Teaching kids to write their first reports can be daunting. Indeed, writing a report for a youngster can seem like an overwhelming task. It’s quite a PROCESS by the time you go from choosing a topic to researching, from organizing to drafting, and finally from editing and revising to ending up with a polished piece of work. Just talking about the steps can seem exhausting and overwhelming! When my kids first start writing reports I guide them through and actually do some of the physical writing for them. Let’s take a quick walk through it. . .
First, you need a topic. Let’s say you are studying the Civil War. I like to give kids an umbrella topic (like Civil War) and a few specific options to choose from (like the Underground Railroad, Abraham Lincoln, or Civil War spies).
Next, you’ll need to do some reading. As they read about their topic, have them write down things they have found out about their topic on a graphical organizer like this Sandwich Report Organizer. This one is intended for individual paragraphs. As kids come across information that will go in a specific paragraph, they write it in the appropriate place on their organizer. Beginning essays are often just one paragraph, but as kids become more capable they can write more. If kids were writing 3 paragraph essays, they would need 3 sandwich organizer sheets, or 5 for a 5 paragraph essay, and so on. Click on the picture below to get the printable.
Another option is to write the things they found out on index cards so they can be physically manipulated and moved around later. (This is one step that I help with the physical writing on for brand new writers. Let them dictate what they want to include while you write. They’ll be writing it over again later anyway.)
Now it’s time to draft. Ask, “What is the MAIN IDEA of your whole essay?” All of their details should somehow talk about their main idea. Have them write the main idea, followed by the supporting details, and finally the concluding sentence.
Abraham Lincoln did many great things in his life.
When he was young, he was so honest that he walked miles to return 6 cents to a woman who had accidentally paid him too much.
He learned as much as he could and eventually became a lawyer.
Later as president of the United States he freed the slaves and did all he could to keep the country together during the Civil War.
From the time Abraham Lincoln was born until the time he died he helped people and did what he thought was right.
Of course, when they write these it will be in the form of a paragraph rather than on individual lines:
Abraham Lincoln did many great things in his life. When he was young, he was so honest that he walked miles to return 6 cents to a woman who had accidentally paid him too much. He learned as much as he could and eventually became a lawyer. Later, as president of the United States, he freed the slaves and did all he could to keep the country together during the Civil War. From the time Abraham Lincoln was born until the time he died he helped people and did what he thought was right.
Older kids will be able to write 3 or 5 paragraph essays instead of just one.
The final step is to edit and revise. Check for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. You may point out awkward sentences or suggest ways that they could be clearer or add details. I have my kids write their final draft as we edit and revise together. For example, if they’ve misspelled a word, I help them with the spelling as they write it correctly on their final draft. I also offer suggestions of places they could have used more detail or other suggestions.
After a few of these they’ll be able to do more and more of the process on their own, and little by little grow into longer and more developed essays.
One final parting note – I am bothered by teachers who tell kids that every paragraph must have 5 sentences and every essay must have 5 paragraphs. It simply isn’t true! A 5 sentence paragraph and a 5 paragraph essay are great places to begin for learning purposes, but writers should NEVER feel stuck in a format. It’s important to be able to include enough details to support your points. Knowing how to write a solid 5 paragraph essay is really important. Don’t let form get in the way of function though. Maybe your little one wants to put in the part about Abe Lincoln getting shot. . . just add a piece of cheese to the sandwich!