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.
By the time students come to third grade, they’ve been exposed to several types of folktales. While I feel this is an important genre to study, I want to be sure that this unit extends what they already know and gives them a better understanding of the genre as a whole. Part of this understanding is gathered through questioning - asking critical questions of the text, of the author, and of the world. Throughout the unit, students practice skills they learned throughout the year including compare and contrast, summarizing, determining theme, and characterization.
These reading lessons all follow a similar routine: a mini-lesson where I demonstrate that day’s skill, partner practice where students work together to do the work just modeled in a preselected text, and then independent work where students work alone in a self chosen text.
I begin by asking students to pull out their work materials: our whole group book, their fiction vocabulary notebooks, folktales chart, and pencils. Because there are so many materials to manage, students remain in their desks for the mini-lesson. This week we are using Anansi and the Magic Watermelon from Learning A to Z as our mentor text. I chose this resource because of their large selection of leveled texts and because each student can have his own paper text to annotate again and again.
We’ve been analyzing fiction texts in order to learn more about their structure. Today’s focus is the “introduction.” I ask students to think of a time when they introduced themselves to someone new. What information did they first share with that person? I ask them to turn and talk about their thoughts with their partners and then share what I overheard. I tell them, “From what I heard it sounds like you told the person your name and maybe a couple of details about yourself that you felt were important for them to know? You didn’t tell that person a random thought that wasn’t important to know, right? Well, the introduction of a story works the same way. Authors begin their stories with details that are most important to understanding the entire text. They don’t usually give their readers random information that might confuse them or disinterest them from finishing the rest of the book. In an introduction, readers can generally find details about who the main character is and learn about the setting. Let’s re-read the first few pages of our text to discover what information we can find about Anansi and the setting in the introduction.
Students open their texts to the first page while I project the text on the SmartBoard (this is another great feature of Learning A to Z. Most texts in their extensive collection have a digital copy that can be projected during lessons). I reread just the first two pages and model my thinking as I read. As I come to sentences that provide details about the setting or give a description of Anansi, I underline these on my copy and ask students to do the same on theirs. I point out that the author gave us a great number of details about where and when the story takes place as well as who our main character is, what he looks like, and some of his affinities (we learned this big word when writing our fictional character stories!) in just the first few paragraphs. I remind students that this is typically the case in a fiction text, especially in a short text like this one. We label our evidence by placing a bracket around the first few paragraphs and writing “introduction” beside it.
I ask students to open their fiction vocabulary notebooks and turn to page four. We record examples from our text that show how the main character and setting are described in the introduction. When finished, I explain that students will repeat this task with their partner using their partner practice text.
I have selected three texts from Learning A-Z’s folktale collection for small groups and partners to use during these lessons. Each student was given either a fairy tale, fable, or tall tale. During this time, students work with their partners, who have the same title, to repeat the task modeled during the mini-lesson. They will locate the applicable portion of their texts, reread it, underline necessary evidence, and then label with a bracket.
As partners work, I walk the room monitoring progress and offering support where needed. When students finish their partner work, they move directly into independent reading.
Students collect their book boxes, binders, and pencils and find the perfect spots to read. They have approximately 25 minutes to read independently while practicing today’s skill in a book of their choice. Students are expected to complete at least one “thinking note” and update their logs while reading. During this time, I conduct individual or small group reading conferences.
To end today’s lesson, we share the work completed during independent reading. Depending on the day, I’ll either have students share their work with their reading partners or select a few examples of excellent thinking with the entire group. Students place their thinking notes on their tracker sheets and update them with the date and names of the titles read.