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.

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