An Introduction to Teaching Information Report through Familiarisation and Scaffolded Writing Tasks

Article excerpt

Introduction

Expert writers always have a specific audience and purpose for writing. Every text form we write comes with its own structures and language features. Expert writers know how to manipulate language and text forms to suit their own purposes when writing. They also know how to combine text forms to create impact on their readers when necessary.

We do not simply write text forms, but read and comprehend them according to our prior knowledge. Students need to be explicitly taught the particular audiences, purposes, structures and language features of a range of different text types in order to gain control and mastery of them when writing. Studying text forms in various written and digital forms, and in different contexts, is crucial for developing writers to build their understandings of how each one works. Beginning and developing writers need time in guided practices with teachers to familiarise themselves with the way authors use and present text forms to communicate with their audience. They then need support and scaffolding in their first attempts at writing these text forms in order to practise their skills, build confidence and experience success.

The following describes and discusses an approach to supporting children as writers of information reports. It is underpinned by the rationale that:

* We read and write for specific audiences and purposes.

* Different text forms have particular structures and language features that can be read and manipulated to suit our audiences and cultural purposes when reading and writing.

Teaching Goals: When teaching any learning sequence, teachers must be very clear on what they want the students to know and understand by the end of the unit, whether it is one lesson or four weeks work. Understanding goals for a unit of work on Information Report may include the following:

For students to:

1. Understand the audiences, purpose, structures and language features of information texts in general and information reports in particular.

2. Read, deconstruct and examine different print and multi-modal information reports to gain increasing understanding of their structures and features and how they can be used in different contexts.

3. Understand the structure of paragraphs: topic sentence, related information, concluding sentence.

4. Engage in a range of scaffolded learning tasks to plan and write information reports of increasing complexity.

Familiarisation of information reports texts

Familiarisation of text forms, i.e. reading, discussing, listening to or viewing samples of them before writing is a critical teaching practice for supporting students in writing for particular audiences and purposes (Annandale, Bindon, Handley, Johnston, Lockett & Lynch, 2005). All too often, teachers launch into writing text forms without allowing their students to read authentic texts and to investigate how authors utilise the text form to impart their message. By reading authentic information reports, and performing a series of reading and sorting activities, students can be 'tuned in' to the purposes and features of the text form.

Sample activities are used in this paper to demonstrate the ways learning can be supported at each stage of the writing process. In the tables that follow are tasks designed specifically for certain age groups and ones that are more general. They are included in this paper to allow the reader to think about the demands students face at each stage of the information report writing process and the ways we as teachers can support their learning.

Content versus text type

Decisions need to be made around whether the focus will be on the teaching of content, or whether the content is only the vehicle for explicitly teaching the structures and features of a specific text type. In the following learning sequence, which begins with a whole-class reading of Australian Spiders (Oxford Press), the teaching focus is specifically on learning about how authors use the particular structures and language features of information report to organise their information in a meaningful way for their audience. …