There are new priorities emerging when teaching writing for common core. One example is the move towards more fact-based writing. 

Writing for Common CoreBy blending genres you can teach children more and make teach them to be solid writers. You can teach narrative with a sprinkle of informational fact and end up with lovely writers. 

Why Teaching Narrative is Important

The chart below, courtesy of edutopia outlines the new percentages of genres, according to the Common Core, with which students should be interacting during their time in school:

Writing for Common CoreThese numbers may, at first seem problematic because storytelling decreases, but narratives become critical because the hold the worlds together. When storytelling is paramount in instruction, it builds relationships and our ability to be empathetic.

Narratives help us understand more about history and scientific discovery. Narratives help us understand the world around us and the world within us.

If we lose narrative, we lose other elements dictated by the Common Core: creativity, critical-thinking, and character. To address this shift, we need to focus more on creative non-fiction or fact-based narratives. After all, there’s no reason why our narratives can’t be based in fact.

According to the Common Core, while other subject areas are now expected to utilize writing, language arts is now expected to utilize other content areas. So I got to work with my mental wrench, tweaking and revising my narrative unit.

As a result, the unit ended up being a rigorous and integrated unit that was far richer than the narrative lessons of old. And it is aligned to CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.8.3: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.

Fact-Based Evidence

My narrative unit now focuses on reading and writing historical fiction and/or science fiction writing. The books from which the students could choose to base their stories on can be either historical fiction or science fiction. Therefore, we can study the facts embedded into the fiction and seed researched information into the stories we write ourselves.

I still hit on plot and sequencing, figurative language and sensory details, theme, and hooks. After all, any of those can be used in other genres as well, and that’s the key here: making sure that you are blending genres.

That the elements you teach for one can be used for others. In this case, different hooks are used for a variety of genres. Identifying the overall message, the theme, is a vital skill that helps put both history and science in perspective, and learning sensory details also helps the strength of writing required for other subjects.

After all, a student must describe one’s observations while determining a hypothesis, just as one must be able to relate to the scene of a historical massacre if we are to learn from history.

Once I decided that the students would move away from fantasy or personal narrative into a more fact-based fiction, the challenge was to find ways students could prove their informational research. I began teaching guiding them through the following:

  1. Producing bibliographies of their resources using APA or MLA format. They use these as a resource to help them with format. And yes, I permit the use of Easybib.
  2. Creating follow-up presentations called “What if….” projects. Inspired by a resource from Larry Ferlazzo, these five- to 10-slide Powerpoints or Prezis ask students to take a key moment in the time period in which their historical fiction piece is set or a key invention they studied while writing their science fiction story, and delete it from our own history. Their projects focus on the ripple effect of what if that moment or invention had never existed. They must back up their musings with evidence.
  3. Centering small group discussions around inquiry charts that expand on the differences between history vs. historical fiction and science vs. science fiction.
  4. Hyperlinking.

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Writing for Common Core