I’ve challenged myself to rethink genre instruction so that students gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the three main types. In order to build stronger connections between reading and writing, I reworked my units so that they are completely intertwined. Just as with my non-fiction units, you’ll find lessons focused mainly on reading skills in a unit called, “All About Fiction” while those centered around writing skills in a unit called, “Fictional Writing.” In my classroom, both units were taught simultaneously over a nine-week period.
Rather than diving straight into texts, I tried an alternative route to teaching fictional elements this year. At a recent conference, a colleague learned about a comprehension building technique using different types of media (versions of short “texts”) before asking students to demonstrate mastery of skills in actual texts. These types of media could include pictures, commercials, short videos, etc. Drawing from my positive experience using episodes of Scooby Doo to teach predictable plot in an older grade, I was excited to give this a try!
The thought supported my agreement in giving students several experiences with a text before asking them to demonstrate understanding of it. When given several opportunities to examine a text and utilize a different lens during each reading, students can develop strong connections, which enable them to comprehend it more fully. Using this multi-modal approach seemed like the perfect way to incorporate multiple experiences with one “text” before trying our hands at picture books.
In my first two lessons, students used picture prompts to think about what is happening in a “text” and who the “story” is mainly about.
As students enter the room, I have a picture prompt posted on the SmartBoard. Giggles and chatter abound as they get themselves settled into their desks. Once settled, I ask them, “What’s so funny?” They nearly all point to the SmartBoard and call out their reactions at the same time. I ask them to tell me what they’re thinking – one at a time. A student points out how funny the girl's face looks while another talk about her hair flying. “That’s true,” I say, “let’s really describe the little girl. How old is she?” Students don’t initially respond. I have them narrow down an age range by asking if she is younger, older, or about the same age as them. Most students think she’s about their age. We describe her clothes, hair, and eyes to get a complete physical description.
“Now let’s talk about what is really happening in the picture and where it might be taking place.” Several students mention that she is going down a slide. I agree with their answers, but push them for more. “So this could be happening on our playground? We have a slide.” They laugh and tell me no. This isn’t a playground slide, but one you’d find at a carnival. I ask them how they know. One student points out that she’s on a cloth of some kind and looks like she’s riding next to someone. It can’t be a regular playground slide because you can only go one at a time and you don’t need to sit on a cloth. “You’re right!” I agree. I ask how many of them have been to the Ohio State Fair and several raise their hands. I tell the story of my own experience on their “Big Slide” and explain how it was my very favorite ride growing up.
Then I ask if they can tell me when this might be happening. We think about when the fair or other festivals happen, such as the Circleville Pumpkin Show or the Zucchini Festival, where there might be a big slide like this. Students tell me that the fair happens during the summer, but the Pumpkin Show is in the fall. Ok, I tell them. Let’s look again at the picture and see if we can use another clue to determine when it is happening. Students turn and talk to their neighbors. When I ask them to share, one student notices that the girl has on shorts and a sleeveless shirt, so it probably happens during the summer when it’s warm.
“What is she feeling right now and how do you know?” Students turn and talk to each other. I hear comments such as, “She must be going really fast because her hair is flying up behind her,” and “I think she’s afraid because her eyes are huge.” Students share their thoughts with the class.
I explain to the class that they have just answered the five W questions using information found in a picture. They’ve been able to tell me who the picture is about, what the person is doing or what’s happening in the picture, where and when the picture takes place, and why she has that particular expression on her face. Over the next couple of days, we will use picture prompts to begin thinking about the important elements of a story. They will use details found in the pictures to not only answer the five W questions, but also to think about other fictional elements such as point of view and narrator.
For today, they will work in a small group to repeat what we’ve done as a whole group with a new picture. They will record their thoughts in their readers’ notebooks and then share with other groups when their work is completed.
I ask them to pull out their notebooks and turn to a new page. We record today’s date and the title, “Characters’ actions are as important as their words” at the top. I explain that throughout this unit we will look closely at characters’ actions to determine their personality and character. Oftentimes words aren’t needed to discover just who someone is. We’ll practice learning about a character and a “story” today with just a image rather than words.
Then, I have them write, “Who?”, “What?”, “Where?”, “When?” and “Why?” on their page leaving several blank lines between each prompt. I tell them that they will answer each question prompt using details from the pictures. They have about 15 minutes to work.
Students sit next to their partners and select a picture from a bag. First, they talk through each of the prompts and share their ideas. Once they have answered each of the questions, they begin recording their thoughts on paper.
Once all groups were finished, I had each pair join with another to share their work. They showed their picture first and then read through their notes.