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 writers’ notebooks, pencils, and fictional character drafts as I review yesterday’s work. During workshop, each student selected the type of folktale he would write and the three characteristics of that genre he would include in his story. Today we will craft our introductions.
“This morning we talked about introductions in texts, where they were located, and why they were important. Let’s review what we learned.” I have students share with me what they remember from our readers’ workshop lesson and refer back to our anchor chart. We discuss how introductions are at the beginning of stories and they serve to “introduce” the reader to the main character and the setting of the story.
“Today, friends, we will focus on the setting for our story. Last week, we finished up our fictional characters, so that part is already done! Now we need to decide where and when our stories will take place. We know from our reading lessons that there is much more to a setting than “daytime” or “house.” In order to create a clear picture of where and when our story is happening, we’ll need to add specific details to our writing. Let’s do a quick exercise describing the setting of our own story. If we were going to write a story about us – our language arts class – what sort of details would you include for where and when our story takes place?” Students begin giving details such as our room number and the day of the week. I tell them that these details are a good start, but we can do better! Tell me more! What month and season are we in? In what part of the building are we located? How about our city and state? Soon hands fly up and my board is covered in details. (We even get the Milky Way Galaxy up there!).
I explain that this is the kind of thinking I’d like to see as you begin to create your story. Now, you don’t need this many details or go as far as to tell me the galaxy your character lives in – unless of course that detail is important to your story. The point is not to go overboard, but not to be skimpy either. Find a good balance so that a clear picture is painted in the mind of your reader.
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. I ask that students brainstorm ideas about their setting with their partners. While they are listening, see if you can visualize the place and time in your head. If not, prompt your partner to “tell me more!”
After several minutes, I pass out a plot map to each student. I explain that over the next few days, we will complete each portion of the plot map until we have a complete draft of our stories. I ask students to write down what they shared with their partners in the “introduction” box. While students write, I conduct individual or small group conferences.
To close the lesson, I have students share their work. First they share with their writing partner any changes or additions made since they talked last and if there is time, with someone else at their tables. 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.