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 call students to the meeting area and review what we’ve learned so far this week. We briefly discuss the previous lesson’s structure and our application of it. I set the purpose for the day, which is to learn about a new text structure: problem and solution. I explain that sometimes, authors write to inform others about problems and how to fix them. This could be a situation he feels is a problem in his own life or in the world. Many times, the author will also include ways to “fix” the problem or explain how others are trying to solve it. In today’s lesson, we will read about a problem that students who live half way around the world are experiencing. Their problem is that they cannot attend school. This elicits a few murmurs and lots of smiles in the room. So I ask, “What do you think about that?” One student shares how he doesn’t think this is a problem because they can stay at home and play all day. I ask the class if they agree with this student’s opinion. Many hands shoot up. “Hmm…” I say. “Well, let’s take a closer look and see if you still agree or if you change your minds after learning a little more.”
The passage we are using today is called, “Floating Schools,” and is the main article from one of our Scholastic magazines. It describes how architects in Dhaka, Bangladesh have constructed schools on boats so that the children can attend school even when their villages are flooded by monsoons. Included in the article are maps and videos that help students better understand both the area discussed in the passage and the problem itself. Using the SmartBoard, I open the map and we discuss where Bangladesh is located and the countries that surround it. We then watch the video that shows the area of Dhaka and the students affected by the monsoons.
After watching the video, I ask the class if they still believe in their earlier opinion that not going to school wouldn’t be a problem. While some students still think that this wouldn’t be a problem, others share that they have changed their minds. When asked why, a couple respond that these students don’t live the same way we do. It doesn’t look like they have video games to play or have the same kinds of things we do. One reflective student said that it seems like going to school is really important for these kids. I agreed and explained that this is one reason why not going to school is a real problem for these students. Today, they will discover if there are other reasons why this is a problem and how the people of Dhaka are trying to solve it.
I ask students to return to their seats and pull out their structure note sheets while I pass out the magazines and work pages. I explain that they will work with their reading partners to read the passage and complete the work page.
Before heading off to work, I point students’ attention to the word bank and review the words listed there. We talk about the meaning of the words and why the author might have included them in the bank. Students then find their partner, a place to work, and begin. I ask my red group to come to the front table to work with their partners while I support their reading. I give students 25 minutes to complete their work. If they finish early, I have them discuss and try to answer the “Core Questions” from today’s article, which I leave posted on the SmartBoard. (These are CCSS aligned questions that Scholastic creates for each of its articles.)
After all students have finished working, I go over only those questions that were difficult. While they were working, I walked the room during breaks from meeting with my small group. If there were questions that students seemed to struggle with or for which they consistently wrote incorrect answers, I reviewed these with the class and helped them to make corrections. We then put all materials in our binders to use as supports for tomorrow’s application lesson.