We have just finished our first week in our new writing unit - writing about books. The goal of this unit is to inform the reader about a book and share your opinions. At the end of this unit the kids will write a book review and then publish it by pasting their review into the book they've read or by reading their review in front of a video camera and then the reviews will be broadcast on a television screen in our school lobby. I haven't yet decided which of the publishing options we will do - it might be best to keep it simple and just glue the review into the book - we'll just have to wait and see.
Success in this unit is built on lots of prior talk, talk, talk about books. I model book talks all the time during the day. I tell the kids about what books I am reading (I read mostly young adult lit and picture books. I try to read what my students read so I have a bank of books to draw from when they ask for book recommendations.), I tell the kids what books I want to read, and I share my opinions on what we've read. Our "Battle of the Books" challenge was a great way to lay the foundation for talk about books because the kids are trying to persuade classmates to vote for a certain book by talking about the characters or the plot. You have to model this and engage the kids in oral talk about books before you expect them to write - a lot of times talk is our "oral rehearsal" for drafting.
I started out the unit by thinking about all the books I've read recently that stuck in my mind. My original goal was to just come up with 4 or 5 titles to focus on in my entries in my notebook. However, narrowing down my list to 4 or 5 was hard! I struggled to include a range of books - picture books, chapter books, graphic novels, random reading - in just 4 or 5 titles. So instead I made a page to list every book that I read and liked during the last school year. After the kids made their own personal list, we took time to "just write" about a book they included on their list. You know it's going good when the kids complain because "there's not enough room on the page to include everything!" or "We've read too many good books this year! It's too hard to choose!"
Close up of the "Books I've Read" page. I let the kids include any book on here - class read alouds, home reading, independent reading - any title is OK. However, I do have a couple of rules. The book needs to be one you know in your heart - you could stop right now and talk about it. Also, no book that has been or will be made into a movie can be included. I want to know your interpretation of the book, not a movie director's! :)
Books I've Read page followed by entry about a book - not a structured entry, just write about a book as if you were having a conversation with the page.
The next few days in the unit are about things that a writer may choose to include in their book review. Here's a few snapshots from my notebook.
We just finished a unit on theme in reading so we didn't spend long on this. Students brainstormed read aloud titles that could fit with each theme and then added a few examples from their own reading. Afterwards they chose a title and wrote an entry discussing the theme from that book.
Author's Craft is such a hard topic for third graders. This requires them to read and comment critically on the decisions an author has made. It's not easy. With this I had the kids glue the chart in their notebook and then choose to comment on the language/wording, plot, or characters in the story using the prompts in the box.
Book reviews don't all have to be the same. For this lesson, the kids looked at several sample book reviews I printed out from Spaghetti Book Club and identified the types of information in each one. They found that most all the reviews included a short summary, but after that the kinds of information varied widely! I had the kids choose three types of information they might want to include and then try it out on the next page.
The best part of writing my own entries in my notebook for this unit is that I know the kids are going to run to read any book I write about. So I have tried to write about books that we haven't read aloud. I am going to do my final book review that I publish on Bill Peet's wonderful (yet old!) book The Wump World. Here's a few other books I'll be writing about in the next few days.