I like to begin this story by asking the students to do a quick writing response to the following prompt:
"Please write a descriptive paragraph demonstrating what you know about Harlem, NY. If you have no knowledge of Harlem, NY, please write about what details you think could be important to know about the city in order to understand a story that takes place there."
I have found over the years that the student population at my school has little to no prior knowledge about Harlem, NY. I use this short writing piece as a means to focus the students in on how important the setting will be in this story. They then tend to pick up on even very subtle details of this element of the story. I often choose short writing prompts to get the students started with a topic because I find it helps to calm them and get them more engaged with the topic. I like to use a variety of techniques, but a quick write is easy to start and complete in a short time as long as the prompt is clear and focused.
I also find this to be a good way to observe what the students are thinking prior to calling on them to share. This allows me to get the feedback I am specifically looking for to start. I am then able to make suggestions to help students who are off-track get back on board without having to take the entire class off-track as well. I select 1-2 students for both sides of the prompt. This way, I am able to get the students all focused and on the same page with one another and where I would like their train of thought to be centered.
Prior to today's lesson, I have had students glue in a page of notes on the Elements of Fiction, which includes the two key elements addressed in "Raymond's Run": Setting and Characters. I ask the students to add notes about these two concepts as I think aloud about what each consists of and may mean to a story.
I begin by discussing Setting and its three components: time, place, and social environment. For most of my students, the social environment is a new element to consider and is initially difficult for them to grasp. The addition of the social environment component to setting increases the rigor and depth of learning for the students. I am careful to scaffold learning for them in order to ensure transfer of knowledge occurs. That being said, I find it is helpful to begin by painting a picture of a scenario for them.
I describe a situation where an African American young man is living in a Atlanta, GA in 1863. I ask the students to tell me about the setting. They all focus on the time and place, but can tell me very little of the social environment these two components exist within, nor the impact it has on the character. I then start to ask them a series of leading questions in order to get them thinking in the correct terms. I ask them to describe what was happening historically at the time of 1863. Typically they describe the Civil War. I then ask them about what the two opposing sides believed in. I then ask them to describe what they think life might be like for an African American man living in the south in 1863. Once we have talked our way through this, I take it back to where we started: An African American man living in Atlanta, GA in 1863. For many of the students, this opens their eyes to the importance of not simply considering the time and place a story occurs, but what those two pieces tell us about the social environment. I choose this particular example because students in 7th grade at my school learn about the Civil War, so it is an area they have a reasonable base knowledge of now that they are in 8th grade with me.
I then move on to a review of the four types of characters: round, flat, static, and dynamic
We discuss the different combinations and what each means and "looks like" in order to clarify for the students what to look for as they read.
I mentioned having the students glue pieces of this lesson into their Interactive Student Notebooks, or ISNs. I have the students keep a 3-subject notebook as an ISN. The first two sections are strictly for notes, practice, and the like. The third section is used as a Student Data folder where we track progress throughout each "cycle" (a small portion of each unit - this lesson is part of a "cycle" that focuses on learning the elements of a story) including individual goal setting.
At this point I start the story by reading the first 4-5 paragraphs aloud to the class. The kids seem to really respond to this "treat" that is a blast from the past for them and reminds them of elementary school days. It also acts as an opportunity for me to model voice and fluency as well as to model my thinking aloud. I ask myself questions about what certain elements mean, how I might know that, what other information I still need, and how each piece of information impacts the story. I primarily focus on the establishment of setting and I point specifically to the text to support my analysis.
Occasionally, I have a few volunteer students read the next couple of paragraphs to the class, but more often, I ask the students to complete the remainder of the reading silently to themselves. I choose independent completion because I find they are best able to pick up right where I left off in my thinking and begin to follow that model themselves. The sooner I can get them to replicate that process, the sooner they will become proficient at it and will be able to naturally apply it to other readings.
As they continue to read, I move throughout the room to maintain proximity and to provide individual support as needed.
When they are finished reading the story, I have the students complete a story analysis sheet that they glue into their Interactive Student Notebook (ISN). The sheet asks the students to look at all aspects of the story, but we will focus later on character and setting, using them as the lens through which we will view the other aspects. Whatever the students are unable to complete in class time, they will be expected to finish as homework.