Moving to the Common Core this year has caused big change in our instruction. I’ve challenged myself to rethink how I teach non-fiction so that students gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the genre. For this reason, I reworked my reading and writing non-fiction units so that they are completely intertwined and cohesive.
In my classroom, we spent four weeks learning about non-fiction text structures, text features, and then applying what we’ve learned to our non-fiction writing. In this unit of lessons, I did not include every single lesson as many listed here were taught over two or three days. Instead, I’ve mainly included introductory or follow up lessons. You decide what works best for your students and pace the lessons accordingly.
At the beginning of the unit, each student received a “Non-Fiction Text Structure” sheet that listed important information about all five structure types including a description, important key or clue words, visuals of how each might be organized, and sample skeleton texts of what each might sound like. We will use this sheet throughout the entire unit. I typically will refer to this as the structure note sheet.
A note about text features instruction:
Most of these lessons focus on text structure. In years past, I have taught separate lessons on structure and features. This year, I taught them together. Rather than plan out which features I would teach on specific days, I simply wrote a lesson that focused on a specific structure, chose an appropriate text, and then selected one to three features that were important to that specific text. So while I might be teaching photos, captions, and diagrams along with my description structure lesson, you might find that charts and maps better fit your selected text. Go for it! As always, do whatever works best for your texts and students!
My students don’t receive dedicated instruction in social studies or science. Instead, I try to weave both topics into my language arts lessons. Using Scholastic weekly readers is a perfect resource for teaching structure and features while teaching students about current events. In this lesson, I used a magazine that was entitled, “I Survived a Superstorm,” which detailed one girl’s experience living through Hurricane Sandy. (Scholastic has a free preview issue with accompanying resources that might work for your lesson.)
Because this was an introductory lesson, we did much of it together. While students each received their own magazine, we utilized our digital copy on the SmartBoard throughout our working time together. Before beginning our reading, students pulled out their structure note sheets and we reviewed the information about the cause and effect structure. We paid particular attention to the clue words and I asked students to be on the lookout for any of these within the text.
Before reading the text, I pointed out two of our text features for the lesson: headings and the map. Clicking on the map gave us a larger version of it and we discussed the setting of our text and its proximity to where we live. Headings were somewhat new for students and we spent a few minutes discussing their purpose. I explained that headings in short, informational texts work the same way chapter titles do in fiction chapter books. They serve to organize information and let the reader know what is coming up next. We read over the two headings and predicted what those sections would be about.
Now it was time for our first reading. This first run through is simply to become familiar with the text. I don’t delve deep into comprehension quite yet; instead I just want students to get a feel for the text. It was during this first reading that I utilized the next two text features in the lesson: bold words and the word bank. Students seemed very familiar with these and so we didn’t spend much time discussing their purposes or how they were beneficial. Rather, we applied them to help us make sense of the text.
We utilized our note page and began looking for causes and effects during the second reading. First, we skimmed and scanned the page looking for any of our cause and effect clue words. There weren’t many. This was a good opportunity for me to explain that key words serve only as a guide. Readers cannot depend on locating multiple key words in order to determine the structure of a text. After locating the words, we identified events surrounding those words. If we determined that an event was a cause, I labeled it with a “C.” If we decided it was an effect, I labeled it with an “E.” After using the key words, we looked for surrounding sentences that could be linked as other causes and effects and labeled them the same way.
To close our time, I used the information marked in the text to complete our cause and effect graphic organizer. Instead of making my own, I used the form included with the Scholastic. Although the version I used is a paid-product, they do have a free fishbone graphic organizer that can also be used for cause and effect relationships.