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.
Yesterday, we wrote our first opinion piece using a prompt about the Titanic. We completed half of the work together as it was our first written attempt at opinion writing. Today students complete a similar task without as much support from me.
I ask students to pull out their Titanic research packets as I pass out their work pages. Today’s prompt is, “If you were a passenger on the Titanic, which type would you be: first class, second class, third class, or a member of the crew?” Just like yesterday’s work, students must provide two reasons with explanations or evidence to support their opinions. We review their work page and discuss how it is set up in a similar format as yesterday’s page:
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
Also like yesterday, students first will discuss ideas with their partners before completing work on their own. Partners can choose to share facts from their research packets should they find that one doesn’t have the necessary evidence to support a claim. I remind students that while they must first discuss with each other to express and talk through ideas, they do not have to share the same opinion as their partner. In fact, I encourage students to come up with their own ideas! This is especially true today as students have four options from which to choose for their opinions. Where as yesterday there were only two – was the ship prepared or not – I expect today’s pieces to be much more varied.
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.