Teachers Write 7/29/14 – Tuesday Quick-Write

I’m cheating a little….Today’s Tuesday Quick-Write is really the second part of our nonfiction double feature from guest author Lola Schaefer.

Lola is the author of some of my favorite non-fiction picture books, including JUST ONE BITE and LIFETIME, both from Chronicle Books. Today, she’s here with a lesson on nonfiction endings.

Nonfiction Endings that Satisfy and Give the Reader Something to Think About

This giant mini-lesson is divided into three parts for use with your students. Enjoy!

 

And in conclusion, trees give shade, exchange gases, stop erosion, and hold groundwater in the soil. EGADS! Let’s support students in writing strong nonfiction endings so we never see this kind of repetitive summary.

Mini-lesson#1

Avoid poor endings, especially those that insult the readers by restating what has been, hopefully, elaborated on in the body of the piece. Before you ask students to craft an ending or conclusion, introduce a few weak, or lazy, endings and post them in the room. Have your students identify why these endings are not effective. It is so much easier to be proactive and steer students away from poorly written endings rather than having to help them rewrite endings as part of the revision process.

Here are some examples of what you might present and discuss:

  1. That is all I know about how these islands form.
  2. Those are the reasons that we should like trees. Aren’t they great?
  3. Now you know some important facts about Benjamin Franklin.
  4. I bet you will never think about microbes in the same way.
  5. Conserving water is really important. Please do it.

 

Mini-lesson #2

What are the jobs of a strong nonfiction ending or conclusion?

            The ending needs to satisfy the reader and provide a sense of completion.

            It needs to leave the reader with some over-arching, or profound thought on the topic.

            It could catapult the reader into wanting to know more about the topic.

            It could pose a question to the reader that would continue his/her thinking or research.

            In some small way, the ending relates back to the lead?

Just like with leads, show your students that not all nonfiction endings or conclusions need be a 3-5 sentence paragraph. Sometimes that works well, but many times it becomes forced or artificial. It is better to examine, then write, endings that offer the reader 2-3 of the criteria stated above.

Study three or more mentor endings from published nonfiction with your students. Ask them,

“Would this give the reader a sense of satisfaction or completion? Does this ending make a big point, or pose a unique thought? Would you want to learn more about this topic or is there something else that you might still want to research? Do you see any similarities between this and the lead?”

Suggested mentor text:

Bomb by Steve Sheinkin – last five sentences on p. 236

Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? by Tanya Lee Stone – last five sentences

Living Sunlight by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm – last four sentences

The Secret World of Walter Anderson by Hester Bass – last page of the text

Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart – last sentence of the text

How Big Were Dinosaurs by Lita Judge – last sentence of the text

Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table by Jacqueline Briggs Martin – last page of the text

 

Mini-lesson #3

Practice writing endings/conclusions with students on a topic they know well. Better yet, write endings for their practice leads. Encourage them to write at least two different endings (three is even better) and select the one they think is most effective. It is fun to partner the students and let them have a conversation about which of their endings is most suitable for an audience.

I need to interject here that when writing is crafted well, leads and endings complement one another. If you are able to read the leads and endings from some of the mentor text that I recommend, you and your students will notice how the two tie together in at least one way.

I always think of leads and endings as bookends. They are strong supports that often use similar language, phrases, or even a repeating sentence. This truly helps to tie up loose ends for the reader.

Of course, as teachers we need to model this process for them.

Since I wrote a variety of leads on the food web of the wetlands in yesterday’s mini-lesson, I will draft a few endings that might work for those.

 

From the tiniest mosquito to the largest alligator, life abounds in the wetlands. The more plants and animals, the more choices. When creatures have a wide selection, they try new foods. Because of this, the wetland food web is always transforming itself plant by animal.

With the proper respect and care from man, wetland animals will be able to search, stalk, and eat the food they need for many years to come. What can you do to insure that outcome?

As weather, pollution, and migration impact the wetlands, the food web undergoes a continual change. But those animals that nibble, slurp, and crunch will never run out of food if man works with nature to preserve these rich ecosystems. Their life is reliant on us, and ours on them.

