Last month, my first graders were learning how to write reviews... reviews of toys, movies, and books. But it wasn't quite as easy as I thought it would be. I found they were accidentally slipping back into what they knew well as writers. Some children were unintentionally writing personal narratives or informational pieces, particularly how-to pieces. I realized these were traps that were easy for any writer to fall into, especially a writer who is only 6 years old. So I thought about showing them examples and non-examples of reviews so they had a clear picture of what a review looks like and (maybe more importantly) what it doesn't look like.
I started by drafting my own samples (see above) and giving a set to each student team. I challenged each team, "You have three samples of writing. One is a review, one is a personal narrative, and one is a how-to piece. Together, study each sample, talk about what you notice, and decide which sample is which. We'll talk as a whole group when every team is ready." I gave each group sticky notes so they could record their ideas and thoughts. After about 10-12 minutes, we came back together on the floor and discussed each sample, talking about what type writing it was and what features of the writing led them to believe that. Interestingly, every team correctly identified each sample. We had fun talking about how these other types of writing were a "trap" that writers sometimes fall into because they're familiar and we know them so well.
Then, we really dug into the review and talked about how they knew that particular sample was a review. Since the students were so involved in the discussion around the samples, I knew the work would make a great visual anchor for students to refer to during the remainder of the study. By turning it into an anchor chart, I was also able to refer to it during student writing conferences and sharing sessions. Simple chart + student discussion = big payoff. Yay! :)