Friday, November 23, 2012

Realistic Fiction Writing Unit

Monday marks our return to school from Thanksgiving break and it also marks the beginning of a new unit of writing...<drum roll please> realistic fiction! This is the unit my friends have been waiting for. They've been clamoring to write fiction since the start of school. So to my friends I say get those pencils ready! Here we go!

(Unit divider page in writer's notebook)

Now for a word of caution. Many of my friends believe that since we're writing fiction, anything goes. A frozen chicken nugget leading a group of frozen french fries on an adventure escaping the freezer, aliens landing on Earth, you name it and my friends have asked about writing it. Unfortunately that's not the type of fiction we're working on in this unit. We're working on realistic fiction. The goal is to write a short story featuring a true life character (somebody you could meet at the park, walking down the street, or in the checkout line at the grocery store) experiencing something that could really happen. The big question when thinking about writing in this unit is "Could it really happen?"

This unit is one that requires a great deal of planning. Kids often set out to write fiction without any concept of character development, plot or story structure and their pieces just ramble all over the place. The key to success in this unit is lots of noticing and naming, planning, thinking and talking by my friends before they ever set pencil to paper and begin to write.

Since we've had the last week off for Thanksgiving I've had some time to work in my own notebook. It is so vitally important to have your own writer's notebook to show the kids. It shows them that you are a writer also and you do the same writing work they do. I've been trying hard to keep my head above water lately with a lot of extracurricular commitments plus my two littles at home so my notebook has suffered some. But thanks to a few days off to rest and recharge I have my notebook ready for the next few lessons.

Here's the highlights from our first week or so of lessons. We'll launch in the unit by thinking about the characteristics of realistic fiction. Then we'll look for seed ideas by thinking about realistic fiction titles that we've read aloud and also by rereading our writer's notebooks. After that it's time to start building a character by thinking about their external and internal characteristics as well as struggles and motivations. We should end the week (or start next week) by drafting a scene that the character might experience.

Reviewing the characteristics of realistic fiction. This is essential. Kids have to know what they need to include in the realistic fiction genre. Taking time to do this now helps to reinforce expectations and avoid the potential frozen french fry escape story!

After brainstorming ideas for story topics, students take time to think about who the main character might be for each story. Quickly jot down what you think the main character might be like. After doing this in my notebook I knew quickly which of the three seeds had the most possibility for character development and a good storyline. 

Time to think about the main character. What are their external characteristics? I always describe these characteristics as things that would help you pick the character out of a crime scene line up. What are their internal characteristics? In the page above, the yellow box is supposed to be a picture frame. My friends will draw a picture of the character inside and then write external characteristics on the sides of the frame. Then they can write internal characteristics in the four bubbles around the frame. I didn't get this ready in advance because I want to think through it with the kids.

After thinking about internal and external characteristics, we will take some time to think about the motivations and struggles for the character they are developing. I made a chart with characters we've met in read alouds and columns for struggles/motivations and evidence to think through with the kids first to really help build the concept. Afterwards kids can make a concept web in their notebook to think about the struggles and motivations of their own characters. Again I set the page up in advance but didn't do the writing part because I want to do that together with the kids. I want them to see and hear my thinking as I jot things down.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Character Paper Bag Project

We are just about to wind up a reading unit on realistic fiction. This week we did a project featuring one of the characters we'd met during read alouds. Students chose a character and then completed a little project. I have pictures of my sample and then some student samples to share.

On the front students had to draw an accurate picture of their character, write the character's name, the title of their book, and the author. I just can't draw boy hair to save my life...poor Big Anthony!

On one side of the bag kids had to choose three internal characteristics that described their character and give specific evidence from the text to support their thinking.

On the back of the bag, students had to write about whether or not the character changed in the story. If the character didn't change, the student had to give evidence to support their thinking. If the character did change, the student had to tell how the character was different and what brought about the change.

We talked about making predictions about how a character would handle a situation. On this side of the bag students had to write what their character would do if they found a bag of money. Some of the student responses on this part were hilarious!

Inside the bag we had kids think about what material possessions their character might have with them. They had to identify the three items and explain their thinking and reasoning for including each item.

These projects turned out great and the kids really enjoyed working on them!
Here's a work product based on Miss Rumphius.

And another sample based on Mo Willems' Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed. We had a great discussion about the items Wilbur would have with him and I forgot to take a picture! The student included a bow tie, fancy watch, and other jewelry to help Wilbur complete his snazzy outfits.

Here's the last sample. This child chose the character Andrew from Eve Bunting's Fly Away Home. this is a serious story about a boy and his father living in an airport. The items the student thought Andrew would have as possessions included a tip from someone (coins), a cheap book, and a suitcase.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Characters We've Met

One of the goals in this unit of reading is to be able to describe characters and discuss how those characters have changed and why. We've been keeping a list of characters in the stories we've read during read aloud. This allows us to quickly come up with characters in our discussions during this unit.

Reading Unit 3 - Drawing Conclusions and Inferring About Fiction

We are in the middle of a unit on fiction reading. Here is a concept map that shows some of the work that students will be doing during this unit.

I'm trying to keep the kids focused on the big questions for this unit.
What happened in the story?
How did what happened affect the characters?
What are the characters like? 
How can you describe the characters?
Did the characters change?
What caused them to change?

Persuasive Writing Notebook Entries

Here are some of the entries we've done as we work our way through the persuasive writing genre.

After reading two samples of persuasive letters we made this concept web showing features of a persuasive letter. This helps our young writers know what they should include in their own persuasive letter.

When it was time to think of topics, we first discussed the difference between meaningful and "trite" topics. Meaningful topics make the world a better place for all of us. Writing a persuasive letter is your chance to make a difference in the world! We brainstormed possible topics in four different areas - changes you'd like to see in the world, at school, at home, and in your life.

Here is how we brainstormed reasons to support a position. The position is in the top bubble. The three reasons to support the position are written in the boxes below.

It is vitally important to think about your audience in persuasive writing. We talked about no matter how powerful your argument is, if you send the letter to the wrong person you've lost your chance to make a difference! In this we took four possible topics from our topic web and discussed who the best audience would be and why.

Writing Unit 3 - The Persuasive Genre

We are right in the middle of one of my favorite units of writing! Students are working in the persuasive writing genre. They will be taking a position, drafting a letter with reasons and support, publishing their letter using technology, and then mailing it off. This is one of my favorite units because kids can see that their words have power. Young children often feel like they don't have a voice in decisions, but this short unit lets them find out that they can be heard.

For the majority of our students persuasive writing is a genre that they aren't too familiar with. We spent last week looking at three short persuasive letters in detail to determine what a persuasive letter should include. This week we are taking a position and working on building a sound, solid argument from facts. We will also try out various styles of leads and endings. Next week we will wrap up our letter and type it up. For our writer's celebration we will address an envelope and stamp it as we put out letters in the mail.

At the beginning of each unit we make a concept web to show the students what will be taught and what kind of work they will do. It makes a great way to help kids know what to expect and gives them something to refer to as we progress through the unit. I'll post the new reading concept web in just a bit.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Peek at the Week for November 5 - 9, 2012

Can you believe we're almost to Thanksgiving? Time is flying by!
Let's have a great week!