For today’s practice, write two or more endings for your best lead from yesterday. If you’re just joining us, select a nonfiction topic that you know well. Visit yesterday’s mini-lesson and write 2-3 leads. Select your best one and then write 2-3 endings. Reread the jobs of a nonfiction ending, then craft those that you believe would satisfy readers, relate back to the lead in some small way, and offer an over-arching or big-picture thought.

I’ll return later today to post celebrations on your writing.

I hope these two mini-lessons gave you some food for thought, as well as a couple of solid strategies to share with your students.

So glad you visited.

Lola

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33 Comments

  1. Posted July 29, 2014 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    I love these assignments. I plan to really focus on nonfiction this school year. My kids [and I] dig deeper when the topic is exciting and real. I just ordered Lifetime and can’t wait to read it!

    beginning
    When you knit cozy hats and comfy cardigans, you also prevent anxiety and fight against depression. Knitting is good for your health.

    ending
    When life feels overwhelming don’t be afraid to pick up your knitting and sit awhile. That repetitive motion occupies the fear part of your brain giving you a break from your pain and sadness.

    • Posted July 29, 2014 at 8:08 am | Permalink

      Morning Kim! Insightful and lovely. The therapeutic aspect of your piece really stands out in both your intro and conclusion. If only knitting didn’t stress me out, bring my shoulders up to my ears, while the stitches get tighter and tighter, resulting in tears. At least, that happened when I was 16…haven’t tried it since. You’ve almost inspired me!

    • Posted July 29, 2014 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      This makes me want to take up knitting.

    • Posted July 29, 2014 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      Hello Kimberley,
      I love to teach nonfiction to students. In the past, nonfiction meant boring reports. Now, we all know that there are so many wonderful ways to write narrative nonfiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, etc. I hope all goes well for you.
      I love the bookend quality of your beginning and ending. Sounds like you’re a knitter and know first hand its therapeutic qualities.
      I love your last sentence of your ending. It sounds so simple, yet it’s profound. Thanks for sharing your work. Have a wonderful start to the school year!

      And I hope you and the students enjoy LIFETIME!

  2. Posted July 29, 2014 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    Wow, these are two great posts. After reading them, I just went back and revised my lead and ending paragraphs for an article I was about to submit–and it is SO much better now. Thanks, Lola–and all you teachers–for the inspiration!

    • Posted July 29, 2014 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      Oh, Sarah, talk about immediate gratification! To hear that these posts had such an impact on something you are writing and submitting is heaven. Thanks for sharing that.
      I also agree that these teachers and their writing are inspiring. Makes me want to start a school and put everyone from this blog to work. Can you imagine!
      Take care and enjoy every minute with your students this year.

  3. Posted July 29, 2014 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    Lola, Thank you so much for this! We so often focus on a strong lead, but a strong conclusion is just as important, if not more so. You want your reader to finish feeling satisfied. I laughed at the, “This is all I know…” ending. I’ve seen that one before! I’m definitely pinning this lesson and saving it for next year! Thanks!

    Your lesson is very timely. I’ve been neglecting TW to work on a guest blog post. Here’s an intro & conclusion ffor one of them that your prompt made me work on for over an hour. Yay! Movitvation! I believe blog posts are non-fiction too!

    One of the pillars of Whole Novels is that students’ voices and opinions are central to developing their thinking. We have to allow the students to connect with their reading, come up with interpretations and develop their own ideas. We shouldn’t just provide the ideas for the students and expect them to bask in our knowledge. We need to give them the chance to create their own aha moments. Whole Novels provides a number of frameworks to guide and support the thinking coming out of discussions and when I tried them within my Literature Circle program I saw how effective they really are.
    *
    *
    *
    The projects and the partnerships allowed the students to explore ideas I wanted them to explore, to discover patterns on their own, and to be successful. It also allowed me to walk around, listen, prompt, provide support to those groups who needed it, and give other groups the independence they are capable of. I remember my mother, absolutely exasperated, saying to my teenage self once, “Why can’t you just take what I tell you and believe it.” I told her that I had to check it out on my own and see if she was actually right or not. I had to discover life on my own. She wasn’t impressed with my answer. Mini Projects allowed my students to explore the patterns of stories and literature they needed to discover on their own.

