Each day, I begin my ELA class with Reading Time. This is a time for students to access a range of texts. I use this time to conference with students, collect data on class patterns and trends with independent reading and to provide individualized support.
One of the greatest tricks, and yes I trick my students into learning, that I can use in my classroom is when they teach each other. I call this a trick because many times they learn without even realizing it when they teach their peers. For this lesson, I have students teach other about a certain narrative quality. This lesson covers a lot and many times it takes me a few days to cover since there are a few different variables (length of narratives students are reading, peer collaboration, and any teach interventions that are needed).
Once students have a general understanding of the narrative writing qualities, I then move on to see how well students are able to analyze narratives for these qualities and I do this through having them teach their peers about narrative qualities using a certain narrative. I would not do this if I felt that students needed more time understanding the basics of each quality.
I begin the lesson by pulling up the Writing Narrative Qualities Powerpoint on the Smartboard. The first 7 slides cover the basics of the narrative qualities and for today's lesson we will be working with the last two slides. Slide 8 explains the directions for today. I want to make sure students understand what is expected of them before they begin working. Since it's early in the year, students need clear cut directions. This screenshot shows the slide: Becoming An Expert Instructions.
Students are sitting in groups that I have assigned from earlier in the year. Most of the groups are by varied ability. There is usually a mix to the groups. Each member will pick one of the narratives from a pile in front of them. They will then meet with others in the class that picked the same narrative. These expert groups will analyze the narrative looking for each narrative quality that was previously discussed. They will then get back into their original groups to teach their group members about their narrative.
I use the narratives listed below (with their first page). You can really adjust the narratives used in this lesson as long as the qualities are evident.
There are many many ways to alter this lesson. It all depends on the class. While teaching a whole narrative using six different qualities can be incredibly overwhelming, another way to is to have an expert group look at a certain quality. This makes the task much more manageable and allows students to really get into that narrative. There is a lot of good to be said for getting deeper into on skill than briefly touching on many skills. Most of the time, expert groups are usually assigned one or two qualities. The higher level students usually are assigned voice. They will meet with their expert group and look for that quality (or qualities) in that narrative and then eventually teach that quality to their original group.
This video discusses the teaching strategy of students teaching others: Teaching Others
Students move from their original group to their expert group for the rest of the lesson. This time allows students to meet with others in the class as a way to take apart a mentor text so they can really understand the narrative writing qualities in context. They can move from seeing these ideas as notes to seeing them in action.
When they meet with their expert groups, I keep up the Writing Narrative Qualities Powerpoint on the Smartboard and move on to the last slide, which is merely a list of reminders. I try to keep up reminders as students are working so they have something to look back on and I can refer to when students lose focus. The reminders for this section of the lesson are as follows:
As students are reading their assigned narrative with their fellow experts, they are to take notes on how the quality or qualities, appear in the mentor text. They need to do more than just underline but take notes, highlight, anything that will show they fully understand the quality in this narrative and help them to teach their original group when they get back together. During this process, I show students my own notes so they can see what this looks like. Here are my Nintendo Saved Me Teacher Notes.
During this time, I am circulating from group to group. There is a lot going on so there is a lot to manage. There are different narratives being read and different qualities being discussed so preparation for this lesson is key. I have copies of the narratives with me as I move from group to group. Sometimes I need to get directly involved in an expert group discussion. If they are not clear or are losing meaning, I may to do some direct instruction for that quality. Other times, if groups are working well and understanding the quality, I can take their discussion further by asking them the purpose behind the author's intention of that quality. The biggest struggle is usually with the group working with voice. For them, I have found great success using Voice In Memoir article and here is a PDF version of the article: Voice Article. This article is used to support the higher-level students who are working with the writing quality of voice.
After students fully understand their assigned narrative and qualities, they then move back to their original groups to teach. This is great because it gives students a chance to be the teacher. Students, at times, can do a much better job of explaining certain topics to their peers in a way that makes sense for them, maybe it's because they listen more to their peers than the old teacher. Before this occurs, it's important to make sure each expert group understands the narrative and the qualities well enough to teach it.
I instruct students to move back to their groups. They will then teach their narrative to their group. There are many different ways to this. You just need to keep in mind time constraints. If students read each narrative fully earlier in the lesson, there may not be a need to reread each narrative but rather have the experts just highlight each quality. I want my students to get immersed in the writing of each narrative as possible so I have them read each narrative as a group with the expert taking control and teaching the quality as the narrative is being read. Yes, this can take some time so this entire lesson usually covers a few different days.
Sometimes, if I hear that a group is working exceptionally well or a conversation is bringing new light to the narrative I will bring this to the attention of the entire class and refer back to the Writing Narrative Qualities Powerpoint. This helps the entire class see how the notes on narrative qualities really are applicable to what they read.
While I love this lesson as I think it's a great way for students to get fully immersed in narratives, it can definitely be challenging. This is not a one day lesson and there is a lot going on but I am willing to embrace the chaos as I find my students get a lot out of teaching each other.