The last unit before the big OAA (our state’s end of the year assessment) is always a tricky one. So much to review, such little time. This year I wanted to create a multi-genre reading and writing unit that would review essential fiction and non-fiction skills that was engaging and driven by student interest.
My students are obsessed with the “I Survived” series. Each book in this historical fiction chapter book series is written from the viewpoint of a boy who survived a major event in world history. I’ve found that these addicting little books are an excellent way to get boys (and girls!) interested in history while burning through an entire series!
Building on their frenzy, I decided to create a four week unit around the title, I Survived: The Sinking of the Titanic [Tarshis, L. (2011). I survived: The sinking of the Titanic. New York, NY: Scholastic Paperbacks]. In this unit, students will research the actual Titanic using a website I created in order to gain an understanding of the ship, its passengers, and why it remains a popular topic to this day. Second, the students will read the I Survived text as a part of book clubs while reviewing fiction skills learned throughout the year. Last, students will produce opinion writing pieces about the Titanic using information gained from their non-fiction research and fiction book study.
Today is an exciting day! I’ve been talking with students about the Titanic and our upcoming unit for days and they are ready to begin! I pass out a Titanic packet to students, ask that they put their names on them, and explain what will become our daily routine. For the next two weeks, we will go as a class to the computer lab to conduct research. I’ve assigned each student to a computer so that students are seated by appropriate partners. They will use this computer throughout the unit.
Each day, there will be a specific focus to research on a website I created. I explain that the website contains materials that were specifically chosen for our unit. The texts included on the site are challenging, but manageable for all students in the class. If students find that they need support while reading, they have partners to help them in addition to myself.
Today’s focus is the ship itself. Once on the website, students will click on “The Ship” and then one of three links, “Titanic Under Construction,” “Building the Titanic,” and “Titanic Engines.” I demonstrate how to find the material using our classroom SmartBoard. Each link contains extensive facts about the ship’s construction. Students are asked to read through the three pages and determine which facts are most important. While they can choose to record a couple that they simply find interesting, the real task is finding facts that provide an understanding of the Titanic’s size and complexity. The facts recorded will vary among students and it will be interesting to see just what each student deems important.
When they’ve finished recording their ten facts, students can move on to the links related to dining options on the ship. While they won’t record any facts found in this area, these pages give great insight into the luxury and splendor that could be found on the ship’s interior.
Before we leave for the lab, I ask students if they have questions about today’s assignment or the unit. Then we gather our materials and head to work!
Students are given approximately forty-five minutes each day to conduct their research. They have the choice of working independently or with the student next to them. Should they finish today’s assigned research, they first must go back to previous day’s assignments and complete any unfinished work. If all work has been completed, they are free to catch up on viewing photos of artifacts or videos posted on previous day’s lessons or they can choose to play either of the Titanic games on the homepage. I ask that students not work ahead, though, and try to complete work that I haven’t explained yet. This keeps them from completing a day’s assignment incorrectly and having to redo it.
While students work, I walk the room checking in with groups of students or conducting conferences. It’s an excellent time to see if students are managing the complex texts included in the website and provide support if needed. This time also allows opportunities for students to ask questions about their assignments, texts, or general questions they have about the topic itself.
At the end of our work time, we review what we’ve learned today. I have students share parts that were interesting to them, ask questions, or make connections to other students' answers. It’s a time to not only share what we enjoyed most about today’s focus but also to clear up any confusion students had while working alone or with a partner. Because I cannot get to every student each day, this is a perfect opportunity for students to share questions with me that may also be on the minds of others in the class. Typically this happens in the computer lab so that I can quickly refer to the website when addressing students’ concerns. However, due to time, we sometimes complete our share in the classroom.
On days when there aren’t many issues or questions, I use this time to share excellent work I noticed while walking the room. Sometimes this comes in the form of a written response and other times it might be a connection I overheard that was made between partners.
Before ending the period, students are given a final few minutes to finish a section they were working on or to make corrections or additions to their work based on what they learned in our group share. When finished, they return all materials to their binders so that they are prepared to start again tomorrow.