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.
Students created their own fictional characters in the first five lessons in this writing unit. In the remaining lessons, students use that character to write a fiction story modeled after one of the folktale genres studied in class. Each writing lesson was designed to partner with a reading lesson with the same focus. For instance, in “Folktales: Locating the Introduction,” students learn about what an introduction is, where it is located in a fiction story and why it is important. This lesson was meant to precede the writing lesson where students create the introduction to their own fiction stories. However, they easily could be taught separately if needed to accommodate your schedule.
I ask students to pull out their pencils, plot maps, and journals, leave them on their desks and join me in the meeting area. I explain that today we will write the first draft of our introductory paragraphs. We’ll use details about our setting found on our plot maps and details about our character from our fictional character drafts.
I explain that there are several different approaches to writing their first paragraphs. Students could begin with the introductory paragraph from their fictional character piece and add in details about the setting. They could start with their ideas about the setting and add in details about their character. Or, they could create an entirely new paragraph from scratch. I’ve decided to use that approach and will model my thinking aloud as I write my draft on chart paper.
I’ve posted my plot map for students to see while I work. I begin talking about how my narrator will not be a character in the story so I will refer to my main character by her first name. I won’t start off by introducing her as if she is telling the story. I tell students that they will need to decide who their narrator will be before beginning their first paragraphs. I start by describing the setting and trying to create a visual picture of where my story takes place in the reader’s mind. I check off details on my plot map as I use them. I include a sentence that explains who my character is and then provide some details about her. Again, I check off a few details as I go. I continue until I have a complete introductory paragraph that describes the setting of my story, my main character, and provides her goal.
I explain that students will complete the same work with their writing partners today. As always, I ask that they talk through this process first before writing on paper.
I give students time to talk about what they plan to write before any type of writing assignment. This way, more ideas make it to the paper and sometimes in a shorter amount of time. As partners work together, I walk the room listening to conversations and helping where necessary.
During independent writing time, I ask students to write down what they shared with their partners I’d like for them to focus just on paragraph one for now and ask them to check in with me before moving on to paragraph two. While students work, I conduct conferences with partners at the front table.
To close the lesson, I have students share their work with their original writing partners. In sharing, students oftentimes find “holes” in their own work they didn’t notice earlier, think of other details they’d like to add, or simply have one more chance at thinking aloud about their work before moving on to the next step.