Tuesday, April 30, 2013

~Writing Riddles for Mini-Research: Minilesson Magic

Common Core requires that students perform mini-research projects throughout the year. The part that I have trouble with is how something can be "mini" while also "meaningful." I tend to dig deep on our writing units. How can we write smaller and make our kids smarter writers at the same time?

Warning: This post is going to be long because my kids' writing riddles are too cute not to share! Check them out, then read about how we got to this point :) 

One of the intents of my plans with our Human Body Systems unit was to have students complete a research project on a disease of interest. My goal was to encourage healthy living as an outgrowth of our Human Body objectives. However, it is the end of the year and we have a LOT left to do. I felt a little lazy making this decision, but I decided not to launch a huge, in-depth research project. But, I did come up with what I think is an AMAZING idea for my classroom because of its ability to meet many common core objectives, to transfer fluidly to a 1-1 classroom environment next year, how it connects with my students' LOVE of celebrating and sharing their writing, and how it capitalizes on our love of task-card-like learning modes. What am I talking about? "Writing Riddles for Mini-Research." It will be ALL-the-RAGE! :) I promise! <3

How did I get my students started? I wanted to use their curiosity about the human body to my advantage. I created a simple "Wonder" sheet. I gave students 4 categories for generating topics: organs and other body parts, habits, diseases, and curiosities. (You can click to catch it for free from my google docs!)
 After brainstorming, students circled their top two choices (or wrote them in the bottom block on the worksheet). I then went through each one and approved their topics. I just wanted to make sure everyone studied something different. Next, we spent one day in the lab researching and one day in the lab typing. Here's a sample of my favorite Writing Riddle paragraphs:
What is "Progeria"? 
What are "the kidneys"?
What is "the brain"?
What is "ear wax"?
 What is "motion sickness"?
What is "eczema"?
What is "the appendix"?
What is a "muscle cramp"?
What is a "heart attack"?

What's a Writing Riddle? 
After reading those great examples, I'm sure you've got it, but basically, students write paragraphs  in a riddle-like format. (For once, I encouraged my students to be a little vague!) Once the paragraphs were drafted (we use a wikispace as a writing portfolio), I went into our wikispace and cut and pasted all of the paragraphs into powerpoint slides. Then I added cute frames to make the paragraphs a little more jazzy (but in a rush, you could just pick a cute font and move on!). I also included a number on each slide (you could also do this by just writing a number on each if you don't have time for a huge production).

How will we share our writing riddles? After printing all of the slides, I will set up an around-the-room task-card like reading/writing celebration. Students receive a worksheet with all of the questions listed. As students move around the room reading each card, they decide which question the riddle paragraph answers. For example, if I read #8 and know it is describing a heart attack, I would write #8 beside of the question "What is a 'heart attack'?"

Writing riddles...why I love it:
I was perplexed by the idea of "short research" called for by the common core. I mean, I get that it can be done and that what we often do in science or social studies (using our textbooks) can be considered "short research." However, I also interpret short research to mean short-term research projects that still culminate in some type of product created by the students. Short research should still be purposeful and have a sharing component. (See why I was perplexed? I can rarely do something small-scale and feel like it was meaningful to students). Wow! In our "Writing Riddles" project, I got all of that and more. In total, it took students about one day to research, one day to type, and it may take us two days to have enough time for everyone to read most of the riddle paragraphs. I can't wait to do this next year~~more often and with more topics. How much better will my students be at synthesizing researched information and turning it into interesting pieces of writing?!?!?! (You can already see some of the creativity coming out in some of the examples above.)

W5.2 Write informative/explanatory pieces to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.
W5.2d Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.
W5.6 With some guidance and support from adults, use technology, including the internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills.
W5.7 Conduct short research projects that use several sources to build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic.
W5.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.
L5.1-3 All Conventions of Standard English and Knowledge of Language Standards are included in this activity
L.5.6 Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, including those that signal contrast, additoin, and other logical relationships (e.g., however, although, nevertheless, similarly, moreover, in addition.

Room to Grow Objectives (Future Minilessons): 
W.5.2b Develop the topic with facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples related to the topic.
W.5.2e Provide a concluding statement or section related to the information or explanation presented. (Some students concluded in interesting ways, like the one who wrote about car sickness).

Next year when we are 1-1, it might make sense to have students post their Writing Riddles on our classroom blog. This would allow them to include other aspects in their research, like multi-media components, images, and diagrams from a web-based source. I'm thinking, students could have the Writing Riddle Post set up with their paragraph, the reader could make their guess, then have a video and/or image link to click on in order to reveal the answer and learn more.
* SL5.5 Include multimedia components (e.g. graphics, sound) and visual displays in presentations when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or themes.

Anyone else SUPER EXCITED about the possibilities of this little idea? (I can't wait to use it a million times next year and see how it evolves!)

Since this is a new idea that I have tried with my class, I am linking up with Tried  it Tuesday. Hop on over to check out more new ideas from other great teacher blogs.

PS: Those super cute polka-dot frames are from. Graphics From the Pond: http://frompond.blogspot.com


  1. Great post! I'm pinning for next year! Sounds perfect for my kiddos! :) Thanks for sharing. :)
    Brandee @ Creating Lifelong Learners

  2. Your students did an AWESOME job!


  3. Thanks for stopping by, Brandee and Jess. They LOVED reading these this week! And, I think the more I can encourage creativity with it next time, the more they will love it! Brandee, I would love to hear how it goes next year. I'm going to post "Writing Riddles" every time we do this type of mini-research. Look forward to hearing about your ideas!

  4. I LOVE this idea and have it pinned! Thank you so much for sharing. The student examples are amazing!!
    Fourth Grade Flipper

    1. Hey Holly, thanks for stopping by! So glad I was able to link up with Tried it Tuesday this week :)

  5. I love this idea! I might have to fit this in this year. My students would absolutely love this. I love all of your examples and common core connections. This would also work really well with glogster. I purchased a glogster account and we have hardly used it, so I might have us make a glog for a topic as a riddle. (By the way, you are set up as a no reply blogger. Every time you comment on my blog, I can't reply to you by email. You always leave such great comments, I want to be able to respond.)
    ~April Walker
    The Idea Backpack
    Balancing the Backpack



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