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.
It has been a busy month! We researched, read, wrote, created, and read some more about the Titanic. Students – and I – surely have become experts on the topic! Today we wrap up our month-long unit by circling back to where we started over four weeks ago.
Two weeks before we began our work, each class started its own KWL chart. This was more for my benefit than theirs. Although I had my own ideas, I truly wanted to know what students already knew about the Titanic and what they still wanted to learn before finalizing my plans. As students shared with me what they already knew, I listed their thoughts under “K” on our chart. Then students were asked to write down at least one question they had on the topic and post it to our chart under "W." Today we complete our chart after discussing our unit as a whole.
Students grab their sticky note pads and pencils and join me in the front. I tell them how proud I am of each and everyone one of them and the work they put into our unit. I was impressed and inspired by so many things over the last few weeks including their ability to work together in groups, their fascinating ideas, and their focus and determination to see assignments through. By far, I’ve seen their best work over the course of the last month.
I ask students to share their thoughts about the unit with the group. I know that we spent several days working on opinion pieces specifically geared to what they enjoyed most about the unit. But, I want to hear what else they have to say. Besides what you’ve already told me through your writing, what else did you enjoy? What didn’t you enjoy – and why? Besides just being interested, this information is valuable in planning other lessons throughout this year and next.
After an extended conversation, I draw students’ attention to our incomplete KWL chart. I explain that we will finish our unit by ending where we started. I reminded them of our work at the very beginning and the notes we made to the chart. Today I would like them to reflect on all that we’ve done and write one thing they’ve learned. This can be anything and doesn’t necessarily have to answer the question they had in the beginning (if they can remember it!). Once you have what you’d like to share, write it in a complete sentence on a sticky note and place it on the chart.
When the chart is complete, I have a few students share what they wrote with the class. Then I tell students that I’ve made notes of their ideas and suggestions and am excited for the next unit to begin!