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 use the details about our fictional story plots to plan out our paragraphs. We’ll decide just how long our story will be and where to place important details.
I point their attention to my oversized plot map that I’ve filled out with details from my own story. I explain that most of the boxes on the map will become a single paragraph in their drafts. Some boxes might be combined with others depending on where their conflict falls in the story. Other boxes, like the building action, will be at least three paragraphs long as each event inside it should be a separate paragraph.
I model the task for them as I think aloud about my map. I write a number one by ‘the introduction’ as this clearly will be the beginning of my story. Next I look at the conflict and response boxes. My conflict comes at the beginning of the story before my character gets what she wants so I decide that this should be paragraph two. But, I also think that the character’s response box should go there as well. I plan to have my character respond to her issue right away rather than waiting later in the story so these details need to go in the conflict paragraph. I label both boxes with the number two.
I continue this way until I have talked through the entire plot map. When finished, I explain that students will complete the same task with their writing partners. I tell them that they should talk through each box on their maps with their partners and then label each with a paragraph number.
As partners work together, I walk the room listening to conversations and helping where necessary. I don’t want students to begin working on drafts today – just plan out how they will turn their progression of events into complete paragraphs. I’m more interested in hearing their thought processes today than seeing their work in writing.
Depending on how long it takes to complete the partner talk, students may or may not have time to write independently. I’d happily sacrifice this time today should I see the need to spend more time planning. If there is time for independent writing, students can write additional details about specific events, plan transition words, etc.
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.