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!
I’ve been stockpiling our Scholastic News magazines for weeks now in preparation for this set of lessons! I’ve said it before, but I really feel they are the perfect fit for quality informational texts that are short and current. Today we are using one that focuses on bison, how their numbers have dwindled over the years, and how people are working to save them. Every student has his own copy of the magazine, but I also use the digital copy on the SmartBoard. Students also receive a copy of a packet I created to accompany this lesson.
Students remain at their desks today for a few reasons. First, I’d like them all to be able to see the online resources I project on the SmartBoard. Second, this lesson is a bit lengthy as it has several parts. While my students are pretty good about working on the floor, there is a limit to how long they can endure that hard linoleum! Last, students have several resources from which they’ll be working today. It becomes a bit cumbersome to negotiate so much paper while sitting on the floor.
Before we begin today’s lesson, we review the previous non-fiction text structures we’ve learned: compare and contrast and cause and effect. I explain that today we will work on understanding the sequence/order structure. They will use their magazine, packet, and our structure note sheet to complete today’s tasks.
Their working packet is broken into three sections. The first is, “Before Reading.” It asks students to skim through the article looking for sequencing clue words. Several examples of which are located on their note sheet. The second step of part one is to do a text walk and look for the features the author included in today’s text. They will write the names of the examples and then predict how each might help them better understand the text. I give them several minutes to complete part one with the person sitting next to them. (Students sit next to their writing partners and do not read on the same level. This was intentional so that there would always be a stronger reader for activities like this one. As much as I enjoy Scholastic News, they can be a little advanced at times, leaving struggling readers lost or frustrated.)
While students work, I walk and observe their findings. After ten minutes or so, I stop the class and review just a couple of answers from each section. If students struggled to complete part one, I would go over it entirely before moving on.
Part two of the working packet focuses on using the questioning strategy while reading. It asks students to read the passage, write down questions they have about the text while reading, and then try to answer those questions once they’ve finished the entire passage. The third part of this section asks students to reflect on the text features included with the article. They are to consider if there were any features the author could have included that would have further supported their understanding of the topic. After explaining their task, I tell students that they have about 15 minutes to work and then we would go over what they discovered. If they finished early, they could go back and reread the passage or read the other articles in the magazine with their partners.
When the time is up, I ask the partners to share what they wrote with the rest of their table. I come around to listen in on their conversation, making notes.
The last portion of the packet is an incomplete two-column chart. The first column lists sequencing words from the passage and the second column lists the events that go with each sequencing word. This activity was included in the resources that accompanied the magazine. I thought it was perfect for today’s practice, but didn’t like some of the wording and directions. I made a few adjustments and included it in the packet. For this activity, I had students work independently. While working, I would visit those students who read at lower levels or who struggled to complete earlier parts of the lesson. As students finished, they would give me a thumbs up and I would visit their desks. If they were successful, they moved on to other activities. If not, I would highlight the rows that needed checking and they would attempt to fix on their own.