Let The All-About Animal Books Hibernate This Winter

These days, heading to work each morning means being greeted by a light layer of frost on our windshields and dealing with puffs of breath that fog up our glasses. For many of us teachers, it also means that we are heading into the part of the calendar year that invites students to explore nonfiction writing. We may be tempted to start this shift into all-about writing by dusting off our animal books and preparing for animal research projects. This year, I’m going to suggest that we let animal research hibernate and try something new!

You may be thinking… But why? My students love animals. This unit is a fan favorite! Let me begin by honoring that there is much truth to that statement. Yes, it’s true that many students DO love animals. Heck… I, too, am a critter person. I can’t resist the allure of a cuddly panda book or a reel of ridiculous cat videos. My home is even shared with a dog, three cats, and a guinea pig. (What can I say–I’m a sucker for furbabies.)  Yet, while I do agree that animals are awesome, I’d like to lay out some reasons why we might rethink using our furry friends as the sole topic in our nonfiction writing studies. 

With all of those considerations in mind, you might be ready to rethink those animal-based writing projects. If so, here are a few tips to help you get your reimagined unit started…

Tip One: Begin your unit by taking an in-school field trip to the library. Have students walk around the shelves noticing the types of topics they see nonfiction authors writing about. Then, use their noticings as inspiration for generating ideas in Shared Writing and as students begin thinking about writing their own books.

Tip Two: Resist the urge to premake booklets. Instead, leave many different types of pages out for students to consider as they design the book that best matches what they want to teach. (If you’re feeling really brave, invite students to think beyond books and design all-about writing in a variety of forms: sites, infographics, etc…)

Tip Three: Be sure to lean into some great mentors as a way to support students thinking about structuring their own books. Mark up texts together by thinking about the sections the author chose to include, asking why they might have made those choices, and noticing which features they included to expand the learning for the reader.

With these tips in your nonfiction toolbelt, I wish you all-about units full of wonder and excitement, and I hope you choose to let all that animal writing cozy up in dens with the bears this time around.