Informational Essay: Getting Organized Before Writing
Help students develop their understanding of the informational writing process with this lesson that guides them through the prewriting stage of the process. Students will organize their research notes by categorizing and identifying big themes.
Students will be able to sort and organize their research notes for their informational essay.
- Introduce the general structure of an informational essay:
- An introduction paragraph that includes a thesis statement, a sentence that summarizes the main point or claim in the essay
- Three body paragraphs, one for each supporting point
- A concluding paragraph that restates the thesis and wraps up the essay
- Ask students to turn and talk to a partner about how they might use their research notes to eventually write an informational essay. Prompt them to think about additional steps they think would help them in the process, and encourage them to draw on previous writing experience.
- Call on volunteers to share with the class, and explain that the next step in the process of writing their informational essays is to sort and organize their research notes. This step will prepare them to later write an outline and then a first draft.
- Display a copy of the Graphic Organizer: Informational Writing worksheet and share that they will use this tool to organize their research notes as they bring their informational writing project one step further in the process.
Explicit Instruction/Teacher modeling(13 minutes)
- Explain that today’s exercise will build upon the final two questions on the Research Graphic Organizer: Note-Taking worksheet. Display the worksheet to guide the conversation.
- Based on your research, what do you think the main idea of your essay should be?
- How will you organize your information in an essay format?
- Explain that once they have done enough initial research for their topic, they should see some common patterns and themes across their sources. They should use these themes to help them come up with the main idea of their essay. Later, they will use this main idea to write a thesis statement.
- Give an example of a main idea. If using the “How does pollution affect the ocean?” research question, share that the main idea is that pollution negatively impacts marine animals and their environment.
- Explain that the next step is to organize the details from their research into focused paragraphs.
- Turn their attention to the first page of the Research Graphic Organizer: Note-Taking worksheet that contains your research notes. Point out that you can identify some common themes throughout the notes, and those themes highlight important points you can include in your essay.
- For example, say, “I notice that I found a lot of information about marine animals mistakenly eating trash, so that information could form one of my supporting paragraphs. I also found a good amount of information about garbage patches in oceans, as well as chemical run-off causing the growth of toxic plants.”
- Use sticky notes to come up with three categories, and jot down a word or phrase on each sticky note to serve as a category label (e.g., animals accidentally consume trash, debris in the water creates garbage patches, chemicals cause the growth of toxic plants). Reiterate that these categories were developed because of the common themes from the research notes, and now the specific notes can be sorted into the categories to serve as the evidence.
- Explain that for today’s exercise in organization, each piece of information from the example note-taking graphic organizer has been written on an index card. The goal is to sort the index cards by placing them in the corresponding category.
- Place the three sticky notes on the board and model thinking aloud about how you will organize your research notes into the categories. Invite volunteers to help you sort the notes. For example:
- Evidence: Chemicals from fertilizers used in our yards or farms end up in the water.
- Supporting point category: Chemicals cause the growth of toxic plants.
- Acknowledge that some information that was gathered while researching might not fit into the three established categories. Explain that, while this information is relevant to the broader topic and research question, it is not relevant to the focus of the supporting points in this informational essay, and it will not be included.
- Show the class how to jot down information on the teacher copy of the Graphic Organizer: Informational Essay worksheet to reflect the sorting activity. For example, the supporting points for the example research question might be:
- animals mistakenly consume litter
- debris creates large concentrations of trash (garbage patches)
- chemical run-off contaminates water, promotes the growth of toxic plants
- Remind the class that, while this graphic organizer does not require complete sentences, it does require complete thoughts.
Guided Practice(15 minutes)
- Have students take out their completed Research Graphic Organizer: Note-Taking worksheet and explain that they are going to sort their research into categories.
- Give each individual three sticky notes and 5-10 index cards.
- Instruct students to identify themes in their notes, and use those to come up with three categories that will be the supporting points. Students should write these categories on the sticky notes.
- Instruct students to write each important detail from their research on an index card. Have them begin sorting these details into the relevant categories. These will be the pieces of evidence for those supporting points.
- Circulate and provide support for students as they work through this activity.
- Gather the class back together, and hold a short discussion about the impact of this sorting activity on the writing process.
- Distribute a copy of the Graphic Organizer: Informational Writing worksheet to each individual, and review the components. Make the connection to the sorting activity and remind students that the sticky notes represent the supporting points and the index cards represent the evidence.
Independent working time(20 minutes)
- Have students start filling in their Graphic Organizer: Informational Writing worksheet.
- Teach a pre-lesson about main ideas and supporting details so students are prepared to pick out three supporting points for their essay.
- Have students work in a small, teacher-led group during the guided practice portion of the lesson. Provide frequent feedback and guidance to support their organization.
- Challenge advanced writers to adjust their research question to support a different nonfiction text structure, such as compare/contrast, problem/solution, or cause/effect. Ask them to think about how their word choice and organization would change. Have them use sticky notes to jot their thoughts and place them on the Outline: Informational Essay to point out the adjustments they’d need to make. Encourage them to write a companion essay about the same topic using a different nonfiction text structure.
- Circulate during the guided practice and independent working portions of the lesson to evaluate student understanding of how to organize their information.
- After students have had enough time to complete it, review each individual’s Graphic Organizer: Informational Writing worksheet. Evaluate their main idea, supporting points, and concluding statement, and determine next steps in supporting revisions.
Review and closing(2 minutes)
- Ask students to pair with a peer and prompt them to each share their progress and next steps.
- Preview the next lesson by telling students that they will use their graphic organizers as a foundation for building their essay with an outline.