    Thanks so much to everyone for your support

    • Posted July 29, 2014 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

      Wow, Stefanie, I want to come and be a fly on your classroom wall. I love how this lead and ending dovetail together. But, of course, being a maniac for best practices, I want to read the body of this piece, too, so I can see how you make this happen with the students.
      One of my favorite Literature Circle responses, back in the old days, was something that one group of my students thought up on their own. They stood in front of the rest of the class and gave a two-sentence summary of the book they had read and then said, “Ask us questions.”
      I sat slack-jawed at the in-depth questions that poured out of the audience’s mouths. Couple that with the thoughtful answers of those readers in the Literature Circle and it was amazingly powerful. If others in the class had already read the same book, there were agreements, arguments, and lots of speculation about the author and his/her purpose. WOW!

      Have a great year with your students and thank you for posting your lead and ending. GREAT STUFF!

  4. Brian Rozinsky
    Posted July 29, 2014 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    Hardly cheating, Lola! Well worth two parts to remind us about the power of the writing process as it unfolds across intro and conclusion iterations. Here’s my favorite ending for yesterday’s gas-tank lead. (I wrote three conclusions, and my notes at the end discuss why I prefer this one.)

    LEAD – Imagine: the earth is a car. It has a humongous gas tank, which took hundreds of millions of years to fill with fossil fuel. People have been driving the earth-automobile for about 300 years, and some scientists say the tank may already be approaching empty. Since we can’t just park the car to refill its tank, what might the planet look like when the gas needle points to E?

    CONCLUSION – The earth-automobile’s fuel gauge is shining its amber warning light, the needle near E. We won’t be able to fill up for hundreds of millions of years, if at all. So, for now, we need the earth’s engine to run more efficiently to make the most of what’s left in the tank. We must also tap fossil-fuel alternatives, like wind, solar, and even hydrogen, that might keep our planet rolling in the near and distant future.

    Notes on my process… This is the third of my three conclusions. The first one got me going, but felt overstuffed with details that really belonged in (as yet unwritten) body paragraphs. The second swung the opposite way, towards two-sentence brevity — 43 words vs. 124 in the first draft. Also problematic, the second version ended with a question that felt like the piece hadn’t moved much from the lead. I feel like the last version splits the difference of the first two. It’s more to the point than the first one (76 words), but it shows how this nonfiction piece might start to *answer* the question posed in the lead.

    • Posted July 29, 2014 at 9:00 am | Permalink

      Morning Brian,
      I like the gas tank analogy a lot and I like the warning light aspect to start off your conclusion. It brings us back, but on a slightly different note. You’re restate is strong leaving the reader with actions they need to work on and “rolling” is a perfect verb in the last sentence. I would definitely read and share your article.

    • Posted July 29, 2014 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      Holy Toledo! Such strong writing, Brian. Yep, without reading the other two conclusions, this one packs a punch. Again, love how these two work as a team.

      With your students examine mentor texts in that fashion. Read the leads and then flip to the backs and read the conclusions or endings. Allow students to find ways that they do, indeed, support one another.
      It’s tricky teaching kids that leads and conclusions are a team, but once they get it, you’ll see many smiles.

      Thank you for posting and especially for thinking out loud at the end to explain WHY you chose this particular ending. Don’t forget to do that with the kids. I know it takes extra time, but that investment will pay off big time in their writing.
      My very best to you as you begin a new year.

    • Posted July 29, 2014 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

      I am eager to read the whole thing now, Brian. Well done. Thanks for modeling for the rest of us!

  5. Posted July 29, 2014 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    Am off to the dentist office this morning. I will try to get a few responses typed before. If not, I will return full blast this afternoon. Promise.

  6. Posted July 29, 2014 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Hi Lola,

    Before I leave to work on the back ends of my bookends, I wanted to say thank you for these wonderful, detailed mini lessons. You have made this so practical for us to use, both as writers, and as teachers. My students will be better writers because of this. Gracias!

