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!
Today we apply what we learned in yesterday’s lesson. We gather together in the meeting area for a brief discussion before beginning our work. I ask students to tell me about their problems. They look around at each other with confused looks on their faces. So I ask them to think of something that needs fixing - at school, in the classroom, at home, etc. I have a couple of students share what they’ve come up with. One mentions having homework, another mentions doing chores at home, and one student said hurricanes. I was a little taken aback by this response and asked him to tell me more. He explained how hurricanes cause lots of damage to people’s homes and property. They destroy towns like the one we recently read about. I agreed and then asked him how he would go about solving this problem. He looked at me with a quizzical look and said he couldn’t solve the problem of hurricanes and that no one could. I told him I agree that there’s nothing we can do to stop a hurricane from coming and/or destroying whatever gets in its way, but let’s think about what you originally said was the problem with hurricanes. Think about the damage that hurricanes cause - that could be the problem. Now, think about how others could help the people who have had their homes and property destroyed. That is your solution. What could people do? He thought about it for a minute and then talked about building shelters so people had a place to go after losing their home. (I thought this was fabulous and later taped a short “interview” with him to show my next class. That video is included in the resources section.) I tell the class that this is how we’ll spend our writing time today. They will write a short passage explaining what they believe is a problem and their opinion about how best to fix it.
While students are writing, I have writing conferences with either a small group or a few students independently. I encourage students to use their structure note sheets as supports when needed. The sheet contains key words and examples of sentence structures that students can use in their writing.
When the writing time is over, I have students meet with their writing partners to share. As always, students choose what they’d like to share: their entire piece or parts of it. However due to today’s topic, if they choose to share only parts of their pieces, then they must share part of what they wrote for their problem and their solution.