When I think about expository writing I do not think, “I’m so excited! This is going to be the best day ever.”
I do think about the countless hours I spent in graduate school pouring over complicated scholarly documents to write another 20-page research paper. I do think about reading and highlighting until I couldn’t see straight. I do think about all the ways I was worried about plagiarizing by accident or quoting too much and failing graduate school.
I can only imagine how all of these wonderful feelings have impacted the way I teach expository writing. I hope that didn’t ruin it for any of my students because I know this is one of the best ways for students to learn.
Now I am constantly thinking about making expository writing fun for my students so that they have good feelings associated with it. I want them to excel academically and being able to write a research paper is a big part of that.
Making Research Fun
When I think about all the years I spent in school I remember very little of the academic work. What I do remember are the fun projects. I remember making a cell game in 7th grade. I built a model of Jamestown out of popsicle sticks in 5th grade. We did an archeological dig in 6th-grade social studies.
After 15 years out of school, I remember and treasure these projects. If we make expository writing more fun our students will get more out of it
1. Writing About Holidays
I love that the page-long stories about a holiday with a worksheet of questions to answer after are easy to assign and correct. Print, copy and pass out. Done.
However, I think they are busywork. Some kids who are truly curious might remember what they read. But I think most kids read, answer and forget. It’s not meaningful learning.
The history of holidays is amazing. I think it’s interesting to look at how it changed over generations. I love to read about the traditions that have started, changed, and ended. Celebrating some of the traditions I read about brings it to life.
I like to make students research about holidays. If they are reading all about it because they have to create a project they will remember more of it. They internalize more from this than answering a couple of questions.
Most students have some schema about holidays, which helps them understand what they’re reading better. It’s relating to part of their lives so they are going to bring more information into the project and transfer more information into their long-term memory.
Holidays are just more fun to research than many other topics like the combustible steam engine (another project I dreaded).
2. Writing About Monthly Observances
In our current world, there is a holiday every day and an observance every month. I think the daily holidays might be overkill but monthly observances bring social issues and injustices to the forefront of our conversations.
Black history month, women’s history and LGBQ are monthly observances that honor important parts of history, and provide a platform to discuss important issues. These observances give us strong real-world topics to breakdown, study, and discuss so we can learn more.
Black History and Women’s Rights are both parts of history that can be hard to discuss in the classroom and thus extremely important to bring up. Researching and writing give us the opportunity to learn ELA skills and also life lessons.
I also like to use these monthly observances in expository writing because research writing and projects take time. A month is a good amount of time. The month gives us a timeframe in which to work. We can have our students dive deep into the research, and have plenty of time to write all about it.
3. Writing As Class
I have become a big fan of class timeline projects. History is big and long. There is no way to remember it all (unless you are Sheldon from Big Bang Theory). However, if I can have each student in my class focus on one part of say the Civil Rights Movement and get to know it really well I think their learning was successful. Then if each student brings their piece together with the class in a timeline and presents it they will hold that one piece forever.
By having my students focus on one piece of a timeline it helps them to grow their schema. It’s not overwhelming to study one piece of history in depth. Writing an entire timeline could be very overwhelming which can take away from really understanding the content. In their future academic years, they will be able to learn more about the Civil Rights Movement because they are connecting all new information to their one-focused piece of timeline research.
Students are more willing to research one part of a big class project. The project takes the whole class to complete and when they see their one part it seems doable, not overwhelming. They can successfully complete this expository writing. It sets them up to succeed.
4. Projects Instead of a Research Paper
I know the Common Core and most state standards are focused on expository writing essays. Essays are important to be able to write, but not all students are ready for that.
I like to provide a lot of different projects that students can choose from to show me what they know. Learning the information is a big task, and to add an essay on top of it is a lot. I like to provide different types of projects students can pick from. For example, a podcast, writing a letter, or timeline.
Eventually, during the year, I do require an essay, but we work on expository writing skills and features with other projects first. They can learn all the different parts without just sitting and writing.
5. 3D Visuals in Addition to a Written Component
Most of my memorable learning experiences as a child were hands-on. I created something big or worked with real materials. That’s why I like to ask my students to do the same. Sometimes a project will have two parts, one of which is a 3D visual. It can take the form of Legos, food, a model, or something else.
Having a 3D visual component to a project helps their learning and creativity stretch even further. I love challenging my students in this fun way.
What kid would choose an essay over baking a cookie from the culture they are studying? What kid would choose an essay instead of painting a model? There are some, but really the big project is more fun and memorable.
Our students will learn more and learn better when we make expository writing fun and interesting. We can teach so many of the skills needed without another essay. (I essays take a long time to correct too).
Help your students find a new love for research and expository writing by making it more fun.