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 continue the work we started yesterday. I ask students to pull out their Titanic research packets, writers’ notebooks, and pencils as I explain the assignment. Students open their notebooks to the pages we used yesterday, which contain completed first paragraphs of their opinion pieces. The task today is to complete paragraph two.
Paragraph two will contain at least five sentences and should follow a structured format. Their first sentence should state their first reason for believing their choice is the best. Sentence two gives an example or piece of evidence from their research to support their first reason. Next, sentence three explains how that example or evidence supports their claim. I explain the difference. Sentence two should be the words of someone else and come from their research. This typically is a fact. Sentence three, however should be their own words and explain not only why that piece of evidence was chosen, but how it supports their reason. I stop to make sure students understand this difference before going on.
Sentence three and four work in the same way. Sentence three provides their second example or piece of evidence supporting their first reason. Again this is a fact from their research or readings. The last sentence is where students write in their own words to explain how this new piece of evidence supports their reasoning. I explain that students can always write more than the basic five sentences. They can write more than one sentence to explain each piece of evidence to further substantiate their claim.
I leave the following on the board for students to use as support while they write:
1: state first reason
2: provide example or piece of evidence to support this reason
3: explain your example or evidence
4: provide second example or piece of evidence to support same reason
5: explain how this example/evidence further supports your reason
I take a few minutes to answer questions before setting students 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.