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.
On day five, our focus is the number of survivors compared with the number of victims. The work we complete today will serve as a springboard for our opinion prompts. Students will learn that the number of deaths weren’t spread equally among the classes and begin to think critically about why.
I ask students to pull out their research packets and pencils as I explain today’s task. Today there isn’t a specific page on the website to visit. Instead, students will work with their partners to complete two pages within their packets. Students’ math skills get a work out in the first portion of today’s lesson. I’ve included a chart that lists the number of people aboard the Titanic by category: the three classes, the crew, and mailmen and musicians. Next are the numbers of survivors in each category. Students must subtract the figures to determine how many people died within the different categories.
After completing the chart, students make inferences based on their findings. I expect that this will be a challenge. I’m hoping that students will discover the disparity between the number of first class victims and the number of victims in any other category and begin to wonder why. Although they may not come up with perfect answers, I will be satisfied if today’s activities challenge their preconceived ideas of the tragedy and make them aware of the inequities involved with the Titanic.
Last, students reflect on all that they’ve learned about the people aboard the Titanic and decide which type of passenger they would be if they could have taken the trip. They must support their answers with specific details from their research.
Although today’s work doesn’t require computers, we still head to the lab to complete our work. Today’s work probably will not take students very long to complete and I’d like them to have time to catch up on unfinished work. Before we leave for the lab, I ask students if they have questions about today’s assignment. Then we gather our materials and head to work!
Students are given approximately forty-five minutes each day to complete their work. They have the choice of working independently or with the student next to them. Should they finish today’s assigned task, 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. 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.