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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Learning Log Entry #9

Well, fellow literacy classmates, is it just me or is this semester flying by?? As I begin thinking about this blog entry I think back to Jaimie and Gretchen's presentation on the expository genre. To be completely honest, I wasn't even sure exactly what the expository genre was until I opened up Tompkins (2012) and started reading. I considered it nonfiction writing, I never knew it had the term "expository." It's one of those "you learn something new every day" things I guess. During my student teaching experience, I didn't really have the chance to teach the expository writing genre but during my day-to-day substitute teaching students in the fourth and fifth grade classes would be working on essays which were expository. That's really all they would write, essays. They were practicing for PSSAs (Pennsylvania System of School Assessment), which was Pennsylvania's standardized testing. They were being drilled in writing essay form and it was a mixture of expository, persuasive, and narrative, but one day I remember working on expository with one of the fifth grade classes. The students had no motivation whatsoever because the topic wasn't interesting to them, so they were extremely bored, and they were given a prompt and told to write. I really like using graphic organizers and I definitely think that they have their time and place and I think that students should have had the chance to use a graphic organizer, or even learn how to use one so that come testing day they could use their scrap paper to make their own. It was really frustrating for not just the students but for me as well because I was given instructions to have them write for about 30 minutes and then share. They wrote about five lines because they were so uninterested and I didn't have any ideas for ways to engage them. 

While reading through the chapter in Tompkins (2012) I found a lot of ideas that I really liked. Instead of students just writing in essay form there are so many different options that I had never thought of before. I think that my favorite was the Alphabet Book (p. 211). When I read that the students wrote down ABC and words that start with that letter I thought they were done, but I think it's a really good way for students to not only use expository but descriptive writing as well when they elaborate on the word they chose for the letter. A lot of students are really good at drawing pictures and don't get the chance to show that off so I think this is a really good opportunity to gain student interest by letting them know that they won't just be drawing but they can draw a picture as well. I know a lot of students draw when they're done with work or during indoor recess so they like to express their creativity in the classroom. 

Another emphasis that Tompkins (2012) made was to make sure that when we're teaching the expository text we tell students about plagiarism, what it is and why it's wrong (p. 213). Teaching paraphrasing is a must, and it's something that students will use throughout their educational career so the earlier they learn how to paraphrase the better. A lot of students, when doing expository pieces, take notes and they need to be taught the proper way to take notes in their own words instead of copying it straight from the text. I know that if I would copy notes straight from the text I don't learn anything, I need to put the words from the text into my own to make sure that I comprehend them. I think that the note-taking strategy is also a really good comprehension strategy as well. 

The expository genre has so many different characteristics and there are so many ways to teach it and so many activities to do with it that I wasn't aware of. I can't wait to try some of them out when I have my own classroom. 


  1. I love your comment that we learn something new is so true! You are not alone with not having used the term expository before. I was in the quad inclusive program for my undergrad here at Nazareth, and the class was having a discussion about using expository text in the classroom. I had transferred in through a 2+2 program and I just wanted to keep up and I felt embarassed that I didn't know what they were talking about. This gave me some perspective on how students may feel when they do not have a firm grasp on vocabulary and key concepts. I eventually figured it out (thanks to the girl sitting next to me who explained it to me when we were given a short break).

    I have not had as much experience teaching in the younger grades and have mostly taught middle school, but from my experiences I have seen that when there is ample opportunity and resources for expository text to be used and chosen, many students choose to read it on their own.

    It is also beneficial to have students read expository text in the younger grades because many of the textbooks used in the classrooms today share the same features (glossary, index, use of italics and boldface fonts, pictures, diagrams, maps, etc...). I personally was always drawn to the pictures and illustrations.

    In regard to plagiarism and paraphrasing you are absolutely right in that we need to have some form of direct instruction for our students on this topic. I did not even cite my own essays and works until I was a senior in high school which made college writing even more difficult for me.

    My question would have to be (because I don't have much experience with the younger students), how young should we start instruction in regard to plagiarism, paraphrasing, and proper citations? When do children typically start to create writing pieces that would require this instruction?
    My own experiences with my 7th graders led me to believe that they had not recieved any prior instruction regarding how to cite their work and proper paraphrasing. They knew about plagiarism and what it was, but they did not understand how it affected them personally as writers.

    Another word I have to admit not knowing or even heard of before; Trade Books. I was subbing in a fifth grade classroom and the trade books were to be introduced to the class that day. Needless to say, I went running to the all-knowing librarian and she saved me (like always).

  2. Marsha touched upon many of the themes I found particularly notable in your entry, Kayla. One additional point you made which is important to "bless" is the use of graphic organizers as a way to help students become more sophisticated consumers of expository texts. Too often students think all essays are organized to follow the pattern for description; however students need to become aware of how the organizational text structures of sequence, compare/contrast, cause/effect, problem/solution are also used in expository texts (both as a macro-structure and within-text pattern).

    Helping students understand the nuances of how expository texts (or explanations) are constructed would help them become much more sophisticated in their writing -- even if they still find the topic boring. :-)