manner.  A well-coordinated plan will advertise your school’s story and brand with a core message: “communication matters to us!”

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The Reading Teacher – Is Choice Enough?

Recently I asked Laura to share some reading teacher wisdom on a question I often hear. When students choose books they want to read, is that enough to ensure they become lifetime readers?

Enjoy Laura’s response.

I view that as the first step in their journey. Choice means the book interests the student. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that students have selected a book they can actually read. Choice is a start—albeit an excellent start. But students need more than choice if they are going to want to read during free time at school and at home.  Transforming students who avoid reading, who fake read, has to do with head and heart!


When a book affects a student’s head and heart, a metamorphosis can occur. The book might change the reader’s thinking about a topic. The story might raise awareness of new feelings about a situation, a character, or person. A book has the power to transform the reader by heightening self-awareness.


During independent reading in an eighth-grade class, I heard a student sob.I looked up from the conference I was having.  Then Kira shouted, “You can’t do that! You just hurt Gilly so much.” Kira was reacting to Courtney, Gilly’s mother, returning to San Francisco and not staying with Gilly. That hit Kira in the gut. Her best friend’s mom had recently left. At that moment, I knew I couldn’t continue the conference. Kira needed me. I had to be there for her. Gently, I told Ben we would finish our conference later, and he could find a comfortable place to read. I bent down next to Kira and asked if she wanted to talk. She nodded and followed me out the door. Tears poured down her cheeks. “I felt so bad for Gilly,” she said. “I know why she never lasts at a foster home. She wants her mom.”


Like Kira, we want readers to feel the story, live life as if they are the character or person and leave the text changed.  So, the big question is, What can teachers do to make reading a transforming experience for students?  To help students experience the emotional and/or intellectual changeover that reading can bring about, teachers need to set aside time for students to read at school. Try reserving 20 to 30 minutes of independent reading time two to three times a week. When students read at school, they come to see how much their teacher values reading, and the habit can eventually become a treasured experience. In addition, include the experiences that follow–I can’t say enough how important each one is.


Put Books at the Center. Read aloud every day from books you love, you enjoy. Your passion for the book will spill over to your students. Cry. Laugh. Express your anger. This shows students the deep feelings books can arouse, and you give them the right to have similar feelings when they read. Encourage students to share books by book talking in class or through an online blog. Show students a book you’re currently reading and tell them why it’s compelling.

Provide time for students to sit back and reflect. Think about the time you closed a book and could hardly breathe. You needed time to relive some parts, to reread some pages, and just think about a character and what happened. This reflection is a key part of bonding students to books and reading. The text lingers, and the desire to keep what has happened in our minds stirs the enjoyment and pleasure readers feel. Reflection supports reading far more than answering ten questions or writing a summary.  

Make reading social. Students, like you and me, don’t want to answer ten questions about a book or write chapter summaries. They want to talk, to share parts that touched their hearts, to tell a classmate why he or she “must read the book.” The benefits of putting book talks online is that students can return to and reread posts that reveal what their classmates are reading. They can pose questions, write comments, and recommend other books about a similar topic, genre, or by a favorite author.  Encourage student-led discussions about books with a partner or small group.

Become a coach and a cheerleader. Coach reluctant readers by showing them how to find books they can read and want to read, who have difficulty decoding, or making meaning by connecting a text to their experiences. But, also make sure you’re their cheerleader, pointing out progress in a conversation, or even better, in a handwritten note that they can reread.

Suggest books to them, but always respect their choices.

Closing Reflection

When choice works in concert with the four elements, there’s a solid chance that the book will affect students’ minds and hearts. The hope is that students will want to revisit these thoughts and feelings and choose a new book.  We teachers need to find ways to help students experience reading as a transformational experience.

Enjoy this great book by Laura: Differentiating Reading Instruction: How to Teach Reading to Meet the Needs of Each Student