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.
“Today you are in for a challenge!” I tell students to start the class. In yesterday’s lesson, we analyzed a short film and described a character both on the inside and what she looked like on the outside. Today, we will describe someone we never see and who only “appears” in the film for a brief moment. Students begin to guess that I’m talking about the person who drops a bag of money at the little girl’s feet. Correct, I tell them! Because we never see or hear this character, we will refer to him/her as “The Anonymous Character.” I briefly explain what anonymous means and am surprised when a student makes a connection to a poem he recently read by “anonymous.” Great work!
Yesterday we made inferences about the little girl including how old she was. Today, we are going to take just a few clues and try to determine more about this anonymous character. Again I will play the video and students will take notes. They will have additional time to work once the clip ends. Just like yesterday, we are trying to determine the character's physical description as well as two character traits with proof to support.
For today’s viewing, I only show the few seconds when the anonymous character enters and leaves. After playing the clip once, I ask students if they were able to make any notes about what the character looks like. They stare at me with blank faces. “Ok, you don’t have much to go on,” I give them. “But there are a few clues that we can use to make inferences. I think we can make at least two inferences about the character using two important clues. First, let’s try an experiment. I’m going to play the clip again. While it's playing, close your eyes and focus on what you hear.” I play the clip again and then ask students to tell me if they were able to discover a clue using just their sense of hearing. A few students shared that they heard the character walking in and out of the scene. I have them describe that sound – or rather the type of shoe that would make that sound. Most students agreed that it sounded like a woman’s shoe or a high heel. I told them I agree. So if we used this clue to make an inference about our character, what would you say is the gender? Most of us agreed that the anonymous character was a woman. We wrote this on our packets.
Next clue – what do you see? I play the clip again for the students. This time I ask them to focus not on what they hear, but what they see. And not on the bag, but what can they see around the bag. After playing the clip, we discuss what they saw. Several students tell me they saw a shadow. To help our discussion, I rewind the clip just a bit to where we can see the shadow. We talk about its size and what that might mean about the size of the character. I have them quickly turn to their partners and discuss their thoughts. After a few moments, students share that this must be an adult because the shadow is much bigger than the little girl (of course, this may or may not be true, but I go with it!). We add this to our notes about the physical description of the character.
Now, it’s time to add more details. For this part, I have students use their imaginations – but within reason! We talk about how the other three characters look fairly similar (same skin color) and maybe that gives us a clue as to where our story takes place. This anonymous character could look similar to these other characters or he/she could look completely different. Students work with their partners to come up with at least three or four more descriptors for how they think this anonymous character looks.
For page four, I have students once again work together at their tables. I remind them that character traits are words that describe who someone is on the inside or someone’s personality. Although we don’t have much to go on with the anonymous character, we can look at her/his actions and make inferences based on what she/he does. 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 reinforce that we can learn a great deal about characters by examining their actions. Even when there are no words at all! We also can make important inferences about character by being detectives and looking for the clues they leave behind.
I praise all students for their excellent thinking and ask that they put their work packets in their binders for use tomorrow.