Informational Essay Mini Lesson

Descriptive Details

Frequently, students write very simple, basic sentences that provide few, if any, descriptive details to the reader. This lesson focused on adjectives and adverbs can be fun and informative at the same time.

First, review with students the function of adjectives and adverbs. Remind them that adjectives describe nouns--the names of people, places, things and ideas--while adverbs describe verbs--the action of the sentence--and adjectives. Ask for a few examples of each, with students providing both the modifier and the word it is modifying (blue ball, etc.)

Divide students in pairs for the practice activity. Give each pair a three-to-four word sentence, like “The dog barked.” Partners alternate adding an adjective or an adverb to the sentence to make a more vivid and visible word picture. Allow groups to compete to see which partnership can produce the longest, yet most coherent, sentence.

For more advanced writers, allow them to also add prepositional or other descriptive phrases. Encourage them to consider using similes, metaphors, and other figurative language.

With these three ideas, your students will be well on their way to producing informative and interesting exposition, both in and out of school.

How do you teach informational writing?  Our next writing assessment is on informational writing, so we’re making one last big push to solidify students’ understanding of how to write about nonfiction, expository text before the assessment.  This has become one of my favorite units to teach students.

This post is part of a series of posts on Informational Writing.  Below is what we did during our first week.  This is really the first time this year that I’ve approached expository writing in formal writing instruction.  We’ve done it, but mainly as a response to reading or related to a seasonal activity, and not in a learning to write focus.

I chose to have students write about sea turtles.  I have no reason for picking that topic, other than the fact that I could find text on it quickly.  As I was driving home one day, I remembered that I had download this freebie about sea turtles last year and it had some good expository text in it.  Since then, I’ve written an Animal Article all about Sea Turtles that live in coral reefs specifically.  This new article is a two-page text with vivid photos, a one-page text with no photos, fact sort, and QR codes.

For our writing assessment, students have to read and watch a video about an animal and then write an informational paragraph that includes an opening, facts and details, and a closing.  The requirements basically follow the Common Core Standards for Writing for second grade.  I’m including video in my instruction so that students have to practice extracting information from that type of media.

Each week, we go through the same process, where we gather facts, sort facts, and write about an animal.  What changes from week to week are the mini-lessons I teach as well as the way I slowly release students to become more and more independent with their writing.

Day 1: Gather Facts

As a class, we used a mind map to share out all that we knew about sea turtles and filled in the top of our map.  I accepted any response a student gave, even if other students said, “no.”  I said that we would verify our answers as we read the article and watched the video.  We filled in the top part (green) prior to any reading or watching.

Normally, I have students read before watching, but this time, we watched this video before reading.  I’m not sure why I changed the order, I just did.  Warning: It does have sea turtles mating.  My boys giggled and then got over it.  We moved on.

After watching the video, we came back to the carpet and checked our facts.  We put a check next to any fact we verified, crossed out those that were incorrect, and put a question mark next to those that weren’t answered yet.  We also added what we learned from the video to the bottom of the circle map in red and orange.

Ways we read the article & share facts

After gathering our facts from the video, we read the article and added to our mind map, again.  During the reading, I walked students through reading each paragraph in a variety of ways.  Sometimes I read the paragraph and had students following along.  When I use this method, I wills top on random words and students need to say the next word.  I do this to ensure students are following along.

We’ll also do some partner reading of paragraphs as well.  One partner will read the paragraph and the other partner will either read the same paragraph or read the next paragraph.  I basically vary how we read the text to meet the needs of all my learners.

After each paragraph, we stop and record facts that we learned in that paragraph so that students can remember the details.  I find that if we read too much, students will only remember the last part that we read and not what they read three paragraphs ago.  While sharing, I also will have students tell their partner a fact before sharing out whole group.  This helps all students have something to share and it allows me to call on students who don’t have their hands raised to tell a fact.

Day 2: Sort the Facts

In between days 1 and 2, I typed up all the facts we recorded on the circle map so that students could sort the facts into categories. Each fact has the same format: Sea turtles _______.  I wanted to make this as easy as possible for my lower readers with a standard sentence structure.  Later on in study, I do a few mini-lessons on combining sentences and making complex sentences.  However, all my sorts have simple sentences to accommodate all learners.

Here’s how one group sorted the facts.  Students noticed that we didn’t write many facts about the sea turtle’s environment, but students remembered facts and wrote a few down.  I love fact sorts because they’re tactile and allow students to play with the facts, comparing and contrasting which ones go together.

Day 3 through 5: Write our paragraphs

Since this was the first week of our unit, I gave students the introductory and concluding sentences.  All students basically had the same introduction and conclusion, but I’m okay with that.  My focus for this week was on the process that we will repeat each week throughout our unit: gather facts, sort facts and write.

Students wrote down three facts from their sort.  I had them write down one fact from each column.  Looking back, this was an easy directions to give students, but I realized that the facts didn’t match and made a choppy paragraph.  In future weeks, I amend that direction to have students focus on one column and organizing their facts about one attribute.

What’s my plan moving forward?  

I plan to focus on a different animal each week.  Using text and video to gather facts, we will go through the same process so that it is familiar and ingrained.  Each week, I will also focus on one component of expository writing for the mini-lessons.

Next week, we’re writing about the Spade Foot Toad.  It’s a recent Scholastic News article and a well-written piece of expository text.  I’m focusing on teaching students how to introduce their topic, so our mini-lessons will be developing our introduction.

The week after, we write about wolves, and I might work on concluding  their paragraph.  Eventually, we get to writing about a group of related facts, combining sentences, using transition words. etc.  Each week has a different focus for mini-lessons

What good tools have you found for teaching expository writing for second graders?

This post is part of a series about Informational Writing.  Throughout the series I show you how I teach informational Writing in the classroom by scaffolding instruction for my students.  Here is a list of all the posts in the series:


The lessons in this series of posts about Informational Writing are all organized in my Informational Writing Tools product.

In this resource, I provide the fact sorts, circle maps, links, and outline of how I taught these six weeks of informational writing lessons.  Also included are checklists and a rubric to use with your students.

These are Informational Writing Tools, which means they are a resource to supplement your writing instruction.  It is not a full curriculum and does not include the Animal Articles, but it does include many resources to supplement your instruction.


Are you interested in a FREE resource for your Informational Writing Unit? Click below for a FREE Informational Article about Frogs. This Animal Article includes a two-page article with color photos, a one-page article with only text, QR codes and a fact sort.

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Filed Under: WritingTagged With: animal article, expository writing, gather facts, research, sea turtles, sort facts, writing about animals

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