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. We’ve picked apart our story for days identifying and labeling important parts of the plot. I explain to students that today we will determine the genre of our story. “Yes, we know that this is a folktale. However, I want to know just what type of folktale it is. We’ve read this story several times over the past few days and you know it well. Let’s look at our folktales chart. Listed on it are the characteristics that are specific to fairy tales, fables, and folk tales. Hopefully you already have a good idea of which genre fits our story.” Hands pop up around the room. Several students say that it is a fable. “I tend to agree with you. But we’re going to need some hard evidence to support our claim. Let’s go through each characteristic listed for a fable and see if we can find evidence for it in the text.”
Students open their copies of the text while I project my digital copy on the SmartBoard. I start with “animals are the main characters and behave like people.” “I think this fits our story, don’t you? Every character we met was an animal – there wasn’t a single person in the story. And I would say that the animals behaved like humans, wouldn’t you? OK, well let’s look for proof. Turn to a part of the story where an animal behaved like a human and underline it. Then label it in the margin.” I give students a few moments to locate evidence and share a couple with the class before moving on to the next characteristic. “How about this one – characters have generic names such as dog or fox?” Students agree that it fits and start their search for proof. They underline “Possum,” “Skunk,” and other examples of characters with generic names. We continue working through the characteristics on the chart, deciding if they fit our story, and looking for evidence to support our thinking.
At the end of our discussion, we decide that all characteristics listed for fables fit our story but two: end with a moral or lesson and uses repetition. Just to be sure that this genre was the best fit, we reviewed the characteristics of fairy tales and tall tales. We quickly checked off the ones that fit our story and decided that “fables” was still the best fit. I agreed and reminded them that the chart was a guide, not a rule. The characteristics listed were often found in those genres, but not every one would always be present in each type of story.
I explained to students that during their partner work today they will work together to determine their story’s genre. Again, it is my hope that they will have a good idea of where to start, but that they must locate, underline, and label evidence to support their claim.
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.