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5 — Information reports: What is in the sky?

Full moon close up photograph

Above: A full moon from the Galileo spacecraft, image NASA, public domain image, no copyright.

The focus of this sequence is to analyse information reports (factual descriptions) and to use this analysis as the basis for developing an agreed format for writing an information report.

The students will engage in activities that enable them to compare and contrast a range of information reports on the topic of the Moon and to rank these reports from most effective to least effective.

The class will jointly construct a set of features of effective information reports. In modelled and shared writing sessions they will construct texts that demonstrate these features. The assessment task relating to this sequence is an information report on the Sun that incorporates all the elements discovered in the previous sequences.

Activity 1: Information reports, which one is best?

Through their research activities, the students should have become familiar with the concept of factual texts being used to describe and explain phenomena. The focus of this sequence is to expand this understanding and have the students evaluate a range of information reports in relation to their purpose, audience, organisational structure and language choices.

Discuss the idea that the purpose of an information report is to provide information about a general class of things as opposed to a particular object (for example, ‘My favourite toy’). Explain that the writer of an information report is providing information in an organised way so that the reader is able to readily access information about the topic.

Give the students the three Sample information reports on the Moon (or create your own). If the language and vocabulary in the examples are unfamiliar to the students it is important you spend time explicitly teaching the vocabulary before the students are asked to independently read the texts. Allow the students time to read and to rank their individual choices in order from most effective to least effective. They should then move into small groups where they discuss and justify their decisions. The groups then work together to reach consensus regarding the order of effectiveness of the three reports. Remind the students that the purpose of the texts is to provide information about the Moon in a clear and organised manner, using appropriate vocabulary, so these are the criteria they should use to determine which is most effective.

Starting with the text that was ranked least effective, allow each group the opportunity to share their choice and encourage them to share the reasons behind their decisions. Justifications should be recorded on a class chart or interactive whiteboard for future reference. Lead the discussion, with prompts regarding the use of personal opinion in the writing, use of scientific language, level of organisation and so on. Once each group has shared their choices about the least effective text, repeat the process, this time focusing on the most effective text, encouraging each group to share their justifications and record these for future reference. Repeat the process with the final text.

Display Report 1 on the interactive whiteboard and demonstrate the organisational features of the text (for example, the first paragraph identifies and introduces the topic of the report). The following paragraphs describe aspects of the topic. Each paragraph has an opening sentence which lets the reader know what that paragraph will be about. The subsequent sentences provide further information or description of that aspect. Annotate the text to demonstrate the structure and display it for further reference. ACELY1676

Activity 2: Language features of information reports

The purpose of this activity is to give the students an opportunity to discuss key language features and, in small groups, identify and justify their choices. It provides an opportunity for you to explicitly teach the more complex language features of an information report. ACELA1478

Using the information report that was deemed most effective, ask the students to identify any key language features within the text. Focus their attention with direct questions about the use of nouns and adjectives. Highlight the use of adjectives that are technical or scientific, and encourage the students to identify nouns that are technical. Other language features may be beyond the knowledge base of the class and you will need to provide these. These include simple (timeless) present tense, the use of connectives/conjunctions to join simple sentences and link ideas, and the use of a formal objective style.

A possible approach to this activity is to display a related or similar text on the interactive whiteboard. Using the highlighter function, make explicit some of the key organisational and language features of the text. Annotate the displayed text to show the organisational features on the right and the language features on the left. Display the annotated text as a reference and, using a second text, have the students identify the relevant organisational and language features. This can be done using the sharing-the-pen strategy. The students can then work in small groups to annotate a text. Students requiring additional support should continue to work with you.

Simple (timeless) present tense

If the students are unfamiliar with the concept of the simple (timeless) present tense, it is important to explain it before progressing. The simple (timeless) present tense refers to actions that occur habitually (for example, the Earth revolves around the Sun). An activity to support student understanding of the concept of past, present and future tense is to provide a list of statements and have the students sort them into their appropriate category. An example would be: At this time of the year the Sun sets at about 8:00 pm. Yesterday the Sun set at 7:52 pm. Tomorrow the Sun will set at 7:54pm. (Adjust times for your local area and the time of year.) ACELA1482

Formal objective style

Formal objective style includes the use of third person pronouns. The text does not use emotive language or include the writer’s opinions or personal experiences. Report 2 is an example of a text that is not objective.

Organise the students into small groups and provide each group with a copy of the Sample information reports on the Moon and the Language features worksheet or have them use these headings in their books. Have each group work through the report, identifying language features and recording their findings.

As a whole class, share each group’s discoveries and record the key features on a class chart. The Model response to the Language features worksheet will help you to know what to look for.