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!
In yesterday’s lesson, students completed phase one of the assessment. They read each passage independently, identified the text structure of each, and then used proof from the passage to explain their answers. Today, students will complete the second and final part of the assessment.
I pass back assessments to students and explain that while they won’t see any marks on their papers, I did look at each and recorded their grades. I further explain that today’s work begins with talking in groups about their choices. They will meet with their reading partners, state their chosen structure for each passage and explain their thinking. If both partners agree on the structure, then they will move on to the next one. If they come to a place where each partner has written a different structure, then they must talk about their choices, and work together to revise one of their choices. The goal for our partner working session today is to make sure that both partners have the same structure choices for each of the five passages.
While students work in partnerships, I walk the room and offer assistance (or mediation!) to groups who are struggling with their answers.
When all have finished, I quickly go over the correct answers by asking a student to name the structure of each and provide one example of proof. (I was so pleased with one student’s work: not only did she give correct answers and explain her thinking, but she also identified support in the passages by underlining appropriate text We’ve been working on this strategy all year, but she is one who consistently remembers to use it. I’ve included her packet as an exemplar of student work.)
Now that all students have the correct structures listed, it’s time for phase two of the assessment. Students will work in their partnerships to list the text features that would best support each type of text using their understanding of the features themselves, each text structure, and the topics included in the passages. If needed, they can use their vocabulary notebooks, which list the 11 types of features we learned throughout the unit, the purpose of each, and an actual example. They should list as many features as is appropriate and should leave out any that aren’t. For example, if a text structure is “description” then features such as photos, captions, maps, and bold words would fit well. However a chart, such as a Venn Diagram, would better fit the “compare and contrast” structure.
(You could make the assessment more challenging by either asking students to complete it independently and/or not allowing them to use their vocabulary books as supports.)