The following post is adapted from the article Nell Duke on Reading and Writing Informational Texts— Keys to Student Success, which was written by Lorna Collier and
published in The Council Chronicle (November 2013).
One key to developing informational text literacy with students is to have them write their own, says Nell Duke, a literacy researcher and professor of literacy, language, and culture at the University of Michigan.
“When we are teaching students to write informational texts, we are not only improving their writing ability, but we are also potentially improving their reading. . . . We are teaching them to write like readers and to read like writers.”
Duke says teachers need to show students examples of good informational text so they have an understanding of what this looks like.
Also, research shows students do better if they have a “real” purpose for their writing, she says—an authentic reason for the writing to exist, other than as an assignment for a teacher.
“We have growing data to suggest that students will write much more effectively if they are writing for someone other than their teacher,” Duke says. “Writing for real purpose and for a real audience is very helpful to engagement with writing.”
Duke and colleagues recently worked with second-grade students as part of research into project-based learning. The children wrote proposals for local parks officials as part of a lobbying effort for parks improvements. The study found that the project-based approach helped improve the students’ content knowledge, reading, and writing abilities.
Other potential “real” audiences for student writing, suggests Duke, include other students in the school; national organizations that publish articles about related topics; newspapers or websites that publish letters to the editor; and online book review sites, either those specifically for students, such as Scholastic’s Share What You’re Reading site or others for the general public, like Amazon.com.