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 cause and effect 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 from the day before. 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. I led a discussion about consequences. I gave a few sentence starters and asked that they finish using one of the key words, for example: “Last night, I forgot to set my alarm …” (so today I overslept and was late to school). “Fred decided to play video games instead of doing his homework…” (as a result, he had to stay in at recess to finish it). “Susie decided to trip the teacher as she was walking down the hall…” (then she was sent the principal’s office and to ISS). My sentence starters get more and more ridiculous as I go and the kids eat it up! After I get a sense that students understand the task, I tell them that they will write a text in the cause and effect structure and use some of the keywords. The topic can be on whatever they choose, real or made up. I have them turn to their writing partners to brainstorm possible writing topics. After a few moments, I have several students share their chosen topics with the class. 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. Again, I was pleased to see that most students chose to read their entire pieces! There were a few students who had great examples using the key words and I asked those students to share with the entire class.