Teaching fourth-grade students to write a report can be very challenging. Some students think copying information from an encyclopedia or website in their own handwriting is writing a report. Students have trouble taking and organizing notes, paraphrasing, picking out important information, organizing it into a report and so on. The skills for report-writing can be challenging for high school students, so they can be extremely difficult for fourth-grade students. Remember to start small, give students organizational tools and think of report writing as a learning process.
1. Teach students about taking notes using your classroom science or social studies book. A good way to do this is to take a current unit, pass out index cards and show students take notes on an index card. Put a number one on the card to show it is your first note card, write down the title/author/copyright date of the textbook, the page number where you found your fact and your fact. This note-taking lesson can last for several days. You will want to show students decide what to write down and keep note cards organized.
2. Put students with partners, and have them write a practice report based on the note cards you have made during your social studies or science unit. Teach students about paraphrasing. Even though students have the same note cards, nobody’s report will be the same because everyone is using their own words. In pairs, students should help each other organize the information onto a word web or another graphic organizer and then write the report in their own words.
3. Allow students to pick an easy and specific topic to write their own reports on. For example, do not let students pick a topic like dogs. This is too broad, and they could take notes on it forever. More specific topics for a student who is interested in dogs, would be take care of a new puppy or how seeing-eye dogs help people. Help students narrow their topic, so they can find resources and make note cards more easily.
4. Take your students to the library or provide computer time for them to find information on their report topics. Students should make one note card for each new fact they find. Repeat the information that needs to be on each note card such as book title, author, page number and fact. Leave an example on the chalkboard so all students can see.
5. Organize note cards into categories. For example, if a student picks the topic of care for a new puppy, he could have note cards on feeding, sleeping, potty training, grooming and entertaining.
6. Use a word web or other graphic organizer with your students’ notes to organize them into the order they want to write about in their report. Help students fill out these organizers (such as a word web or a blank outline.) Check these graphic organizers before you allow your students to write a report. This will help you see if they are understanding organization and if they are on the right track.
7. Help students paraphrase their notes, and turn them into a report about their topic. These first reports do not have to be long. The important objective to focus on is the process of writing a report–choosing a topic, finding resources, taking notes, organizing notes and writing the report in your own words.