Real Language at Work

Non-Fiction Stories and Poems
Ruby Clayton

We spent the first week figuring out what is and is not nonfiction. We discovered that nonfiction can be about anything. The second week I helped them to learn the attributes of feature articles, that it must have facts plus one or more of the following: story
(that which contains story elements -- plot, characters, setting etc.), strong voice (when the writer is talking to you) and/or opinion. I brought in piles of feature article type books from the library, plus magazine articles from Ranger Rick and National Geographic Kids, and we analyzed those for feature article elements. We hunted and underlined in various colors facts, story, strong voice and opinion when we found it. I chose a touchstone that was like what I
wanted the kids to write, and we tore it apart looking for those same elements.

The third week was spent learning about first and 2nd hand information. I taught them how to get first hand info from a survey of two yes/no talliable questions or to do a short interview of one person (2 questions for my 1st graders). I also taught them to think about a topic, like water, then to choose an angle such as drowning, drinking water, rain, water safety. Then I helped them to think about their own topics and angles.

Once they had a topic/angle, they had to search for facts. Homework was to come back with five -ten facts about their angle. They then wrote a reflection page about the facts. They would have written another reflection page about their first hand info, survey/interview, except we didn't do those. From the reflection page we noticed that that was where our story, strong voice, and opinion seemed to appear.

The fourth week they began the drafts by choosing a lead. They had to decide if the lead was going to be story, strong voice, opinion or fact. They wrote some, we conferenced about what element of a feature article they might want to add, and where. Some added on to the beginning, middle or end, different elements of the feature article. They would write some, I'd take it home to type, give it back, they'd add some more, or cut it apart and add to the middle,
or just write on that paper until they had it like they wanted.

When all revising was done, they edited for conventions and then I retyped as final editor and publisher. I gave them the finished copies with boxes in open areas so they could add in the pictures.

Our fourth/fifth graders also wrote feature articles. They had much longer pieces and did do the surveys (25 yes/no questions) or interviews (10-15 questions I think).

What I like about teaching this unit is that if the kids were just writing nonfiction, it would be all facts and the child's voice would not be in the piece. Once they add story, strong voice or opinion, the article becomes theirs. MY last one doesn't have her facts quite right and really liked using strong voice, but I like her firefly piece. She found her facts from the internet as no one had home would help her. Following that is a fifth grade feature article.


I love flowers because they are pretty.
Flowers come up in the summer.
Some flowers can kill you. Flowers
need lots of water and sun.

This bud is ready to blossom into a
beautiful flower.

My daddy killed flowers because he
thought they were weeds. My sister
was mad and my mom was too. They
will grow back.



When baby pandas are born they are so cute, and they talk like a really real

I like when the adult panda feeds the baby panda.
When the baby pandas get older they are parents.

Do you know that pandas are black and white? That they like
to . . . be in the woods? I think that when they are in the woods the baby
panda will get eaten by a lion and the adult panda will be very mad. The lion
gets mad too, because the adult panda gets mad at the lion first.

I think that nobody else loves pandas like I love pandas.



Do you know that fireflies live in rotten wood, and fly around?
And do you know that they light up? And do you know that you
can chase them? And do you know that they are fun to play and chase?

Fireflies light up in the dark. One time I caught them and saw their eyes!

They walk in grass. They fly around. They like to stay on trees. They eat
small bugs. And they are red, and they are black, too! They have four legs.

I wish they came everyday.


Ruby Clayton is a looping, kindergarten/first grade teacher in Indianapolis, Indiana. As a veteran teacher of 29 years, she has used some pretty interesting methodologies to teach reading. Her continuous quest for producing better readers has led her to love being a whole language advocate, and teacher.


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