Layers of Atmosphere R.A.F.T. Writing

As we continue the study of weather in my classroom, Last week my students tackled the following assignment:

Learning Target: Understand layers of the atmosphere by writing a first person narrative.

R.A.F.T. Writing Atmosphere

R: Role– An experienced Space Shuttle Astronaut

A: Audience– The newbie on the flight

F: Format– Narrative

T: Topic – Describing what the newbie is seeing out the window as the space shuttle flies up through the layers of our atmosphere.

Assignment: You are to use the RAFT writing strategy to describe layers of the atmosphere. Give a vivid account of what of the layers of the atmosphere look like as you pass through them. Below is a checklist of what must be included in your descriptive  narrative.

  1. 4 –layers of the atmosphere
  2. At least 3– details about each layer
    1. Density
    2. Temperature
    3. Air pressure
    4. Composition
    5. Interaction with solar radiation
    6. Weather

3. 1 item you might see out the window in each layer

4.  At least 10 Content area words

5.Paragraph structure

6. Good transitions.

I felt this was a good way to have the students show their understanding in a creative way. I did not want the student just to recite the information found on websites or the textbook. We spend 3 class periods going over the layers of the atmosphere and planned on using this writing assignment as an assessment to check for understanding. I knew this image was stuck in many of my students heads:

layers-of-atmosphere-2-1cbdrpg.jpg (249×202)

After giving the assignment, I imagined reading some creative stories, lacking scientific details. (Know that is what typically happens on creative assignments.) Instead, I read dry regurgitation after regurgitation of atmospheric facts. I was surprised at the lack of creativity from my class as a whole. A few shining examples showed up here and there. Many skipped over the Role and Audience aspects of the assignment altogether. After spending two evenings frustrated with the results, I asked myself what went wrong? I returned to my classroom and represented the assignment. Asking why many had difficulty?

The response was obvious when given. “No mentor text” or ” I didn’t know what to do without an example”. Opps! It was on me. The teacher changed how the writing lessons works and students fell flat on their faces. All of the writing assignments for the weather unit, I had utilized a “mentor” text  to assist the students in creating high quality work. Up until this R.A.F.T. assignment, the majority of my students were writing with success. Now, in the absence the majority of students were having difficulty. After this lesson, I ask myself a few questions:

DO middle school students need mentor texts?

If mentor texts lead to success, should they always be used?

Are mentor texts a tool for success or give too much assistance with developing high quality writing?

I don’t have the answers, but it was very eye opening when looking at this lesson.

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