    • Posted July 29, 2014 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      Oh, you are so welcome, Greg. I’m having a blast these two days.
      Nothing I like better than working side by side with dedicated teachers. It’s the cherry on top of my life sundae.

  7. Posted July 29, 2014 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    LEAD 1: Boarding the ship for the New World was equal parts thrilling and terrifying. There was excitement at the promise of having a large field to build your own home and farm, but the long journey across the sea was rumored to be most unpleasant. There were 144 who set out from England. Six months later, landing on the shores of the New World, their numbers had dwindled to 105. By the end of the first winter, only 38 remained, and were hanging on for dear life. Starting life in The New World was proving to be deadly.

    CLOSE 1: Our American ancestors at Jamestown constructed a gateway to the New World. These settlers overcame terrifying obstacles, and in the process learned lessons about teamwork, diligence, and integrity that paved the way for the birth of our nation. As we Americans carry on their legacy of sacrifice, bravery, and perseverance, we begin to understand the debt we owe for the thrilling opportunities and prosperity that we enjoy today.

    LEAD 2: Enormous iron links scraped against the wooden decks as they dropped their anchors near the shoreline. That scraping sound screamed confirmation of their arrival to all those aboard the three vessels. They had finally made land in The New World. Soon, there would be more screaming, as many of the fledgling group of settlers would be dropped by arrows, disease, and starvation, their short lives anchored to this deadly peninsula.

    CLOSE 2:
    When our ancestors dropped anchor here a few centuries ago, they carried dreams of freedom, ownership, and prosperity. Many of the earliest settlers never realized those dreams, but instead bore the heavy sacrifices of pioneers in a New World, laying a foundation for future generations. We, their descendants, linked by legacy, are flush with opportunities for prosperity, happily anchored in a world that they could only envision.

    LEAD 3: They promised a New World. They promised rivers of gold. They promised an endless supply of silver. They promised land in abundance. There was no fine print detailing the dysentery. There were no warnings about the savages. There was no plan for survival. This New World was starting on shaky ground.

    CLOSE 3:
    Many of the earliest settlers never realized the promises they came in search of. What would eventually grow to be a prosperous nation was not yet ready to fulfill their dreams.
    Our brave ancestors instead laid a solid foundation for our proud nation. We, their descendants, carry the knowledge that we are the fulfillment of the promise. As their legacy, we are the realization of their hopes and dreams.

    • Jennifer
      Posted July 29, 2014 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

      I enjoy reading your work so much-whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. I think it takes a lot to be able to switch between the two and you do both so well! Thank you for sharing this!

      • Posted July 30, 2014 at 3:18 am | Permalink

        Thank you Jennifer! You just made my day with your kind feedback!

  8. Posted July 29, 2014 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Greg, these are all great bookends. I know which one (I think) that the kids will appreciate the most – #2. I can just see their faces lighting up when you mention dropping due to arrows, disease, and starvation. Although, #3 gets into some of that, too. So it might be a tie. It will be fun to see.
    I like the use of statistics in #1. It will be telling to see how many of your boys gravitate to that pair. The reason I say that is because when I introduce statistical details, it’s usually a few boys who are the first to try them out in their writing.
    You’ve got some wonderful examples to share during mini-lessons.
    Thank you so much for posting yesterday and today.
    Enjoy your students and remember to write and think out loud beside them.

    • Posted July 29, 2014 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

      Lola,
      Thank you so much for the directions and the helpful feedback. It is so generous of to give of your time and talent for the teachers here. What a blessing you are to us and our students.

  9. Terry
    Posted July 29, 2014 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    Intro:
    I was 16 when I met my first child with autism. I was told that most children with autism would never learn to express concern for others. I was told that they had no ability to connect to other people, forever disconnected from their families. I was told that autism was the worst diagnosis your child could ever receive. I was told wrong.

    Ending 1:
    Every day I work with children on the autism spectrum. Each child’s disabilities and strengths are unique. But each child I meet expresses love and affection for others. Their social connections are complex and humbling in their honesty. To understand what autism means to a child you will have to know the individual, not the disorder.
    Ending 2:
    At dismissal today, I brought a 3 year-old child out of school to his waiting mother. We spotted her through the doors, I asked, “Who is that?”
    “Mommy!” He shouted, and ran to throw himself into her arms.
    His heart is no less full than my own.

