Expository Writing in Third, Fourth and Fifth Grade.

Rosewood Elementary, Vero Beach, Florida

The Young Journalist Program is a free offering of the School District of Indian River County “Extended Day” program.

The mission of The Young Journalist is to nurture intellectual curiosity by mentoring third, fourth and fifth graders in the publication of their very own “scholarly articles.” It is to have students understand that journalism is a form of writing that tells people about things that really happened, but that they may not know about.

Moreover, the Program teaches expository writing.

Studies have found that when students write about what they’re learning, in any subject, it boosts their understanding and retention.

But New York Times Senior Contributor Natalie Wexler wrote that “There’s been little research on writing—especially as compared to the voluminous research on reading—and practically none of it has focused on teaching students to write sentences…” 

Reading researcher Timothy Shanaha has also pointed out that there has been little emphasis on “the seemingly unloved sentence.” Difficulty understanding the sentence can be a major obstacle to comprehension.

Correlational studies have long demonstrated that one’s ability to negotiate the meaning of sentences is connected to reading comprehension

 “It all starts with a sentence,” according to Judith C. Hochman, founder of an organization called the Writing Revolution.

Dr. Hochman’s strategy is radically different: a return to the basics of sentence construction, from combining fragments to fixing punctuation errors to learning how to deploy the powerful conjunctive adverbs that are common in academic writing but uncommon in speech, words like “therefore” and “nevertheless.”

The Need for Explicit Instruction in Teaching Students to Write Well

By Judith C. Hochman, Natalie Wexler

“Across the country—and especially in schools serving students from low-income families and English language learners—students at all grade levels have similar problems expressing themselves clearly and coherently in writing. On nationwide tests, only about 25 percent of students can score at a proficient level in writing.

And yet, expository writing—the kind of writing that explains and informs—is essential for success in school and the workplace. Students who can’t write at a competent level struggle in college. With the advent of e-mail and the Internet, an increasing number of jobs require solid writing skills. That’s true even of many jobs—such as being a paramedic—that people may not think of as involving writing. No matter what path students choose in life, the ability to communicate their thoughts in writing in a way that others can easily understand is crucial.”

The problem is not that students are incapable of learning to write well. Rather, the problem is that American schools haven’t been teaching students how to write. Teachers may have assigned writing, but they haven’t explicitly taught it in a careful sequence of logical steps, beginning at the sentence level.

According to the Purdue University Online Printing Lab, the structure of the expository essay is held together by the following.

  • A clear, concise, and defined thesis statement that occurs in the first paragraph of the essay.
  • Clear and logical transitions between the introduction, body, and conclusion.
  • Body paragraphs that include evidential support (whether factual, logical, statistical, or anecdotal).
  • A bit of creativity!
  • A conclusion that does not simply restate the thesis but readdresses it in light of the evidence provided.

Expository writing, as its name implies, is writing that exposes facts. In other words, it’s writing that explains and educates its readers, rather than entertaining or attempting to persuade them. When you read a scholarly article, a textbook page, a news report, or an instructional guide, you’re reading expository writing.

According to Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, the root of the problem, educators is that teachers have little training in how to teach writing and are often weak or unconfident writers themselves. A scan of course syllabuses from 2,400 teacher preparation programs turned up little evidence that the teaching of writing was being covered in a widespread or systematic way.

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