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 plot maps as I review yesterday’s work. During workshop, students decided what their characters wanted, the conflict that would interfere, and when that conflict would come in the story. Today we will work on deciding how the character responds to that conflict.
“This morning we talked about how characters respond to the conflict in their story. 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 the conflict is the main problem in the story and how it usually interferes with what a character wants. It can come before, during, or after a character gets what he wants.
“Today we will decide how our character responds to that conflict. There a few things to keep in mind. First, we’ll need to keep his or her character traits in mind. When we created our character, we assigned three traits for him or her. When planning our stories, the character’s response to conflict is a great time to show his or her character. For example, I decided that my character is brave. When I decide how Audrianna will respond to her problem, I could have her act in a brave way. Kind of like Elizabeth’s response to the dragon’s actions in the Paper Bag Princess. When the dragon burned down her home and took her prince, she decided to fight back. This showed she was brave. I could choose a similar action in my story.
“Second, this is also a great time to use one of your genre’s characteristic. For example, in our folktale story, Anansi responded to his problem by using trickery. I’ve decided to use trickery in my story too. Maybe I’ll have Audrianna respond to her conflict by using trickery in some way.
"Your character’s response to the conflict will help decide the path for the rest of your story. Just as in Anansi, after he decided to use trickery, the rest of the story was about the trick he played on Possum until his tricks finally freed him from the watermelon. With Elizabeth, the rest of the story was about how her brave choices allowed her to beat the dragon and free her prince. So this is an important part of your plot. Before we talk with our partners, look over your notes about your character and the conflict in your story.
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.
“OK, now that you’ve had a few quiet moments to think, talk over those ideas with your writing partner. I’d like you to share a few things first before talking about your character’s response. Remind your partner of the character traits you selected, your character’s goal, and the conflict you chose. Then think aloud about how your character will respond to that conflict. Remember that if you’re the listener, your task is to think of ideas that might be helpful to your partner. Your ideas might help focus their thinking and aid in selecting the perfect response for their character."
After several minutes, I ask students to select a response from those they shared with their partners and add it to their plot maps. When finished, they should complete unfinished work or continue drafting notes about their stories in their notebooks. 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.