W.CCR.2–that’s the 2nd College/Career Readiness anchor standard within the Writing strand of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for ELA / Literacy–reads as follows:
Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
As far as importance goes, informative/explanatory writing is a kissing cousin to argumentative writing, at least in terms of college and career readiness (CCR). Appendix A states that these two modes of writing are dominant in postsecondary education, and they are also dominant in the standards of well-performing countries (p. 41).
So what exactly is informative/explanatory writing?
How do the CCSS define informative/explanatory texts?
Once again, I’ll be heading to Appendix A (p. 23) for help in getting a handle on what exactly the CCSS means by informative/explanatory texts.
Informative/explanatory writing seeks to accurately convey information. It’s purposes are:
- to increase readers’ knowledge of a subject
- to help readers better understand a procedure or process
- to provide readers with an enhanced comprehension of a concept
Was this guy great, or not? Wait, that’s an argumentative prompt!
I’m a thinker who does better with examples; if you’re like me, try these examples from Appendix A on for size:
- What are the different types of poetry?
- What are the parts of a motor?
- How big is the United States?
- What is an X-ray used for?
- How do penguins find food?
- How does the legislative branch of the government function?
- Why do some authors blend genres?
Here are some examples that I might use in my world history classes next year:
- How did Alexander the Great hellinize the Middle East?
- Why was Genghis Khan so militarily successful?
- What were the positive and negative aspects of the Pax Romana?
- What were the main causes of the genocides of the 20th century?
- What were the main causes and effects of World War II?
- Why did Mao Zedong set the Cultural Revolution into motion?
- Why did the USSR collapse?
- What led European Christians to engage in the Crusades?
What were this guy’s reasons for starting the Cultural Revolution? Now that sounds like an informative/explanatory writing prompt!
All right, before I get carried away with listing, let’s move on.
What genres could be included as informative/explanatory?
Many genres could be labeled informative/explanatory; here are some that Appendix A includes:
- literary analyses
- scientific and historical reports
- précis writing
WORKPLACE AND FUNCTIONAL GENRES
How does informative/explanatory writing differ from argumentative writing?
Both W.CCR.1 and W.CCR.2 call for writing that provides information, and Appendix A provides some help in keeping the two straight.
With argumentative writing, the aim is to get people to believe that something is true. With explanations, the aim is to answer questions about why or how because truthfulness is assumed. Argument seeks to persuade; explanation seeks to create understanding.
Compare these two writing prompts:
- Was Alexander the Great truly great?
- How did Alexander the Great hellenize the Middle East?
Notice how the first prompt brings up a debatable point; to tackle it, the writer will have to analyze available evidence, come to her own conclusion, and then marshal the evidence to advance her claim. In the second prompt, the spread of hellenism is not debatable. The writer simply needs to summarize the tactics that Alexander used to spread Greek culture.
What skills do students need to write informative/explanatory texts?
There are three main skills that W.CCR.2 mentions: selecting, organizing, and analyzing content. There are also two important qualities mentioned in W.CCR.2: accuracy and clarity. For my money’s worth, the best way to get students there is modeling those skills and qualities, both through pointing them out in professional mentor texts and writing examples of them in front of students.
As students practice this mode of writing, they’ll become increasingly adept at clearly and accurately explaining a topic, and they’ll start to get an eye for selecting and incorporating relevant examples. The key is giving them practice, whether it be with quick, paragraph-length explanations or of lengthier pieces.