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Why You Should Use a Feature Article to Teach Informational Writing

Have you ever said the words “informational research writing” to your middle school writers, only to hear the groans echo like a yodel in the Alps? If the answer is a resounding yes, try saying “feature article” next time.

You’ll pique your students’ curiosity, and you’ll be embarking on a heck of an informational writing adventure!

I’m going to show you the reasons I highly recommend ditching your typical research paper for a feature article unit.

What is a Feature Article?

Feature articles are short, researched, soft news pieces. They used to be called human interest stories and they’re generally written to inform and entertain the audience.  The informal tone provides a nice break from hard news stories. They often have a people or animal-centered focus that gets readers- and writers- emotionally involved in the story.

Benefits of Teaching a Feature Article Unit

Listing the benefits of an invisibility cloak would be easier than listing the benefits of teaching a feature article, but I’ll try.

Speaking of which, invisibility cloaks might make a good topic for a feature article… 🤔

1- High Interest

Feature articles give kids a chance to research and explore a topic that they are truly curious about. Then they get to write about that topic in a meaningful and creative way.

First, I like kids to generate ideas by giving them high-interest topics to write about as bell-ringers. To start the writing workshop, we take 5-10 minutes every day for a couple of weeks and write a quick response to a variety of prompts.

 

If you’d been a student in my class last year you would have read a classmate’s research on

  • – who would win in a battle between zombies and vampires from literature
  • – fun facts about farts (the text features were priceless)
  • – the reason crows leave “gifts” for those who feed them
  • – the truth about quicksand

What kid has never worried about quicksand? See? High interest!

2- Text Structure Practice

We give our kids a lot of practice reading and identifying text structure.

But how much practice do we give them writing using a variety of organizational patterns?

A feature article requires kids to write using different text structures throughout the piece. Every section or paragraph has a specific purpose, and kids plan out each section by deciding which text structure organization will best communicate their ideas.

Structuring the Introduction

First, the introduction can begin with a narrative structure, which really appeals to young writers. One mentor text I use is called Astonishing Canines.  It’s about real-life dogs with amazing abilities.

It starts like this:

“Imagine watching a three-year-old start a car, put it in gear, and then accurately drive the car around a track…”

The article draws readers in and then goes on to tell readers that the three-year-old is a dog! The kids see the power of imagination and storytelling, and although I give them many other ways to hook their readers, many choose this route.

Structuring the Body

Writing the body of the article also requires students to write using a variety of structures.

In the example below, the subtopic is “Driving Dogs.” It will have 2 paragraphs. The first paragraph is about the problem. People weren’t adopting older shelter dogs, so SPCA trainers came up with a creative solution. A problem/solution structure works best here.

The second paragraph in that section is about the process the trainers used to teach the dogs to drive. It will be organized using a sequential structure.

I require that students use at least three different organizational patterns in their article. However, many end up using more than that!

 

3- Text Feature Practice

Text features are an important aspect of our reading instruction. We explicitly teach students to read and survey all parts of a selection, because all of the pieces come together to improve our comprehension.

But do we give students enough opportunities to add text features to their own informational writing? Probably not.

 

Adding graphic elements such as photos, illustrations, charts, fonts, and colors gets kids to communicate their ideas in a different way. It also provides a nice change of pace from writing the main piece.

Additionally, the inclusion of graphics and a magazine layout appeals to kids and really allows our visual artists to shine.

4- Authentic Writing Connections

Of course, we know we get much more buy-in when we establish authentic writing connections from the beginning. Kids will be more motivated to write if they have a say in how to make this a real-world assignment, so I recommend giving students publishing options.

Here are some ways that feature articles might be shared and published:

  1. 1. Create an ezine or a print magazine
  2. 2. Publish in the school newspaper
  3. 3. Print magazine to be shared with local assisted living facility residents (this is especially wonderful if your writers can deliver the magazines themselves)
  4. 4. Send articles to a local newspaper (especially if it has a section written by or for kids)
  5. 5. Begin a class blog
  6. 6. Put together a class Wakelet collection or Padlet board
  7. 7. Sharing stations

Try a Feature Article!

Bottom line: feature articles are fun to write, and they seamlessly pull together many of the skills students have been learning all year long.

Try one! I promise you won’t hear “research paper” groans echoing through the halls.

And who knows? You might even learn a few fun facts about farts. 🤷

Stay delicious!


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Feature articles are awesome