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.
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, “Today we will examine the part of the story called ‘the conclusion.’ This comes after the resolution and is where the author tends to wrap up any loose ends to finish the story. During our last few lessons, we determined the conflict, building action, and resolution of our Anansi story. So locating the conclusion should be fairly simple. Let’s open our copies and take a look.” Students open to the portion of the story marked “resolution” while I project a digital copy on the SmartBoard. I point out that there isn’t much left to our story. And honestly, all of it could be considered the conclusion. We mark it with a bracket and label it.
Although typically short and not particularly eventful, I do want students to understand that there’s a purpose and importance to the conclusion of a story. This also will become important as they write their own fictional stories. I post the following questions on the board and then read them aloud: “How does this portion of the story add to story as a whole? What do we learn about the characters? Why, as readers, do we want a great ending to a story? Let’s work together to answer these questions and determine how the conclusion is important to the story.” While students share, I listen and prompt for more. My friends this year tend to have great thoughts, but struggle to explain or extend their thinking beyond their initial answers. I find myself saying, “tell me more,” several times throughout the day! At first, students note that Anansi repeats his actions from the beginning of the book when he returns back to Possum's field and eats more fruit. But the conversation quickly ends so I press for more. “Why would the author include this event at the end of the story? She easily could have left it out, so it must be important in some way. Is there something we can learn from this event? Quickly turn and discuss with your table.” There are a couple of students who pick up on its importance and I have them share with the class. In this event we learn that Anansi doesn’t change. After all he went through, he continues to steal from Possum in order to get what he wants. I continue the thought by telling students that this event solidifies our ideas about Anansi’s character and our belief that he is selfish. It’s a solid piece of evidence to support our claim. In fact, it really addresses two of the three questions listed on the board.
I encourage this type of thinking as we move on to the final question, why, as readers, do we want great endings to a story? I ask students if they’ve ever read a book that had a really terrible ending and if so, what made it terrible? A few raise their hands and share that they had read books where something happens at the end they didn’t expect, a problem wasn’t really resolved, or that they had questions still unanswered. I agreed that all of these can be frustrating as a reader. “While many authors use their conclusions to “wrap up” any unresolved problem or issue in the book, some authors do not. If we look at our Anansi story, are there any issues that are left unresolved or any questions you have that are unanswered?” Students thought for a moment before raising hands. One student mentioned that he wasn’t sure if Possum would be fooled again by Anansi or if he would discover Anansi’s trickery. I pointed out that this was an excellent question and came as a result of a great conclusion. Sometimes authors craft their conclusions in a way that leave you wanting more. I explained the difference between that type of question and one that came from unresolved issues within the story line.
I explained to students that they would locate and label the conclusion in their partner texts. Then, I want them to talk through the same three questions on the board and encourage each other to “tell me more.”
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.