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 how our characters respond to the problem in the story. We used what we knew about their character and our chosen genre when crafting our responses. Today we will work on deciding how the problem is solved.
Students share with me what they remember from our readers’ workshop lesson and refer back to our anchor chart. We discuss how the resolution explains how the problem is solved and often occurs towards the end of a fiction story.
I explain that just like in our reading lessons, we’re going to skip straight ahead and decide how that problem will be solved. This gives us a focus to our writing and a near end point to the events in our plot. If we know how the problem will be solved, then we can choose the events that are necessary to get the character from the point of conflict to the resolution.
We take a look back at our folktale story. Anansi’s problem was that he became stuck in the watermelon after eating his fill. The problem was solved when King Bear threw the watermelon, it split open, and Anansi ran free. I’m sure that there were several ways the author could have chosen to free Anansi. However, she chose to incorporate a second example of Anansi being tricky. She created a moment where Anansi tricks a second character in order to get his way. This event helped solidify our understanding of who Anansi is as a character while creating a funny scene in the reader’s mind.
I tell students, “When you think about how you will solve your character’s problem, perhaps you’ll choose the same method. Maybe you’ll decide to repeat a certain behavior that your character is known for. Perhaps you’ll choose to incorporate one of your chosen genre’s characteristics that you haven’t used yet, like magic or the number three. As with Anansi, there are several ways to solve your problem. Just be sure that your ideas match what we know of your character and your chosen genre. Take a few moments to think over your options before sharing with your partner.”
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 ideas for a resolution. Remind your partner of the character traits you selected, your character’s goal, and the conflict you chose. Then think aloud about how you plan to solve your character’s problem. 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 resolution.
After several minutes, I ask students to select a resolution 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.