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.
For the past several days, students have practiced writing their opinions using prompts about the Titanic. We covered many topics and wrote in a few formats. Today, students choose the topics of their final piece from six preselected options.
I call students to the meeting area to explain the task and tell them that today’s work will be fairly short. Our focus is to select the topic of our final opinion piece that will be used as a writing assessment. Over the course of the last month, students have completed various experiences involving the Titanic. We’ve read informational texts and collected research, they’ve read various non-fiction and fiction texts independently, book groups read I Survived: The Sinking of the Titanic, and we’ve practiced writing our opinions on several Titanic topics. I want to know what they’ve enjoyed most about our unit. I will list the six options on the board and talk through what each entails. While I do this, I’d like for them to be thinking which of the six they enjoyed most.
1. The Ship – if you’re someone who enjoyed learning about the ship itself, this prompt is for you! This includes details about how the Titanic was built, the accommodations on board the ship, and everything else involving the vessel itself. The research you would use to support this prompt most likely would be found in the facts you collected on Day One.
2. The People – if you’re someone who enjoyed learning about the people aboard the ship, then this prompt is for you. This includes any type of passenger, the crew, the mailmen, and musicians. The research you would use to support this prompt would come from information you gained during your independent reading or from the facts you collected in “The People” section of our website.
3. The Places – if you’re someone who loves geography, then this would be your prompt. This prompt is related to the four cities we found to be important to Titanic’s history. If you enjoyed learning about why these places were important, where they were located, interesting facts about each, etc. then you want to choose this option.
4. The Disaster – if you feel the best part of our unit was learning more details about how and why the Titanic sank, then this would be the best choice for you. This would include learning about icebergs, poor choices, and the rescue attempts. The research you would use mainly comes from our study of “The Iceberg.”
5. The Discovery – if you were fascinated by Dr. Ballard’s discovery of the Titanic ruins, then choose this option. This includes the videos we watched of the missions to learn more about where the Titanic was found, objects recovered from the wreck site, and efforts to save what is left of the ship.
6. I Survived – if you enjoyed the fiction part of our unit more than the non-fiction then this is your prompt. If you choose this option, you will give reasons why reading the historical fiction text, I Survived, was better than the weeks of research we completed using non-fiction texts.
After reviewing their options, I ask students if they have any questions. If there are none, I ask them to decide which prompt is best for them before returning to their seats.
Once back in their desks, I ask students to open their writers’ notebooks to a new page. At the top, we write today’s date and “My favorite part of our Titanic unit was…”. I ask students to finish the sentence with their prompt choice and then put their pencils down when finished. I have them write their choice for two reasons. First, this page will serve as a note page for ideas over the coming days. Second, I’ve had the problem of students “changing their minds” once they see the options others have chosen. This sometimes is due to a lack of confidence, but more often is because they would rather work with other students. Having them write their choice down before even knowing they’re about to be divided into groups keeps this from happening.
After students have completed their sentences, I ask that they take their notebooks, pencils, and go to the back of the room. Then, I call each prompt and ask students who chose it to go to a designated work area. Groups will meet in these areas each day during the work time.
I explain to students that while they are expected to complete this opinion piece independently, it is still important to discuss their ideas aloud before writing them down. So when we write each day, others who have chosen the same topic will support them.
Before we close for the day, I want students to talk with their groups about their chosen topic. Why did they select it? What are their ideas about reasons to support this opinion? I simply want students to become familiar with each other, their topic, and have great ideas to start our writing work tomorrow. While they work, I walk the room listening to their discussions.