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, writers’ notebooks, and pencils as I explain the assignment. Students open their notebooks to the pages we’ve used over the past couple of days, which contain the first three completed paragraphs of their opinion pieces. Today we draft our fourth and final paragraph.
Today’s work should be fairly easy for students as it is follows a similar format as paragraph one. After determining their initial opinions, students chose two reasons to support their views and have written a paragraph on each. The fourth paragraph will restate their opinion, reasons, and bring their pieces to a close.
Just as with paragraph one, the last paragraph should contain at least four sentences. Students, of course, can always write more by extending their thoughts, if they choose. Paragraph four should begin by restating their opinions. I explain that students shouldn’t simply recopy what they wrote in paragraph one. Instead, they should try to reword their opinions while keeping the content the same.
Sentences two and three follow in the same way. Students are to restate their two reasons for their opinions, but word each in a way that is different from paragraph one. For example, if their second sentence in paragraph one was, “The first reason why I believe I Survived was the best part of our unit is that we met interesting characters,” then perhaps in paragraph four they could begin their second sentence with “Meeting interesting characters is one reason why I enjoyed reading I Survived most.” The content of the sentences are the same – they both provide the same reason for why they enjoyed reading the fiction book most in our unit. However, the order of the sentences is reversed and a few words were changed in order to keep them from sounding redundant.
The last sentence closes the paragraph and piece as a whole. Students have free choice in what they write here. Maybe they choose to write their favorite reason of the two listed and then explain why. They could write a sentence that entices their reader to learn more about the Titanic by studying what they believed was most interesting. As long as the sentence provides closure, students are free to write whatever they like.
I leave the following on the board for students to use as support while they write:
1: restate your opinion
2: restate your first reason
3: restate your second reason
4: write a concluding sentence
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.