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 ask students to join me in the meeting area with their work packets and pencils. For the past three days, we’ve worked on creating fictional characters complete with a physical description, affinities, and character traits. Today we’ll introduce this character to the world!
I explain to students that they will turn the details from pages one through three into one complete paragraph each. This will give them a three paragraph piece that introduces their characters to readers. In order to best explain this process, I project a copy of a completed work packet with details about my own fictional character. Next to my SmartBoard I have a clean sheet of chart paper. As I talk through the process, I record the sentences on the chart paper and then leave it posted throughout the period so that students can refer back to it if needed.
I point their attention to page one where I’ve listed details about my character’s physical description. First, I tell them, I need a hook – I sentence that will start my first paragraph and alert my reader to the purpose of my writing. If the purpose is to introduce my character, then that first line might be something we would say to introduce ourselves to someone new. Let’s talk about this. Think of a time when you met someone for the first time. What did you say? What did he/she say back to you? I take a few examples and then select one to use in my writing. How about if I start with “Hello, my name is _______. Let me tell you about myself.” Usually when we meet someone new, we are face to face with that person and so it isn’t necessary that he/she describe him or herself to us, right? Well, this introduction is a bit different. We can’t see the person speaking unless, of course, there are illustrations throughout the writing. So we will write our pieces as if describing ourselves to someone who can’t see us. Imagine you are talking on the phone and simply write as if you are having a conversation with someone new.
We discuss how starting each sentence with, “I have…” or “I look…” would become boring quickly. So we work together to combine two details into one compound sentence and vary sentence starters to make it sound more interesting. We work together until my first paragraph is complete.
Students return to their desks and open to page four in their work packets. I explain that they will repeat the process using their own work and focus solely on paragraph one for now. I ask students to turn and talk through their first paragraphs with their partners.
After discussing their ideas, I ask students to begin working on paragraph one. When they’ve finished, I ask them to check in with me at the front table before moving on to the second paragraph. While students write, I conduct individual conferences.
As students check in with me, I pair them with other students who are ready to move on. Again I ask that they talk through their ideas for paragraph two before writing anything on paper. We repeat this process until all students have successfully written all three paragraphs.
For students who have completed all three paragraphs, I ask that they begin re-reading their work looking for ways to improve sentence structure, add descriptive details, or begin editing. After reading their own draft, students repeat the same process using their writing partners’ drafts.