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 are going on a hunt! I ask students if they’ve ever been on a treasure hunt. They look at me with those “has-she-lost-her-mind?” looks that I’m becoming all too familiar with, and always make me laugh. Well, I explain, today you are looking for treasure - reading treasure! Over the past few weeks, we’ve learned about several types of text features. I ask students if they can tell me again why authors use text features. I want them to remember that authors use text features to help readers better understand their texts. Text features are like treasure - sometimes they help us strike reading gold by giving us more information that isn’t included in a passage. Sometimes this gold is just a picture that helps us “see” the topic. Sometimes it’s a glossary that gives us the meaning to a key word. Other times, the treasure can be the table of contents or maybe the index that directs us where to go for just the right information.
I explain to students that during our independent reading time, they will be hunting down text features (pieces of treasure) that help them better understand their texts. In their book boxes, they should have at least one nonfiction text. Although many days they have free choice of what to read during their reading time, today they must read their nonfiction texts. I have them pull out these books and the sticky note pads that also are in their boxes.
I refer the class to our text features anchor charts which lists the 11 different kinds we’ve learned about over the past couple of weeks. On the chart are not only the names of the kinds, but also examples of each. I ask them to find the most interesting or the most helpful features while reading and place a sticky note by each. I explain that at the end of their reading time, they will share their favorite feature with their table.
Students find their reading spots and begin reading. While students are working, I have reading conferences with either a small group or a few students independently.
When the reading time was over, I had each student open his book to the feature he wanted to share and then decide as a table who would share first. Each person at the table would tell the title of his book, the type of text feature found, and then explain why he chose it to share. This could be an explanation of why it was interesting or how it helped them understand a specific part of their text. The point was to really talk about each feature and not just name a feature and show what it looked like.
While students were sharing, I walked the room and listened in on the conversations. While listening, I was really impressed with the talk that was happening at one particular table and asked if I could videotape what they were sharing. Some members of this group struggle at times to explain their thinking. During today’s conversation, they were doing an excellent job at not only identifying their “treasure,” but also explaining why they chose it.