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.
About two weeks into our unit, a student asked if we were going to do any kind of project about the Titanic. I hesitated as I had wanted time for a project, but just couldn’t make it work how I wanted. So instead of saying no, I asked what he had in mind. He didn’t really have a specific idea, but wanted to make something related to what he was learning. I discussed with him my original plan and struggle with time constraints. Together we came up with an idea that gave students the ability to express themselves creatively without using a ton of time, expensive materials, or computer labs. So during the fourth week in our unit, while students were working on opinion writing, we set to work!
On the first day, I ask students to pull out their writers’ notebooks, pencils, and then move to their opinion group work areas. I explain that they will work in their groups to create a project that represents their opinion choices. For example, if your opinion is that learning about the ship itself was the best part of our unit, then your group will create a project about Titanic, the vessel. If your group thought reading I Survived: The Sinking of the Titanic was the best, then your project should be related to that text in some way.
While I want each group to be as creative as possible, there are a couple of ground rules. First, you can only use materials that are available in the classroom or our building. We aren’t going spend money buying materials for this project; instead, we’re going to get creative with what we have. I listed a few examples of materials that were available - construction paper, pieces from indoor recess games, oversized paper (that covers bulletin boards), popsicle sticks, foam, pom-poms, etc. (look through your cabinets – you’d be amazed at what’s there!).
Next, the project must be something that can be completed in a limited time frame. At the end of our writing time, students will have twenty to thirty minutes to work on their projects depending on how quickly the writing process goes each day. We’ll come up with ideas today and begin work tomorrow. Projects must be completed by the end of the week. Which means that you’ll have between one to two hours of solid work time for the entire project. You’ll have to be super focused during work time in order to get it all done.
I give the class ideas of what could be accomplished in the time we had and then ask students if they have any questions before telling them to open their notebooks to a new page. At the top we wrote the date and “Titanic Project Ideas.”
Students work in their groups to come up with ideas for their projects. While they discuss, I visit each work area to see how things are going. For the most part, I plan to keep quiet and let them work. However, if they need assistance coming up with ideas, I’m happy to help!
Once finished, I ask each group to share with the class one or two ideas they’ve come up with. Not only does this allow me to see what they’re thinking, it might give other groups ideas of what can be done with their own topic. After each group has shared, I ask students to return to their desks and explain that tomorrow, they will choose a final idea and begin working!