Gretchen Bernabei Expository Essay

My class has officially started their expository writing pieces. This is very new to them, so we are taking it slowly. Thank goodness for Gretchen Bernabei! She makes it so much more fun, interesting, and easier for these little people to understand!

We began by brainstorming people we admire. I told my students that this person could be a friend, family member, singer, entertainer, sports star, or anyone they like or look up to. They had to understand that admire doesn’t mean that you like them in a romantic way because they automatically think of a secret admirer. Haha.

Then I gave them a planning sheet from Gretchen’s resources. Hers was just drawn out on paper, but my OCD needed it to be typed up, so I spent about 45 minutes perfecting it (to my standards) on the computer. I handed them out, and we filled in our topic and text structure. Before I knew about this amazing woman, my explanation if expository writing was pretty lame…and the students’ writing showed it. That’s not to say it was bad, but it definitely was NOT to the level it is now. The text structures she has developed has raised the level of their writing tremendously!

After that, we came up with our kernel essay about our peeps. When you see the text structure we used, you’ll see that it wasn’t easy, but it made them really think! And that’s what we’re going for, right? 😉

From that kernel essay, I told them to find at least three people who would listen to them read their kernel essay. The listeners were required to ask two questions about their kernel essay. They wrote the questions down in the box, and tomorrow they will use sticky notes to answer those questions. These sticky notes will go in the flip books they have created. This will help them fill out their paragraphs with valuable information that readers want to know.

When we finished the questions, we thought about where that information should appear within the writing. We put paragraph numbers beside each question to be sure the information arrives at the correct destination. Again–extending their thinking.

This is as far as we have gotten. I’m looking forward to reading what they write. I have a training tomorrow, but I know they will be in good hands with my student teacher. I can’t wait to read them on Wednesday!

Below you will find pictures of two planning pages and two kernel essays written on their flip books.

I have uploaded the planning page to the Writer’s Workshop page here on my blog. It’s the last resource listed under Gretchen’s resources.

What do you do to help your students understand expository writing?

your curly co-captain, Suzanne

...preferably with EXamples...

That's right, today is all about EXpository writing.  

Our expository essays follow this frame from Gretchen Bernabei:

Students draw and label this structure almost daily.  We deconstruct other author's writing to find these parts.  This shows up in the Article of the Week assignment.  We dream about these four boxes.  I mean, look at them, they are rather dreamy!  

Let's face it- we've got 26 lines and limited time.  When you look at effective STAAR released essays, they have this basic structure.  It comes down to being concise and logical.


To plan, students draw and label the expository structure.  They then kernel 4 sentences of their essay.  Four sentences, four boxes- you get where I'm going with this.  A brilliant colleague came up with these sentence stems to help guide students' thinking:

1.  I think...

2.  I think this because...

3.  I also think this because...

4.  That's why...

We work closely with these stems at the beginning of the year.  It helps guide thinking and gets words down on paper.  Slowly, we move away from them.  If you take off the stem, the sentence you are left with sounds much better yet.  Better yet, teach students more sophisticated transitions to use.  But hey, if one of my struggling writers feels comfortable with the sentence stems and is using them effectively, more power to them!

We also play around with the structure.  Our favorite is an anecdote or allusion.  Other structures we've tried:

"Here's how this affects me" (R1), "Here's how this affects other" (R2)

"I used to think" (R1), "Now I think" (R2)

Mini rant: I'm a stickler about the line in the Reason 1 and 2 box.  Here's why: this is the most likely time and place we'll catch pseudo reasons.  For example, True friends are honest (R1) and truthful (R2).  At first glance, it's semi-plausible.  But upon closer inspection, they're really saying the same thing.  That would be a tricky (and ineffective) essay to write.  Whew! I'm glad we caught that. (wipes brow)

Ummm...sometime people talk about things when their writing to people who like stuff.  Ugh.  We are on a crusade against people, stuff and things.  I force motivate students to join in the fight by having them censor the people, stuff and things out of there paper.  When they're finished, their little papers look like this...sad day!

A mini-lesson on renaming and pitchforks to add detail and this paper should be back in business.


For more expository resources, check out Gretchen's English I remediation packet.  It's chock full of goodies that are sequenced to lead you up to test time or that you can break apart and use in your classroom instruction as you see fit.  

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