This year, I’ve challenged myself to rethink my 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 and cohesive. 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 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. In these five lessons, students move up to using a short video to continue analyzing elements.
This week, I explain, we continue our study of fictional elements, but now through a short video. When I tell students that we’ll be watching a Pixar Short, they cannot wait to get started! I’ve chosen the video, “One Man Band” (Andrews & Jimenez, 2005) for several reasons. In my scaffolding of instructional “texts,” a video short is the perfect bridge between photos and a picture book. Without dialogue and lasting only four minutes, it provides a wealth of materials we will dissect throughout the week.
Students receive their work packet for the week. I tell them that for each day we watch the video, there will be a different focus. Today we will watch the entire video and focus on the little girl. I want students to be able to describe her physical characteristics and provide two character traits with proof from the “text.” We review briefly what these terms mean. Students tell me that physical characteristics describe someone on the outside; character traits describe someone on the inside or their personality.
I encourage students to take notes while we watch, but also let them know that I will give them time to write down their thoughts once the video is over.
During this first viewing, I do not stop the video or say much while it runs. I simply allow students to watch and record their thinking. Once it is over, I allow students to quietly work for five minutes completing the first two pages in their packets.
Once students have competed their work, I ask them to share the details they recorded on their pages. While they share, I record on my projected copy. Initially, students provide surface level descriptions such as: purple dress, hood, short, etc. I push them to tell me more and make inferences based on what they see. I use guiding questions such as, “How old is she?” At first, students don’t know how to respond because they don’t have specific proof. However, I encourage them to use their best judgment in making a guess. “Would you say the girl is your age, older, or younger?” We all agree that she looks younger than a third grader. “OK – well how much younger?” I probe. “And let’s consider that she’s old enough for a parent to allow her to come to a town square alone.” This helps them narrow the age range to perhaps six or seven years old. Younger than they are, but not by much. I continue probing until we have every last detail including skin and eye colors.
For page two, I have students discuss their work at their tables. I want them to tell the two character traits they assigned to the girl and explain their proof from the text that supports these traits. As they talk, I walk the room listening to discussions and offering support where needed.
To close the lesson, I share a couple of great answers I overheard while walking the room. I encourage students again to dig deep when describing characters. Challenge yourselves to move past surface level images or descriptions to learn as much as you can about each character you meet in a text.
I praise all students for their excellent thinking and ask that they put their work packets in their binders for use tomorrow.