Infusing Research with Narrative Writing

During my expedition to Antarctica as a National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow, I struggled with the idea of how to translate the wonders of Antarctica with my students. Then all of a sudden it dawned on me—storytelling! Third grade writing classes had been studying the elements of narrative writing, so I decided story creations would be a great way for students to learn about Antarctica and the rest of the world. In this blog post, I share with you my instructional sequence, resources, and student work for a lesson where students use their research notes on wildlife and habitats to create a captivating narrative in the form of a puppet show, comic strip, or digital picture book using My Story app.  
In students’ stories, a penguin (or another Antarctic animal) somehow leaves the Antarctica for a new continent. There, the penguin meets a new animal who helps the penguin return home. Students use print and digital resources from the library to seek information on their featured animals and habitats. Students apply their research notes to the narrative to make events and dialogue convincing. For example, stories reflect how the Antarctic creatures are able or unable to adapt to the conditions of the new location. Students develop a deep understanding of how an animal’s environment impacts its survival and why it is so important that we conserve natural habitats.

The lesson’s instructional format supports collaborative learning since students must work together to complete tasks and create a final narrative. Students are assigned cooperative group roles during the creation of their stories that match their strengths and preferences: Director, Screenwriter, or Crew Member. Each group role has specific duties and expectations that support the overall development of a narrative based on the research conducted in prior lessons. 
During the lesson, students investigate map (National Geographic MapMaker Interactive) to understand the distances between continents as well as their respective physical characteristics. Exploration of Antarctica’s landforms and climate helps students develop accurate settings and plot events for their narratives. Students also measure Antarctic animals and compare them to other wildlife by marking their length on the floor of the library. My students were shocked to learn that a humpback whale wouldn’t even fit between the library walls. This activity is a great way to introduce elementary-aged students to the main regions of the world in terms of both their uniqueness and similarities.
Here is a video that details the instructional unit.
This lesson was invaluable to my students’ utilization and mastery of information-seeking strategies and inquiry skills. The lesson promotes geographic literacy by embodying the following skills: critical thinking, problem solving, and team work—all of which are pillars of this project. Before the lesson, students were unaware that there were so many magnificent species living in Antarctica. The lesson’s instructional sequence incorporates Antarctic wildlife by having students create a story adaptation starring a penguin who gets separated from its home and ends up on a new continent. There, the story’s penguin meets a new animal as it attempts to adapt to the new environment and tries to return to Antarctica. The infusion of narrative writing in a captivating research project heightens student motivation, increases engagement, and makes learning authentic. Now students are able to associate wildlife, climate, and landforms with Antarctica; students can understand and read maps; and they appreciate the physical characteristics of regions from around the world. The inclusion of nonfiction resources to explore unknown places supports students’ ability to analyze information and draw conclusions.

Here is a sample student narrative created with the My Story iPad app. 

Antarctic Wildlife Explores a New Continent

Learning outcomes will include student-created narratives. Narrative formats will include a comic book, puppet show, and digital picture story. Students must apply their understanding of Antarctica to compare and contrast it to a different continent in order to make a fictional story that emphasizes animals’ survival in various geographic locations. The infusion of narrative writing with a captivating research project heightens student motivation, increases engagement, and makes learning authentic.

Prior to the unit, administer a Kahoot! survey to students regarding the animals from each continent that students would like to research. Use results from interest inventories and reading tests to gather a variety of resources that address students’ abilities and preferences. Create a bibliography and pathfinders of the resources students will use in the unit to learn about the animals and habitats featured in their narratives.

Lesson One:
  • Hook: My expedition to Antarctica as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow
  • Discussion/PowerPoint: Overview of unit
  • Read Aloud: Penguin on Vacation by Salina Yoon
  • A story where a penguin travels to a new place and meets a new animal/friend.
  • Pre-Assessment—5 multiple choice questions (Google Form which students access via Symbaloo)
  • Students write 1 question they would like to discover for their research topic.

Lesson Two:
Students will collect information presented in print or digital formats.
  • Review (Whole Group): Rubrics for Research
  • Model (Conducting Research): Antarctica Climate/Geography
  • Demonstrate how to access and use resources.
  • Students will be given a handout for their assigned topic and how to access it.
  • Activity (Independent or Small Group):
  • Students will be grouped by research topic but with resources at varying reading levels:
  • Penguin/Antarctica
  • Gorilla/Africa
  • Platypus/Australia
  • Wolverine/Europe
  • Jaguar/South America
  • Bison/North America
  • Panda/Asia
  • Students will use a note-taking graphic organizer to collect information on their topic to use for creating a narrative in later lessons.

Lesson Three: 
Students will organize information so that it is useful.
  • Activity (Small Groups):
  • Students use the Lino It app to add notes to a chart. This app allows students’ voices to be translated to text.
  • Discussion—Story Creations:
  • Comic Strip
  • Puppet Theater
  • Digital Picture Book—My Story Creator app
  • Discussion—Cooperative Roles:
  • Director: Asks guiding questions to the Screenwriter and Crew Members. Director uses the rubric and checklist to self-regulate group’s progress. This student also assists other members as needed.
  • Screenwriter: Uses a narrative writing graphic organizer to write the story according to information gathered in previous lessons. This student prepares dialogue that infuses information from students’ research.
  • Crew Member: Responsible for creating pictures, using technology, and conducting additional research. 

Lesson Four: 
Students will write a narrative that establishes a sequence of events.
Students will write a narrative that uses sequential words and phrases.
Students will write a narrative that develops characters and events through the use of dialogue to reveal thoughts and feelings.
  • Entry Slip: Students review their cooperative role packets. Students write their main goal for today.
  • Activity (Cooperative Groups): Create Stories
  • Presentation Options/Tools:
  • Comic Strip
  • Puppet Theater
  • Digital Picture Book—My Story Creator app
  • Exit Slip: Students assess the progress they made towards their goal. Students identify what needs to happen in the next lesson to complete story. 

Lesson Five:
Students continue to complete stories.  

Lesson Six:
Students will present their research to others.
Presentation of narratives

Lesson Seven:
Post-Assessment—5 multiple choice questions

CLICK HERE to access the lesson's resources. 

CLICK HERE to access sample student narratives. 
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