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!
It’s time to show what you know! Today students get to show off what they have learned and are able to apply about text features. Over the past few weeks, we have learned 11 types of features - what they are called, where they are located, and how they are useful to readers. We’ve read countless nonfiction informational articles and books as a class, in small groups, and independently. Many of these articles, we’ve kept copies of in our binders. Today we get to use that collection to show what we know.
I direct students to pull out their pile of nonfiction articles and Scholastic magazines from their binders while I pass out their “quizzes.” I then explain that I’ll assess what they know in two ways:
- First, are they able to locate an example of each text feature? They can use any of the articles and magazines they’ve saved during the unit. They’ll scan each one until they find the example they like best for each feature. Once found, they’ll need to cut it out and glue it onto the appropriate section of the packet. I explain that they will need to cut thoughtfully. While there are several examples of features such as photos, captions, and bold words, there aren’t many examples of features such as charts and graphs. Before cutting out a feature, it would be wise to look at the back of each page to see if one of these might be there.
- Second, can they tell me how each one is helpful? Once they’ve found and glued an example of each, they should think about that feature and how it was helpful to them when reading the text. This will require some thought and their answers should be written in complete sentences. An example of a great answer would be one that doesn’t just tell me how any photo (or other feature) is helpful to a reader, but how that photo was helpful for them.
I explain that because this is assessing what they know, that they cannot ask others for help. However, if they can’t find certain features in their collected pile of materials, then they can ask others for their leftovers.
I gave students 30 minutes to work independently and many were able to finish within this time frame. However, this might be an exercise that is completed during more than one period, if needed. For example, students could locate and glue the features during one period and then explain how each was helpful during another.
When all students were finished, I had them choose one feature to share. They skimmed through their work, found one they particularly liked, and shared it with their table. They were to tell the kind of feature they selected, why it was chosen, and/or how it helped them as they read.