Informational Writing Unit – The New York Times
To learn more about other writing units, visit our writing program overview.
Among the three main types of writing that Common Core State Standards emphasis – argument, informational/explanatory, and narrative – informational writing may be the category that receives the least love from writing teachers.
Of course, students write explanatory pieces all the time, whether in response to questions, in notebooks, in formal documents, and on tests. They also do this kind of writing across subjects, maybe in science or history class as much as in English. But as former teachers ourselves, we’ve found that writing teachers tend to shine more of a spotlight on the two sibling genres. After all, presenting a solid argument and telling a compelling story may seem like a more interesting task than simply explaining something clearly and precisely.
But informative writing is the style of writing that dominates The New York Times as well as any other mainstream newspaper you might read, and in this unit we hope to show students that it can be just as engaging and compelling to read. . and write like other genres. Through thousands of articles per month – from front-page stories on politics to news about athletes in sport, deep data dives in The Upshot, recipes in Cooking, advice columns in Style and articles long-running investigative story in the magazine – Times reporters are finding ways to experiment with the genre to intrigue and inform their audiences.
For this unit, however, we are focusing on just one broad area of informational writing – one with a STEM theme. Not only can students find daily patterns in the Science, Tech, and Health sections of The Times, but we’ve also partnered with Scientific News and Science news for students as our contest partner so that we can provide an even wider range of writing examples at different reading levels.
But if you’re a social studies teacher and you feel left out, know that this competition and our four mentoring lesson plans are also relevant for you.
First, your students can tackle any topic they like under the broad umbrellas of science, technology, engineering, math, and health, and we hope they choose questions and ideas that have real relevance to their lives. But more specifically, the writing skills we want this competition to teach – how to write clearly and engagingly about complex topics – obviously spans the domains. And the competition’s specific requirements—that students have an engaging “hook” as their opening, that they weave in quotes from experts and studies, and that they explain why the topic is important—are things they will need to master for all sorts of writing tasks.
Below we provide the basic ingredients of our unit, which can be used and adapted whether or not you participate in our competition.
Start with a writing prompt that will inspire students to investigate topics that interest them.
When reporting on STEM issues, journalists often start by asking a question about what is happening in the world around them:
How safe is vaping? Can exercise make us more intelligent? How does facial recognition technology work? Why do forest fires become infernos? If you touched the moon, what would you feel?
Their articles are answers to these questions – or at least attempts to answer them.
To begin this unit, we invite students to reflect on their own questions by responding to our writing prompt: What questions do you have about how the world works?
The questions they suggest can be used as starting points for researching and writing their own informational essays for our STEM-related informational writing competition.
Whether or not they take part in our contest, we hope your students have fun answering this prompt – and then enjoy reading questions asked by other students, commenting on them, and maybe even commenting. hit the “Recommend” button if they read an answer they particularly like.
All of our invites are open to comments from students 13 and older, and each comment is read by Times editors before being approved.
Read the texts from the mentors and try out some of the “writer moves” we highlight.
The goal of our mentoring script series is to demystify what good writing looks like and encourage students to experience some of these techniques for themselves. To do this, we ask professional science writers and teenage winners of our competitions to tell us about their work.
For this unit, we have created three mentorship lesson plans that focus on the individual elements we ask student writers to include in their competition submissions. We also invited a science journalist to annotate one of his own articles to take us behind the scenes of his research and writing process and show us how he weaved these elements together.
By the end of the unit, your students will have brainstormed research ideas, gone behind the scenes of a journalist’s process, and practiced the key elements of informational writing themselves.
Now we invite them to produce polished writing that brings it all together.
This contest asks students to choose a problem or question in science, technology, engineering, math, or health that interests them, then write a 500-word explanation that will engage and enlighten readers.
All student work will be read by our staff, volunteers from the Times and Science Times newsroom, and/or educators across the country. Winners will have their work published on our site and, possibly, in the print version of The New York Times.
The third annual competition will run from February 2 to March 9, 2022, and we’ll link to the announcement here when it’s live. In the meantime, check out the second annual contest as we will follow the same rules and guidelines.
While the heart of our unit is the prompts, mentoring scripts, and contest, we also offer additional resources to inspire and support teachers, including lesson plans and great ideas from our readers about reading and writing. writing STEM.