To learn more about other writing units, visit our writing program overview.
Of the three broad types of writing that the Common Core State Standards emphasize – argumentative, informative / explanatory, and narrative – informative writing is perhaps the category that receives the least love from teachers. in writing.
Of course, students write explanatory pieces all the time, whether in response to questions, in notebooks, in formal papers, and on tests. They also do this kind of writing in all subjects, perhaps in science or history lessons as well as in English. But as former teachers ourselves, we’ve found that writing teachers tend to shine the spotlight on the two sibling genres. After all, making a strong case and telling a compelling story may seem like more interesting tasks than just explaining something clearly and precisely.
But informative writing is the style of writing that dominates The New York Times as well as any other mainstream newspaper you might read, and in this unit we hope to show students that it can be just as engaging and compelling to read. . and write like other genres. Via thousands of articles per month – from front page political reports to athlete news in Sports, in-depth data in The Upshot, recipes in Cooking, tip columns in Style, and long-running investigative articles in the magazine – Journalists at The Times find ways to experiment with the genre to intrigue and educate their audiences.
For this unit, however, we are focusing on one large area of informational writing – the one with a STEM theme. Not only can students find daily models in the Science, Tech and Health sections of The Times, but we have also partnered with Science News and Science News for Students as our competition partner so that we can provide even more range. wide of examples of writing at different reading levels.
But if you are a humanities teacher and you feel left out, know that this competition and our four lesson plans for mentors are also relevant to you.
First of all, your students can tackle any subject they like in the major fields of science, technology, engineering, math, and health, and we hope they will choose some problems and ideas that have a real relevance to their life. But more specifically, the writing skills we want this competition to teach – how to write clearly and engagingly on complex topics – obviously cover areas. And the specific requirements of the competition – that students have an engaging “hook” as an opening, that they weave quotes from experts and studies, and that they explain why the topic is important – are elements they will need to master for all kinds of writing tasks.
Below we provide the basic ingredients of our unit, which can be used and adapted whether or not you participate in our competition.
Start with a writing prompt that will help students explore topics of interest to them.
When dealing with STEM-related topics, journalists often start by asking a question about what’s going on in the world around them:
How safe is vaping? Can exercise make us smarter? How does facial recognition technology work? Why do forest fires turn into hell? If you touched the moon, how would you feel?
Their articles are answers to these questions – or at least attempts to answer them.
To begin this unit, we invite students to think about their own questions by answering our writing prompt: What questions do you ask yourself about how the world works?
The questions they ask can serve as a starting point for researching and writing their own informational texts for our STEM Information Writing Contest.
Whether they end up entering our contest or not, we hope your students have fun answering this prompt – and then enjoy reading questions from other students, commenting on them, and maybe even hitting the “Recommend” button if they read an answer they particularly like.
All of our guests are open to comments from students 13 and older, and each comment is read by The Times editors before being approved.
Read the mentors’ texts and try out some of the “writer’s moves” we highlight.
The goal of our mentoring text series is to demystify what good writing looks like and encourage students to experiment with some of these techniques for themselves.
For this unit, we have created three mentoring lesson plans that focus on the individual elements that we ask student writers to include in their competition submissions. We also invited a science journalist to annotate one of his own articles to take us behind the scenes of his research and writing process and show us how he weaved these elements together.
By the end of the unit, your students will have brainstormed research ideas, gone behind the scenes of a journalist’s process, and practiced the key elements of news writing themselves.
Now we invite them to produce neat writing that brings it all together.
This competition asks students to choose a problem or question in science, technology, engineering, math, or health that interests them, then write a 500-word explanation that will engage and enlighten readers.
All student work will be read by our staff, volunteers from The Times and Science Times newsroom, and / or educators across the country. Winners will have their work published on our site and possibly in the New York Times print media.
While the heart of our unit is the prompts, mentoring texts, and the contest, we also offer additional resources to inspire and support teachers, including lesson plans and great ideas from our readers around reading and of STEM writing.