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 nonfiction text structures. Over the past few weeks, we have learned the five main types: description, cause and effect, problem and solution, compare and contrast, and sequence or list. We’ve read countless nonfiction informational articles and books as a class, in small groups, and independently. Students complete a summative assessment today that shows if they are able to identify each structure and asks that they support their answers with proof from the passages.
I pass out a quiz to each student and explain that today’s quiz is a two-day event! Toady, we will only complete part one: identifying text structures. You will see that there are three columns on each page. The first column contains short, informational texts. The second column asks you to identify the structure of each passage and then explain “how you know.” I’ve made it a little easier for you by providing the five types of structures right under the directions. All you need to do is decide which is which! I explain that it might be smart to cross off each type as you use it as each one is only used once! I ask students to ignore column three for right now - we’ll work on that tomorrow.
I gave students approximately thirty minutes to work independently and many were able to finish well within the time period. Of course, you could extend this time if needed.
Since today’s focus is to determine if students are able to identify structure and explain their thinking independently, we did not share at the end of our work time. Students were asked to turn their work into the tray and begin independent reading when finished.
As students submit their work, I quickly scan their answers to see how many were successful and made notes of any structures that were tricky for multiple students. I use this information to pull small groups the next day to do a quick refresher. Then, I record their scores for part one in my grade book. I did not make any marks on student work, though. In tomorrow’s lesson, students will meet with partners and small groups to discuss their answers. I want them to come to a consensus for each structure and be able to talk about how they came up with their answers. I want this to be completely independent work - no skewing of ideas because of marks I made on their papers.