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’ problems would be solved. Today we will work on the building action. I have students share with me what they remember from our readers’ workshop lesson and refer back to our anchor chart.
I explain that it’s now time to go back and fill in missing events. We can do this one of two ways: work forwards from the conflict or work backwards from the resolution.
I use The Paper Bag Princess as our example of how to choose our plot evens by working forward. Starting at the conflict – the dragon comes, burns down her home, and takes her prince. Our first event could be her response to the conflict. As we talked about yesterday, she chose to be brave and go after her prince. So that would be event one: Elizabeth find a paper bag to wear and head off in search of the dragon and her prince. I record this sequence of events on the board as we talk through them as a class. Students recount the story to me and I write ‘Elizabeth tricks the dragon by having him breathe out all of his fire’ on the board. We continue this until Elizabeth enters the cave and finds her prince. I remind students that we aren’t going to finish the plot line today – we aren’t going to think about how the story ends quite yet. We’re just focusing on the events that link the conflict to the resolution.
Then we move onto the second approach using our folktale. While this might sound difficult at first, I tell students that they might find that they prefer this way to working forwards. I know I do! So we start at how the problem is solved. I write these events on the board too, but this time I write from the bottom up. The resolution of the story was when King Bear throws the watermelon, it smashes, and Anansi is free, but what happened that made King Bear throw the watermelon? Students tell me that Anansi tricked the bear and insulted him. I add this event just above my resolution. Now let’s think about how the watermelon got to King Bear in the first place. Students tell me that Possum and the animals bring the watermelon to the King. I add this detail to our list. Then I ask how the animals knew about the talking watermelon. My students reply that Possum met them on his way to meet the King. We continue this until we have listed the four main events that make up the building action in the 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 we’ve worked through the process from both ends, which was easier? Thumbs up if you preferred working from the beginning. And how about those who liked working backwards? Interesting. Today I’m going to change up how we do partner talk. Rather than working with your usual writing partner, today you’re going to talk over your ideas with someone whose approach is similar to yours.” I ask students to grab their work materials and head to one of two places in the room – students who want to work forwards from the conflict to the resolution head to the front of the room while students who want to work backwards from the resolution to the conflict head to the back of the room. Once there, I tell students to find someone in that group with whom they work well and then find a place to chat.
When students have found their partners and places, I give the next direction. “Your task today is to talk through the building action events with your new partner. As usual, we won’t be writing, just talking. Before talking over the plot events, I want you to tell your new partner about your story so far. Describe your character and setting, explain your plot and your character’s response to it, and then talk about your resolution. When that’s finished, begin thinking of the events that will connect your conflict to your resolution. I’d like you to use your fingers as you go. When you come up with a good event, hold up a finger. Keep doing this until you’ve connected the problem and the solution. One thing to keep in mind is that you should have at least three events in order to have a strong story. However, in order to keep your story from becoming too long, you don’t want more than five events in this section. Because you have so much to discuss, you’ll have a little extra time today. Remember that if you’re the listeners, it is your job to help keep your partners focused and provide any suggestions that come to mind.
After several minutes, I ask students to return to their own desks and write their chosen events on 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 with their 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.