As I was writing my plans for our new research writing unit, I was concerned that my students would write about something they already knew a lot about, thereby foregoing the need to really dig deep into their research.
I was nervous that I would get a bunch of "All About..." books.
By 5th grade, most kids have figured out on their own that if they choose a topic to research that they already know a lot about, their job will be easier. They will not have to stretch their research skills or take any risks with their writing.
But this unit was to be more than just about writing. I wanted them to learn something about their topic and really get into the research process too.
Knowing this, I thought of a way to help my students choose a fresh topic to research....and here's how:
We began by creating a list of everything we were an expert at or knew a ton about. I set the timer for three minutes as my kids wrote away.
Creating this list was easy.
When the three minutes was up, we created another list -- a non-expert list. These would be the things we've always wondered about, wanted to learn more about, or held our curiosity.
Another three minutes ticked by on the timer, but creating this list was a bit tougher for many students.
After both lists were created, I asked the students to look at their expert list and circle the thing they knew the most about.
We then did a "whip around" the room and as each student read his or her most expert topic, everyone either added it to their own expert or non-expert list. This helped the students' lists grow and added lots of known and unknown topics to our lists.
When we were finish sharing, I announced it was time to pick our next writing topic. Many students began perusing their expert list, looking for their favorite topic.
I then told my class to put a giant X through their expert list.
Yep, that's right. For this project, they could not choose a writing topic from their expert list.
After I explained that this writing project would not just be about writing, but should also teach us something, they understood the method to my madness. Everyone relaxed and got busy picking a new topic to research that would take them from having non-expert to expert status in no time!