Friday, January 24, 2014

Integrating Writing Into the Content Areas: RAFT Tasks

Who are the writing teachers out there? I know some upper grades teachers departmentalize, so you may be the writing teacher on your team, or you may not teach writing at all. I think (and this is my total personal opinion) that even if you aren’t the designated writing teacher, you can still find creative ways to have your students practice those important writing skills. I want to use my post today to give you some tips on how to incorporate writing into other subject areas.

I have found through my years teaching, that some kiddos seem to have a permanent writer’s block. You can give them a prompt, they can’t think of anything to write on it. You leave it open-ended and they can’t narrow it down. I have found that when I focus my writing time around science, social studies, or math content, my kiddos have an easier time filling their paper with meaningful thoughts. Of course, this only happens if they have learned enough about the content to be able to write about it.

I personally love using RAFT writing tasks (Role, Audience, Format, Task) to accomplish this. RAFT tasks allow students to write for different audiences and take on different roles, and it requires them to apply learned concepts through their writing. I also love how RAFT tasks add an element of novelty for the kiddos and allows me a chance to be creative. Students need to have fun writing tasks in order to really understand that writing is more than just research reports and stories.

Math
I think math is pretty easy to have kiddos write about. Why? Because they can explain their thinking when solving problems. Or, if they are playing a game, you can have them write about the strategy they used to win the game. Most kids are more than eager to tell you how they win.  If you want to create a RAFT task, you can have the kiddos take on the role of a game creator. I used to have my students create their own games to review specific math skills, so I would have them write out the rules to their game.
So an example of a RAFT task would be:
Role- game creator
Audience- any game company such as Hasbro
Format- directions
Task- Create a new game children can play to practice a specific math skill (you can allow students to select one or more skills, or you can assign students specific skills). You will need to write detailed directions for the children to follow in order to play the game.

Science/Social Studies
Science and social studies takes a little more effort, in my opinion, because you have to make sure you are thoroughly teaching the content if you expect kids to write about it in a meaningful way. Any kid can record facts about a topic. The purpose, though, is to have the kids write about the content in a meaningful way. Maybe have them describe a historical event using a first-hand account. Or they can describe how two processes are connected. Both of these require students to know enough about the content to apply their knowledge in a written form. Having students write about science and social studies content is also a sneaky way to find more hours in the day. Many teachers say that science and social studies is hard to fit in because of a lack of time or because of such an intensive focus on reading, writing, and math. Instead of having your students write a personal narrative about what they did over the weekend, have them write a personal narrative from the point of view of a child who is growing up during The Great Depression. I know that kids love to write about themselves, and I still had my students write about themselves and self-selected topics, but I had them do this as morning work before class started, or I had this as an option during literacy centers.

Here is one of my favorite RAFT tasks I love to give my students after we study habitats (click here for the complete task):
Role- keeper or aquarist
Audience- zoo or aquarium visitors
Format- comic strip
Task- You are in charge of providing information for visitors to read about a specific animal. You will choose one animal to research and create a comic strip that visitors can read to learn more about your chosen animal.

While we study each habitat, I let my students choose one animal from that habitat to research. I don’t have them write a report on that animal, though, because then they would be writing a LOT of reports. Instead I encourage them to choose one animal from that habitat they want to learn more about, and they fill out the graphic organizer using the information they find. They then keep this organizer in their folder. When we have finished studying all the habitats, and the students have found information on multiple animals, I have them choose the one animal to complete the writing task. They create a comic strip using the information pertaining to this chosen animal. The categories I had my students research for each animal tied directly to our science standards.

My students love Tim and Moby from BrainPop, so I have them create a comic strip similar in nature. Let’s say the student wanted to further research Emperor Penguins. Then in each frame of their comic strip they have one Emperor Penguin looking at the reader giving facts, and in the background there are more Emperor Penguins demonstrating the fact.  These turned out really cute! The comic frame is a large index card, or you can have a parent volunteer cut plain white copy paper in half. I had a parent volunteer cut strips of butcher paper and students glued their frames onto the butcher paper so they could roll it up and store it. I was able to display these in the hallway.  My students love this much more than the typical research report. I still have my students write research reports because it is important for them to be able to do this, but I also think that novelty is important in writing, too.


What do you think about using RAFT tasks in your classroom? How might you incorporate RAFT tasks into your day? I would love to hear your thoughts!


Until next time!
Heather
2 Brainy Apples

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