The last unit before the big OAA (our state’s end of the year assessment) is always a tricky one. So much to review, such little time. This year I wanted to create a multi-genre reading and writing unit that would review essential fiction and non-fiction skills that was engaging and driven by student interest.
My students are obsessed with the “I Survived” series. Each book in this historical fiction chapter book series is written from the viewpoint of a boy who survived a major event in world history. I’ve found that these addicting little books are an excellent way to get boys (and girls!) interested in history while burning through an entire series!
Building on their frenzy, I decided to create a four week unit around the title, I Survived: The Sinking of the Titanic [Tarshis, L. (2011). I survived: The sinking of the Titanic. New York, NY: Scholastic Paperbacks]. In this unit, students will research the actual Titanic using a website I created in order to gain an understanding of the ship, its passengers, and why it remains a popular topic to this day. Second, the students will read the I Survived text as a part of book clubs while reviewing fiction skills learned throughout the year. Last, students will produce opinion writing pieces about the Titanic using information gained from their non-fiction research and fiction book study.
I call students to the meeting area to explain today’s task and pass out the work packets. I tell students that the day will be divided into three parts. The first is to analyze the three factors that contributed to the high number of deaths on the Titanic. After conducting research on the Titanic, we’ve come to the decision that there were three main issues that played a serious role in the tragedy: not having enough life boats, dividing people into areas by class, and the poor response to iceberg warnings. I point students’ attention to page one of today’s work packet. On it there are three columns, each titled with one of the contributing factors. I explain that students will work at their tables to complete the columns with reasons why each factor was partially to blame for deaths on board the Titanic. I remind students to write in complete sentences and tell them that they will have about 15 minutes to complete part one. After checking to make sure everyone understands the task, I dismiss students to their work areas. While they are working, I walk the room offering support as needed.
Once students have completed step one, I call their attention back to the front of the room. I praise them for their efforts and point out a few examples of excellent thinking I observed while walking the room.
Now, it is time to craft their opinions. I remind students of our work on writing opinions over the past several days and point out our anchor chart that lists the four necessary components of writing an opinion piece. I explain to students that they will review the work completed in their small groups and decide which factor was most to blame for the tragedy of the Titanic. Before drawing their conclusions, they need to be sure that they can back up their opinions with reasons and evidence from their research.
I have students turn to page two in their packets. I point out that I have created an outline for their writing that includes familiar prompts that we’ve used all week. In their piece, they must:
- state their opinion
- provide a reason
- support with evidence
- provide a second reason for their opinion
- support with new evidence
- conclude their piece by restating their opinion and explaining how the tragedy would have been different if their factor wouldn’t have happened
I explain that students will complete this portion independently while I circulate the room. They will have about 20 minutes to complete the activity. They can always refer to the anchor chart or the work we completed earlier in the week should they need additional support.
At the end of the work time, I begin to divide students into three categories. I ask all students who chose “not enough lifeboats” to grab their packets and pencils, and stand in the front of the room, students who chose “separating people by class” to go stand in the back, and students who chose “ignoring the iceberg warnings” to stand off to one side. I explain that they will work in groups of six to share their pieces and listen to others’ ideas. I call two students from each of the three categories to sit in a new location as a group. Once there, I explain the next task more thoroughly. Students will each share their opinions by reading what they wrote on page two of their packets. Each group can decide how to do this – either by randomly starting with one student and continuing until all have read or by reading similar views together before moving on to students with differing opinions. Just as long as everyone has a chance to read!
As they listen to each other’s work, I want them to be on the look out for strong arguments. Look for examples of clear opinions, strong reasons for those opinions, and specific examples of evidence that supports those reasons.
When everyone has finished, students return to their desks to share what they’ve learned. I ask a few guiding questions to see how the process work for each group. Then I ask students to turn to page three of their packets. Here they will find some reflection questions to complete our work together. I want students to record their thoughts about the strongest argument they heard shared during their group time and the reasons that supported it. I’m interested to see if students still hold to their original opinions of what caused the most deaths on the Titanic or if they’ve changed their minds after hearing their peers’ ideas. I ask that students complete this page independently and then turn their completed packets into the tray.