This can sometimes be the genre that is the most difficult for us to find examples of to use with children. That tells us something. It tells us that in ‘real life’ you don’t find explanations on their own. They are ususally part of another text such as a report and therefore make a hybrid text.
I know that many teachers write their own explanatory texts to use with children. Is it right that we simplify and use texts that wouldn’t appear in real life?
So here is a small list of explanatory texts that I think are worth using.
My all time favourite is Until I Met Dudley by Roger McGough and Chris Riddell. The book explains how every day things work; a double page spread about how it might work followed by a double page spread of Dudley explaining how it really works. This makes a wonderful model for children to create a booklet about an object with an imaginary and a real explanation.
The great website How Stuff Works is usually the next place that I go to for an explanation as I can often find things that the children are interested in. The last things I used were Christmas Lights and Bicycles. I have to say that the articles do have really good introductions so if that is an aspect that your class find difficult to write, the site is well worth looking at.
How Dogs Really Work by Alan Snow is a very funny book. I have had children acting out the imaginary explanation of a dog’s digestive system and writing their own for a cat. This book uses diagrams well to support the writing. There are others in the series but they are not quite such good explanations.
If I want something for the class to write about I find myself going back time and time again to the patent websites. How about the invention to see your own ear wax and other strange patents. Other ways to support children in capturing what to write about are to use film clips of machines etc that the children can explain. The Shirt Machine is often used as are various machines from Wallace and Gromit. How about the Getting Wallace up Machine or the Tellyscope Machine? (Spot the missing apostrophe in Tellyscope!) To download these from YouTube to use in the classroom try Kickyoutube.
How about taking the marvellous Common Craft videos explaining a whole host of ideas and producing your own? The animation that they use is very accessible.
The strategies document about progression in explanatory texts is particularly useful, especially the final page which shows what we might aim for in each year group.
Please share what you use.