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, students picked writing prompts that reflect what they believe was the best part of our Titanic unit. They were placed in a group of other students who chose the same topic. While students are responsible for their own writing, the groups will support their writing process along the way.
I ask students to pull out their Titanic research packets, writers’ notebooks, and pencils as I explain the assignment. This piece will serve as their final opinion writing assessment. It will consist of just four paragraphs and follow the structure we’ve used throughout the unit. Today’s task is to draft the first paragraph.
Students open their notebooks to the pages we used yesterday, which lists their prompt choices. I tell students that I will get them started with each new paragraph. However, I will not walk them through the entire process. First, doing so wouldn’t be a true assessment of their writing abilities, but my own. Second, there are six different prompt choices and I cannot demonstrate them all! But not to worry! As I stated earlier, everyone’s work will follow the same structure so that it is cohesive.
In paragraph one, students write four sentences. The first states their opinion. This is super simple seeing as how they already have this written on their pages! The next two sentences list their reasons why this portion of the unit was their favorite – one reason per sentence. The last sentence restates their opinion while drawing the attention of their reader. This sentence could be catchy in some way, but serves to entice the reader to continue reading the rest of the piece. I complete an example using a prompt that wasn’t chosen by any student in the room so that students’ work will remain original. I leave this example posted, along with our “Strong Arguments” anchor chart and ask if students have questions. After answering, I set them to work.
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 make notes of issues that can be addressed during conferences. Because this is towards the end of a unit and students are working on what will become an assessment piece, I try to interfere as little as possible.
During independent writing time, I ask students to complete the task given. I remind them to refer back to the “Strong Argument” chart if 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.