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. I tell students that today we will examine parts of the story called, “the building action.” These are the important events that lead a character from the conflict to the resolution. Oftentimes these moments tell us about a character and are always shaped by a character’s choices.
We quickly review our character’s problem and the moment it was resolved. “Now, let’s look at the section of the story in between the conflict on page five and the resolution on page fourteen. Something important to remember is that the plot of a story is made up of the important events that move a character from the beginning of a story to the end. There are several pages that come between our conflict and resolution, but not all of those hold important events. In a story this short, there are only a handful of events that are actually important to the entire plot. In other words, without these few events our story would not be complete. In fact, in this story I believe that there are only four main events that take us from the story’s conflict to the resolution. Your job today is to find those four. Walk through the text with your partner and discuss what you believe is most important. You do not need to write anything for now – just discuss.”
I give students several minutes to talk to each other before returning their attention to the front. I ask them to rate the difficulty of that task on their fingers – one finger if it wasn’t too hard and five it they found it very difficult. Most students have at least three fingers raised. “I agree, that this can be difficult sometimes to “weed” through a number of little events to find those that are most important. As I was reading the text, I determined that there were four main events that, if removed, would change what happens in the story.” I show students the chart I made that lists those events. Then I ask students to find each with me, underline, and label. As we work, we talk about how the story would change if that one event were removed. For example, the first event I listed was when Anansi began talking in the watermelon tricking Possum into thinking it was magic. We discussed how if this event were removed, none of the others would make sense or even happen – Possum wouldn’t have taken the magic watermelon to King Bear, he wouldn’t tell others that it was magic, King Bear wouldn’t have become enraged when the watermelon insulted him, and he wouldn’t have thrown it freeing Anansi. After our discussion, we add these details in our vocabulary notebook under “building action.”
I explain to students that during partner practice time, they will complete the same work in their partner texts. If they become stuck or begin to find themselves labeling too many events as important, they can ask themselves, “Would the story change greatly if this event didn’t happen?” If they answer yes, then that event is an important one. If they answer no, then it is probably not.
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.