Kids love fantasy and sometimes its hard to get them interested in historical fiction. However, historical fiction and fantasy have something great in common, each takes you to new and exciting places. I start this unit off with a engaging book such as, Sing Down the Moon, by Scott O'Dell.
I start by simply explaining to the students that we are starting a new unit and I'm just going to jump in. After I read the first chapter, I ask the students if they have a sense of the place. Many of them start to describe it and some can even give details to support their idea.
Introducing my teaching point for today, I say, "Setting is very important in many stories because it helps us follow the story and the paths the characters take. Historical fiction often uses setting to clue us into the good and bad of the story. This story starts off making us feel positive but at some point in the story, the setting with change. If we pay close attention to the details of the setting, we can predict the changes."
I use the book to demonstrate how I pay very close attention to not only how I feel when I read or the mood of the story but specifically the details that help create that mood for me.
I reread from the book the beginning setting description. I stop and think aloud when the author uses specific words or phrases. For example, "The pinon trees shook off their coverings of snow in the moths of the deer" and "warm winds melted the snow". These made the place seem inviting and transitioning from cold or winter to spring which is usually a bright and happy time of the year. This makes me feel like the characters in the story, at this point of time, is happy and at peace.
I reiterate to them that I not only payed attention to how I felt but I looked for text clues that support my feeling.
I continue to read and ask them to find places in the text that described the setting and gave them a sense of the mood.
After a few paragraphs, I stopped and gave students a chance to share with a partner or group what they noticed. Many students shared that the author described flowing water and flowing trees and even specific phrases like, "The day the waters came was a wonderful day" as proof that their sense was correct.
As a way to support students who love to draw and need some support in group discussions, I have students draw the setting of their books and label important features. Students will later use this to picture to help support their discussion with other students in the book club. Students are sometimes reluctant to share their ideas, especially if they cannot be sure it is "correct". However, they love to draw and share their drawings.
For the independent practice, students will read or reread parts of their book that describes setting and then draw a picture with key component emphasized. The reading and drawing of the scenes will take a while so instead of sharing, I just give them time to read, draw, and label in preparation for the next days activity.