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.
I ask students to pull out their Titanic research packets as I pass out today’s work pages. All week we’ve practiced writing opinions using prompts about the Titanic. Our first prompt was completed partially as an entire group. Students completed prompt two mainly on their own with some support from me. Today we will attempt the transition to completing the work without my help.
Today’s prompt is, “There were many poor decisions made on that last day at sea that contributed to the high number of deaths on the Titanic. In your opinion, which was the worst?
1. Ignoring the many iceberg warnings.
2. Travelling too fast through Iceberg Alley.
3. Waiting over half an hour before evacuating the boat.
4. Sending lifeboats away only half full.”
I explain that first students must decide which factor they believe contributed most to the high number of deaths. To do this, they will talk over their thoughts while reviewing the facts they’ve collected in their research packets. As with the previous days’ work, their pieces will follow the same format:
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
Although following the same format, students will notice that today’s work page is set up a little differently than our first two prompt pages. I’ve removed the words “reasons,” “evidence,” and “opinion.” Instead, the page resembles a narrative, which will be the format of students’ final opinion pieces.
As I explained before, I’d like to see how well students can complete this task without my help. I will be around to check in and conduct conferences as usual, but will only step in when absolutely necessary. There are many experts in the room and I encourage students to use their partner time effectively.
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.