Folktales: What's the Big Problem Here?

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SWBAT locate the main conflict in a text, underline evidence, and label their learning.

Big Idea

After learning the difference between small problems and the actual conflict in a story, students work with partners to locate the conflict in their own text, underline evidence, and label their learning with brackets.

Unit Introduction

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.

Setting a Purpose

15 minutes

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 “conflict.”  I ask students to imagine that they overslept this morning. “Turn and tell your partner everything that could happen because of this one little problem.” While students talk, I draw a web on the board with “I overslept” in the middle. As I hear students share, I write their responses in the web showing how one cause can have many effects and even how some effects become causes of other events. I tell students that this is similar to a conflict in a text. The conflict is the main problem in a story. Not just any problem, but the one from which all others stem. “Let’s take a look at our web. The simple act of oversleeping can cause all sorts of problems. For instance, you might miss the bus, you could miss the first part of school and then miss an important lesson, or you might have extra homework that night in order to make up work you missed in class. All of those are problems, right? But they all are connected and come from the original problem of oversleeping. Do you see that? Would you have missed your bus if you didn’t oversleep? No! Would you have extra homework from a missed class that you wouldn't have missed if you didn't oversleep in the first place? Of course not! This is how it works in texts too. While you’re reading, you might notice many little problems along the way. However, when we talk about “conflict,” we are referring to the main problem in the story. This usually is what gets in the way of the character getting what he wants. In our example, you just wanted to get to school on time! And it wasn't missing the bus or that first class that stood in your way – it was oversleeping. Let’s take a look at our group text to determine the main conflict in our story.”

Students open their texts to the first page while I project the text on the SmartBoard. I reread just pages four and five and model my thinking as I read. As I come to sentences that provide details about the conflict, I underline these on my copy and ask students to do the same on theirs. I point out that the conflict is mentioned in just the first few pages. I tell students that this is often the case in a fiction text, especially in a short text like this one. We label our evidence by placing a bracket around the two paragraphs on page two that identify the main problem and writing “conflict” beside it.

I ask students to open their fiction vocabulary notebooks and turn to page four. We record examples from our text that we underlined about the conflict. When finished, I explain that students will repeat this task with their partner using their partner practice text. 

Partner Practice

15 minutes

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. 

Independent Reading

25 minutes

Students collect their book boxes, binders, and pencils and find the perfect spots to read. They have approximately twenty-five 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. 


10 minutes

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.