Moving to the Common Core this year has caused big change in our instruction. I’ve challenged myself to rethink how I teach non-fiction so that students gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the genre. For this reason, I reworked my reading and writing non-fiction units so that they are completely intertwined and cohesive.
In my classroom, we spent four weeks learning about non-fiction text structures, text features, and then applying what we’ve learned to our non-fiction writing. In this unit of lessons, I did not include every single lesson as many listed here were taught over two or three days. Instead, I’ve mainly included introductory or follow up lessons. You decide what works best for your students and pace the lessons accordingly.
At the beginning of the unit, each student received a “Non-Fiction Text Structure” sheet that listed important information about all five structure types including a description, important key or clue words, visuals of how each might be organized, and sample skeleton texts of what each might sound like. We will use this sheet throughout the entire unit. I typically will refer to this as the structure note sheet.
A note about text features instruction:
Most of these lessons focus on text structure. In years past, I have taught separate lessons on structure and features. This year, I taught them together. Rather than plan out which features I would teach on specific days, I simply wrote a lesson that focused on a specific structure, chose an appropriate text, and then selected one to three features that were important to that specific text. So while I might be teaching photos, captions, and diagrams along with my description structure lesson, you might find that charts and maps better fit your selected text. Go for it! As always, do whatever works best for your texts and students!
Yesterday I led students in a lesson on determining if a text were written using the compare and contrast structure. Today they will apply what they’ve learned in their writing. To begin, I asked students to pull out their structure note sheets and the example text page from yesterday. We reviewed the key words that were used to alert us to the text’s structure and then reviewed other choices from our note page.
I asked students to come together in the meeting area and to bring their note sheets. During the close of the previous lesson, I previewed today’s assignment and asked them to think of two topics they would like to compare and contrast. I asked if anyone had chosen two topics and could share those with the class. I had a few takers and chose one. She stated that she had chosen herself and her friend, who is also in the class. I complimented her on her choice as it should be easy to write about herself and her friend. Now for the task. During the writing time, students were to write as much as they could about their topics, but focus on how they were alike and how they were different. The challenge in the assignment was not just to write random sentences, but to write compound sentences that included compare and contrast key words (we recently learned about improving our writing by moving from simple sentences to those that are more complex).
I asked my volunteer student to look at her note page and select a word from the compare list and one from the contrast list that she could use in her writing. She selected “same” and “different.” OK - now it was time to begin thinking of examples that would fit both categories. I asked her to give me a sentence that compared the girls using the word, “same.” She said, “Diane is the same as me because we both are funny.” Great example! OK - now do the same contrasting the girls and using the word “different.” She said, ”I am different from her because she is shy and I am not.” Grrr! This is a pet peeve of mine! When showing how two topics are different, you must show an attribute of each. You cannot simply say, “one is _______, and the other is not.” Instead, I teach students that they must say, “one is _______, but the other is ______.” Although her answer is one that hit a nerve with me, I’m glad she said it! It was the perfect opportunity to re-teach (again!) that they need to break this habit. So I led her to try the sentence again. If she is trying to show a difference and Diane is shy, then describe yourself in a way that is different from shy. She tried it again and gave me a perfect answer: “Diane is different from me because she is shy and I am talkative.” Much better!
My original plan was to have several students work through the same though process with the group, however because this student’s answers led to such a great discussion, I felt this was unnecessary. Instead, I simply had students turn to their writing partners (whom they sit next to) and tell them the two topics they planned to use. After a couple of minutes, I had students give me a thumbs up if they had their topics and were ready to write. Those who were ready were dismissed to begin working while the others stayed to brainstorm topics with me. Students were given 15 minutes to write.
At the end of the writing time, I asked students to share their writing with their partners. As always, they choose what they want to share - their favorite part, one section, or the entire piece. I was pleased to see that most students chose to read their entire piece! They truly enjoyed the task and were proud to share their work.