This year, 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.
In these first five lessons, students create their own fictional character. We’ve spent the last several weeks reading fiction stories and analyzing the characters in each. These lessons begin with a quick review of a few characters we’ve met and a short modeling of how to complete today’s task before turning students loose to complete their own work.
I call students to the meeting area and explain this week’s work. Today we begin working on creating a fictional character that we will later use to write a fictional story. I ask students to take a minute and think of their favorite fiction stories we’ve read so far this year. After some thinking time, I have them turn to their partners and list their books. While they discuss, I listen for the names of popular titles and write these on the board. I call students’ attention to the list when they’ve finished sharing and ask if there are any I’ve missed. I then lead a short discussion about why these books were their favorites. Students tell me they enjoyed the story itself (the action or plot in a book), some tell me that the story was funny or memorable in some way. Most students reply that they liked a certain character in the book. And this is exactly what I’m hoping they would say!
Yes, I tell them; I agree! Most of my favorite fiction books became my favorites because of their characters. For example, my favorite book growing up was The Giving Tree. I connected strongly with the tree who gave and gave to the little boy until there was nothing left of him to give. I loved that tree and cried when he became nothing but a stump to sit on! I have to admit, I really grew to dislike that little boy! He was so incredibly selfish, always asking for more, and never thinking about how his requests were affecting the tree. These characters have stuck with me my entire life and even though they were simple black and white drawings, their actions and how they were described were what were memorable for me.
Today, you will begin creating your own character. You will eventually use that character to write a fictional story so be thinking of someone you can stick with for awhile. You’ll be using this character to write either a fairy tale, fable, or tall tale. So while your character is fictional, it needs to fit into one of those three genres and be believable. For example, your character probably shouldn’t have six heads, four arms, and speak Martian. That character would probably fit best in a science fiction tale, right? However, think about Shrek. You’ve seen Shrek, right? Well, the story of Shrek is a version of a fairy tale and the main character is a green ogre that doesn’t quite look human. And that is ok! So while you’re brainstorming what your character will look like, just keep those three genres in mind.
Students return to their desks while I pass out their work packets. I point their attention to page one, which I have projected on the SmartBoard. I explain that today we are focusing on just what our character will look like. I walk them through the first page where students will record their characters’ physical descriptions.
I try to give students time to talk about what they plan to write before any type of writing assignment. This way, more ideas make it to the paper and sometimes in a shorter amount of time. I ask students to turn and talk to their partners first about the ideas they have in each category before we move on to recording those thoughts on paper.
After talking with their partners, students now should be full of ideas. I ask students to begin writing independently and assist anyone who needs additional help getting started. After all students are writing, I conduct individual or small group conferences.
To close the lesson, I have students share their work first with their writing partner and if there is time, with someone else at their tables. While listening, I want them to envision the character being described to them. If they feel that a certain type of detail is missing that would make this “picture” clearer, then they should suggest an addition to their partner.