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 focus on lessons learned in a story. I explain that today’s focus on “the lesson” is different from our work on theme earlier in the year. In other texts we’ve read, we’ve tried to determine what lesson we, as readers, can learn from the characters’ actions. Today, we will look closely to see if a character learns a lesson.
I ask students to open their vocabulary notebooks to page eight. Listed on this page are the terms theme, moral, and lesson. I ask students to remind me of the definition of theme and we write it in our notebooks. We talk about themes from books we’ve read throughout the year and how we determined them. Then I explain that in the folktale genre, many stories include a lesson or moral that is stated directly in the text. Towards the end of a book, an author might state, “The moral of this story is…” or “After that day, the character learned….” Other times, it takes some thinking on the part of the reader in order to determine the lesson. In addition, in other stories we find that a character doesn’t learn from his or her behavior even when faced with a difficult experience. We’re going to revisit our Anansi text to determine what kind of text this might be – one where there is a stated lesson or moral, one where the lesson takes some digging, or perhaps on where the character refuses to change from his experiences. We also work on locating evidence to support our thinking.
I ask students to open their copies to the part we’ve marked as the resolution while I project my copy on the SmartBoard. I reread the last two pages of the book and ask students to underline evidence of a lesson learned in the text.
After reading, I ask students to share what they’ve underlined. No one wants to share. When I ask why, they respond that they didn’t underline anything. We have a discussion about why and I hear that they didn’t find a lesson specifically stated in the story. “Ok, well that means that we need to do a little thinking. Let’s take a look at the main character’s actions. If we track Anansi’s behavior from the beginning of the text to the end and determine that his character changed, we can determine that he learned a lesson along the way. However, if we feel that his behavior remained pretty consistent throughout the book, then it might be safe to say that he did not learn a lesson. Talk it over with your tables and determine if he did or did not change in the text. But be ready to back up your thinking with examples from the text.
As I listen in on conversations, I hear that many students agree that Anansi didn’t learn a lesson. When prompted for evidence, they return to the story and show that after getting out of the watermelon, he goes back to Possum’s patch and steals more fruit. This proves that he didn’t learn a lesson after all. I agree and we add these details to our vocab notebook.
I explained to students during their partner work today, they will work together to determine if their story has a moral or lesson. It may be stated or require them to think critically about their main character’s behaviors throughout the text.
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.