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 we begin the third phase of our Titanic unit: opinion writing. This is new for third grade and I thought that incorporating this type of writing with our research of the Titanic would work well. Students are excited about the topic and are full of ideas and opinions about it.
I ask students to pull out their Titanic research packets and join me in the meeting area. I explain to students that this week’s focus is opinion writing. I remind students that we have practiced this skill, in small ways, throughout the year using our Scholastic magazines. In each issue, there typically is a “Debate It” section where two students give their opinions on an issue. Oftentimes, we will “debate” these topics as a class, usually doing so orally rather than writing down our opinions with support. Today we begin the writing process.
For the next few days, we will practice responding to prompts about the Titanic based on what we’ve learned through our research. Because we are writing about how we feel, not everyone’s writing will be the same. And that’s ok! However, although the content of our pieces might differ, all pieces will follow a similar structure.
In order to have a strong argument, we must support our opinions with reasons and evidence. I point students’ attention to our “Strong Arguments” anchor chart. I explain that each of our pieces this week will follow this structure:
O – stating our opinion about the topic
R – giving our first reason for why we feel this way
E – providing an explanation for this reason (or evidence from our research)
R – giving a second reason for our opinion
E – explaining this reason (or another piece of evidence)
C – concluding our piece by restating our opinion
I ask students to return to their desks in order to complete the first part of our writing prompt.
Today’s prompt is, “Was the Titanic ready and prepared to set sail?”. We discuss this for a moment, talking about the disaster and the reasons behind it. I have students talk to their partners and decide if yes, they believe the ship was prepared to set sail or no, it was not. After a few minutes, I have students show me by raising their hands how many believe the Titanic was prepared and how many believe it wasn’t. To my surprise, everyone in the class felt that it wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t expecting this, but to be honest, was really thrilled that it happened! It makes this part much easier!
I explain that we will work together to complete the first portion of the opinion prompt. I pass out today’s work page and have students write their names on it. We work together to finish the first question stem, “I believe that…the Titanic was not prepared to set sail.” Then I explain that we need two reasons to support our opinion and ask students to give me one of the reasons they discussed with their partners just a few minutes earlier. Many students responded that there weren’t enough lifeboats on the ship. So we use this reason to complete the next prompt, “I believe this because….” Once students have this written on their pages, I explain that the next part can be completed one of two ways. First, we can go back in our research packets and find the exact number of lifeboats that were on the Titanic, how many each held, and the number of people who were aboard the boat. This would be the best way to go as it would give specific facts to back up our claim. However, we might not have those facts in our notes. In this case, we’ll have to simply explain our reason using our own words. While this doesn’t provide the strongest argument, it will do if we don’t have access to specific facts.
As students rummage through their packets, they find that while everyone has the total number of people on board, not everyone has the other numbers needed. Because we’re doing this as a group, we’ll make it work by sharing the information that we have. We complete the next question stem on our papers by listing the number of boats on board and comparing it with the number of people. When this is completed, I explain that students will complete the rest of the page in the same way we started it. They will need to come up with a second reason for why the Titanic wasn’t prepared and either an explanation or evidence for that reason. Students will talk it over with their partners before completing any writing.
I give students time to talk about what they plan to write before completing any type of writing assignment. This way, more ideas make it to the paper and sometimes in a shorter amount of time. As partners talk to each other, I walk the room listening to conversations and helping where necessary.
During independent writing time, I ask students to write down what they shared with their partners. I remind them to refer back to the “Strong Argument” chart as needed while they work. During this time, I conduct independent or small group conferences at the front table. If students finish early, they are to go back over their work to edit or revise.
To close the lesson, I have students share their work with their tables. They must decide how to share – who goes first, who will follow, etc. As is becoming our habit, I encourage students to comment on each other’s work rather than just reading from the page and moving on. This is a time to give constructive criticism, praise, and other types of helpful feedback. After sharing, students can use the last few minutes to make changes to their writing before we close for the day.
While they share, I walk the room listening to conversations and stepping in only when necessary. I make notes of excellent examples to share with the class.