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.
For today’s work, our focus is on character traits. In the meeting area, I ask students to remind me, what is a character trait? They tell me the definition we’ve practiced over and over: it’s a word that describes a character on the inside of their personality. You’re right! Think of a word that describes yourself. Now, think of an action or a way you behave which proves that this character trait is a good fit for you. When you have both the trait and the example, turn and share it with your partner.
After a few moments, I tell students that their task today is to identify three traits for their characters and how they will act this way around others. But there’s a trick. I want you to come up with two traits that are positive and one that is a little negative. Every character we meet – and every person we’ve ever known – is flawed in some way; no one is perfect. And our fictional characters won’t be perfect either. Now, you don’t have to come up with a terrible trait for your character or turn them into a villain. That’s not what I mean! Here are a few examples. Let’s think back to The Pain and The Great One (Blume, J. (1985). The pain and the great one. Bantam Publishing: New York, New York.). Both the sister and the brother were creative and imaginative individually. However, they both proved to be a little selfish and jealous when they didn’t get their ways. In the story, My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother (Polacco, P. (1998). My rotten redheaded older brother. Simon and Schuster: New York, New York.), we see that both siblings can be loving and playful, but they can also be tricksters. Each tries to fool the other to prove he or she is he best at something.
You’ll need to come up with a similar combination of traits for your characters. Two should be positive and one shows a different side. Remember that in addition to the traits, you’ll need to decide how your characters will prove this to others.
Students return to their desks and open to page three in their work packets, which I have projected on the SmartBoard. I walk them through the prompts on the page where they will record their traits and actions.
I 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.