Our FIRST Expository Essays-In 12 Minutes

Just like in years past, I begin our expository unit with explaining the difference between narrative and expository with my “Grandma” page.  You can read more about that here.

After we grasp what an expository piece should be, I ask students to write a 12-minute essay (Gretchen does it in 11 minutes) based on a picture and a truism.  We use the same truism each year to begin because it deals with pets…and most students have SOME sort of experience with pets.

Truism: Pets can be a big part of a family.

I give students about a minute to think about that statement.  Then we begin: 2 minutes to describe what that statement means to us, 3 minutes to tell how it is true in a tv show or movie they have watched, 3 minutes to tell how it is true in a book they have read, 3 minutes to tell how it is true in their own lives or someone they know, and then 1 minute to tell what it makes them think or wonder.

And just like that…in 12 minutes…they wrote their very first expository essay.  I explain that due to the things they wrote, they have explained something…they didn’t tell a story.

Students are always so proud after finishing.  They count their words and the room begins to buzz with excitement.  It’s pretty awesome.

If you want to try this with your kids, you can find the truisms here.  You can use any of them that you like. I use several throughout the year.  The one about pets isn’t too far down.

Curious what they wrote?  Click here to read a sampling from my kiddos.

I couldn’t be more proud.  :)

If you have time…leave them a little note to let them know what you think.  Yeah…they read this.  :)



  1. Cissy Hughes says:

    Your children have written beautiful pieces! What a fun way to learn how to write! They are lucky to have a teacher who guides their learning in such a fun way. Keep up the good work!
    P.S. I taught second & third grade in South Carolina for 33 years. I loved reading your works!

  2. Donna Conner says:

    Thank you Kayla for all of your hard work and dedication to our kiddos in Texas. After living in Colorado and Tennessee for 18 years, I’m thrilled to be back in my home state and hometown of Lubbock. I teach in a small Title 1 school in a big district and love the closeness of the community. It’s challenging; however, because I’m the only ELAR teacher for all 4th and 5th graders. The pressure is on to grow these students that struggle with reading and writing. This is my 29th year and I feel like I know what I’m doing; however, everything is new, so, long story short, THANK YOU for your 4th grade scope and sequence–it has been a life-saver. I look SO forward to your continued test practice questions that are near impossible to find elsewhere. Keep it comin’. Donna

    • Kayla Shook says:

      Thanks so much for your kind words, Donna! That means so much to me!

    • Yes Donna! I was at a small Title 1 school in Lubbock last year and I completely understand! These are life savers! And the kids understand them so well!

  3. Martha King says:

    Hello, from Midlothian, Texas! I am also a 4th grade teacher and have three classes I see each day for Language Art, Writing, and Science. I attended Gretchen Bernabei’s workshop back on Sept. 17th at Region 10 and it was “life-changing” as a writing teacher. She mentioned your blog and I have been an avid follower ever since. I enjoy looking at what your kids are doing and have also pulled up their samples to share with my own students. We are a little behind you and have just finished our first narrative samples from prewriting through to final copy. My kids were excited to see that there are other boys and girls just like them that are using kernel essays, “Coloring It Up,” and the flip-books! Like you, I am so thrilled to see my kids already making HUGE gains in their writing! It is exciting for me and for them, too! Keep posting! We’re following you!

  4. Your blog is so helpful and easy to use. I am so thankful that you take the time to do this! This is my first year to use Gretchen’s program and you have made it so much easier since I teach 4th grade!
    I cannot say thank you enough.

  5. We created our “grandma” notes page today and it was so great to see the kids being able to visualize the differences and even catch themselves (and others) when they started giving examples of an expository and it ‘accidently’ turned into narrative. Thanks for sharing! :)

  6. Allison Giovannini says:

    I love reading your blog and implementing the ideas that you and Gretchen share for writing. I do have one question, though. When do you notice that students start taking ownership of what text structure they are going to use? Do you still provide them with a structure, or do they start coming up with their own at this point?

    • Kayla Shook says:

      Hi, Allison!

      Right now I do not expect students to come up with their own…they haven’t had enough time to get used to the structures, and at this point we’ve only used one for expository. We are starting with a new one tomorrow. I give them until January to practice with text structures and notice things about good text structures.

      • Allison Giovannini says:

        Thanks for your quick response! Just out of curiosity (because I’m in the midst of planning expository lessons for next week), what text structure do you go with next? I’m struggling to find my copy of “Story of My Thinking” book. We’ve done one about an important person (who they admire, internal characteristics, external characteristics and the effect they’ve had on them) and wondered what text structure to go with next… I’ve purchased your scope and sequence and trying to use that and my district’s scope and sequence) together.

        • Kayla Shook says:

          Since Veteran’s Day is right around the corner, we are actually going to write an expository piece on why veterans are important. So…I’m creating my own structure: What a veteran is->jobs they have->sacrifices they have made->how it makes me feel. Just something to tie in with current events. :)

  7. Kayla,
    Thank you for all of your hard work! I am learning so much from your blog. I appreciate all that you do to support 4th grade teachers in Texas.

    You are doing an amazing job! My students are learning from your writing! keep up the great work! Thank you!

  8. I love the idea and your students work! I was just wondering do you write out a prompt like the one they would see on STARR?

  9. Terrie DeHaan says:

    I’m curious! Do you follow the Units of Study?

    Thank you!

  10. Terrie DeHaan says:

    Do you follow the Units of Study? I see your scope and sequence and think it’s divine.

  11. Jenny Lewis says:

    Hi! We did the 12 minute essay in my third grade class and they really loved it! It turned out great! I’m wondering how you use the other truism pics….do you have the same prompts? Compare to a movie, compare to a book, compare to own life, etc.


    • Kayla Shook says:

      Hi, Jenny!

      I’m glad your students enjoyed the 12 minute essay! I use the other pics for additional practice with quick essays. Sometimes I omit the book reference and only do tv/movie and own life if it’s something that I don’t feel they will be able to relate to a book. But my kids love doing it, too! If you have any other questions, please feel free to post here or email me! Thanks for stopping by!! :)

  12. For this first expository writing, do you have them go back and add more details to get a completed project, or do you just keep having them practice with other truisms?

    • Kayla Shook says:

      Absolutely I have them go back and add details! We want as much practice revising and editing in an authentic way as possible! 😉

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