    • Posted July 29, 2014 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

      Oh, Terry, what fabulous endings. For me #1 offers such impact with your last three words.
      The second one is strong, too, and puts a personal perspective on your topic, which I love.
      Thank you for writing and posting.
      I wish I could watch you interact with students. I’m sure it’s no less powerful than your writing.

      • Terry
        Posted July 29, 2014 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

        Lola-
        Thank you for all your work and writing lessons. They’ve been so helpful and now I want to read Bomb (which I was not interested in at all, previously!).

        I really appreciate your feedback on my writing.
        Terry

    • Jennifer
      Posted July 29, 2014 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

      I loved the last sentence in Ending #1 and Ending #2. They both pack a punch that stick with you even after you’ve left the passage. I hope that this is a work in progress that you continue:)

  10. Posted July 29, 2014 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    Beginning:
    William Avery did not know what to do. He’d just been offered a significant amount of money for the tree growing in his front yard. He had a decision to make, should he accept the money or not? This was not an easy decision. It was not a question of whether the family valued the tree or not; it was the reason that Captain Samuel Nicholson wanted the tree. He wanted it for a boat he was building

    Ending:
    Approximately 2,000 trees were felled to build the USS Constitution, but this tree would not be one of them. The Avery Oak, the majestic white oak tree on East Street, would stay.

    • Posted July 29, 2014 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

      Jennifer, this is fascinating. Your specific information really strengthens your writing. And those last two words – would stay – are so pleasantly final.
      Thanks for writing an ending and posting. I’ve learned so much from reading all of your work this week.
      Have a great year with students!

      • Posted July 29, 2014 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

        Thank you! I have been working on this for a while. The perspective has been hard, as has been the beginning and ending. Your posts have helped me move things forward.

        • Posted July 30, 2014 at 7:10 am | Permalink

          Jennifer, Your last sentence & words, “..would stay.” give me goosebumps. Brava! I hope to read this book some day.

          • Posted July 30, 2014 at 7:13 am | Permalink

            Umm. I’m reading the thread wrong. Still goosebumps, but am unsure who the author is about the saving the live oak tree. It’s a powerful ending.

    • Jennifer
      Posted July 29, 2014 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

      Wow! This definitely hooked me and I want to read more:) I also think that the beginning could prompt a lot of rich discussion among students as they debated the decision that William Avery faced.
      I was anxious to read the ending to find out what William Avery decided! I hope to see more!

  11. Posted July 29, 2014 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    Hoping it is okay to share the second thing I am working on –

    beginning:
    How did this rock from the Laurentian Mountains in Quebec, Canada end up hundreds of miles south along this ridge in the Wonalancet Range in Tamworth, New Hampshire? For the answer, we’ll have to go back 15,000 years to the last ice age.

    Ending:
    I know how my rock traveled from the Laurentians in Quebec to the Wonalancet Range in Tamworth. The Wisconsian glatiation 15,000 years ago carried it a ways, until the melting of the giant glacier formed the enormous Lake Albany. Erosion of the mountain ranges that contained the lake opened up several box canyon waterfalls, one of which exists on the Wonalancet Range. The torrential gush of water that broke through carried rocks and materials over the range and into the next valley. Remember that each rock has a story; a story shaped by ice, wind, and water. Where did that rock come from? How long a journey has it had? Which Earth’s forces shaped that journey? The next time you are hiking in the mountains, look down, not just out, you never know what kind of history you will find.

    • Posted July 29, 2014 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

      Hello Jennifer. I think it’s great that you chose to share two different things. Both are so specific and interesting to someone like me who is all about geology and the natural sciences.

      For this particular ending, I’d say it actually begins with the word “Remember.” The details before that sound like part of the body, the explanation. But from the word “Remember” on it sounds like the coolest ending. You bring it back to something general – all rocks – and to the reader. What a lovely way to satisfy, and yet intrigue, your audience. Love it!
      Thanks for writing and posting.
      And good luck with your students.

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