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.
We’ve been analyzing fiction texts in order to learn more about their structure. Today’s focus is the character’s response to conflict. Yesterday we determined that the conflict of our story was that Anansi became stuck in a watermelon after gorging himself. He had expanded to a size so large that he no longer fit in the hole he created to get into the watermelon. As he heard Possom (the owner of the watermelon patch) approach, he knew he was in trouble. I ask students to think back to our work with The Paper Bag Princess [(Munsch, R. (1986). The paper bag princess. Toronto, Ontario: Annick Press, Ltd.]. In that short unit, we talked about how character’s actions impact what happens in a story. Decisions made by characters can change the direction of a story and how it ends. Characters’ actions can also tell us a great deal about their character and personality. “Let’s take a look at how Anasi responds to his conflict.”
I ask students to open their texts to page five while I project the text on the SmartBoard. I reread pages five and six and model my thinking as I read. “Do you notice how, in the middle of page six, Anansi begins to “plot” ways of solving his problem? Just a few sentences down, he announces his idea.” As I come to sentences that provide details about Anansi’s response, I underline these on my copy and ask students to do the same on theirs. I ask students to open their fiction vocabulary notebooks and turn to page four. We record what we’ve learned about Anansi’s response to his problem. “I’ve read other Anansi tales and in those stories Anansi is a trickster. He likes to play pranks or convince other characters of something that really isn’t true. I notice here that Anansi hasn’t changed much. He’s still trying to trick those around him to get what he wants. In this text, the character’s response is pretty clear. He comes right out and says what he is going to do to solve his problem. However, sometimes the response isn’t so clear or so immediate. If you know enough about a character, that knowledge can help you find clues as to what the character plans to do to solve his problem. When you’re working with your partners today, your character’s response to conflict might be “right there” or it might take some thinking on your part. If that’s the case, use what you’ve learned about your character to help guide you in locating evidence of what he or she will do next.”
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 twenty-five minutes to read independently while practicing today’s skill in a book of their choice. Moving through the three levels of practice with differing amounts of support helps solidify the concept for students. While reading, students are expected to update their reading logs and complete at least one “thinking note” aligned to today’s concept. 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.