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 finding the resolution to the conflict. I quickly review yesterday’s work where we discussed our character’s response to his problem. I ask students to open their texts to page five where Anansi announced that he planned to trick Possum in order to solve his problem and then pull out a sticky note to use in a quick activity. I explain that the resolution in a story is where the conflict is resolved. “Over the next few minutes, I want you to work with your tables to locate the portion of the text where Anansi’s problem is solved. When you find it, place your note there and write your thinking. Your note might begin, ‘we know this is the resolution because…’. It’s up to you to decide how to word your thinking so long as you explain how you know this piece of the story is in fact where the character’s problem is solved.” While students work, I listen in on conversations. As expected, students mark several different moments as the resolution. For some reason, they’ve confused steps that lead to the problem being solved with the resolution itself.
After a few minutes, I ask students to return their attention back to the front. I tell them that I heard excellent thinking and noticed that there were a couple of different moments marked as the resolution in their texts. “Let’s take a look at those. The first I saw marked was on the top of page eight. Will you turn there with me? This is the part of the story where Possum makes a plan to take the watermelon to King Bear. Hmmm… let’s talk about this moment. What was Anansi’s conflict again?” Students remind me that the problem is that Anansi becomes stuck in the watermelon. “You’re right. Now, let’s image that we became stuck in an object. What would be the solution to our problem? How would our problem be resolved?” One group replies that we would need to get “unstuck” from whatever is holding us. “True! The same should be true for Anansi. So if we keep that in mind, does this part of the story tells us about Anansi becoming free from the watermelon?” Students answer that it does not. “OK, well let’s take a look at a another example from the story that you identified as the resolution to see if it fits our thinking. Another place I saw marked was the top of page thirteen where King Bear is insulted by the talking watermelon. Again, is Anansi freed here?” Students begin groaning no! “Alright, well let’s try it again. Find the exact moment that Anansi is freed and place your note there.” I turn to the place they find in the story and underline those details. I ask them to open to page five in their vocabulary notebooks and record that portion of the text in the resolution box.
I tell students that they will complete a similar activity with their reading partners. “While you work, keep our practice in mind. Don’t be confused by the steps that lead to the resolution. Those are part of what we call the building action and take the reader on a journey from the conflict to the place where the problem is solved. Today we’re just focused on that one moment we call the resolution. Tomorrow we will take a closer look at those moments in the building action.”
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.