Monday, May 27, 2013

Writing Units of Study

Here is our list of writing units of study. Our district relies on Lucy Calkins' Units of Study as a basis of some curricular units, but some units rely on other resources. Because writing units often end with a celebration or end product, I'll list those also. I'm wondering if we should start doing end of unit celebrations in reading also...hmm..something to think about over the summer!
  • Quick Write Week - (1 week) - Students follow the steps in the writing process with minimal teacher prompting to choose a topic, draft, revise/edit and publish within one week. This is a simple task designed to let you see where your kids are and begin to observe strengths and weaknesses in kids.
    • End of Unit Product: Simple story written on notebook paper. 
  • Using a Writer's Notebook - (3 weeks) - This unit is designed to help kids become familiar with the writer's notebook and its purpose. We use this unit to help kids develop strategies to find a topic (like the heart map, questioning, describing items, etc.) and draft during this unit. They learn how to use a writer's notebook and what it is used for.
    • End of Unit Product: Because we spend most of our time on generating ideas and drafting in this unit, there is no formal end of unit product.
  • Writing Personal Narrative - (5 weeks) - This unit is based on one of the books from Lucy Calkins' Units of Study. Students learn the characteristics of personal narrative and write a personal narrative story.
    • End of Unit Product: We keep this one simple and have the kids write a draft on special lined paper and add a color illustration. This is a big deal because we often don't have time for illustrating during workshop time.
  • Writing to Persuade - (3 weeks) - In this unit students learn about how to take a position, generate reasons to support that position, and the format of a letter. They have to decide who the audience of the letter should be as well. This is also a great unit to integrate fact and opinion because strong arguments are built of facts, not opinions! 
    • End of Unit Product: Kids write or type their letter and mail it.
  • Writing Fiction - (4 weeks) - Students create a character and draft a story that features that character. We try to keep it simple and stick with realistic fiction.
    • End of Unit Product:  Students write their story as a picture book with illustrations at the top of each page.
  • Bringing Words to Life With Poetry - (4 weeks) - Students learn about the various "doors of poetry" that poets use to find inspiration and write poetry. This is a unit that always goes particularly well.
    • End of Unit Product: Students choose five or six of their favorite poems to publish in a poetry anthology. We let them add an illustration to each poem and then create a cover and title for their anthology before spiral binding the pages together.
  • Writing to Inform - (4 weeks) - This is our nonfiction writing unit. Kids choose a topic they are experts on and then write what they know about the topic. Afterwards, they categorize the information and plan the text features that would help their reader understand.
    • End of Unit Product: Students publish a "hardback book" that features sewn pages and endpapers. Kids write an "about the author" blurb on the back cover.
  • Writing About Reading - (4 weeks) - This unit is all about book reviews. Kids choose a book and then give a short summary (without giving away all of the plot!) and comment on the quality of the book. This is a great unit to kickstart reluctant readers. The kids love reading book reviews by their peers!
    • End of Unit Product: Students write book reviews on small paper and paste inside the book reviewed. You could also have them publish on amazon.com or the Spaghetti Book Club website. 
  • Writing Personal Narratives - (4 weeks) - Students again revisit personal narrative but this time the goal is to raise the quality of the story by focusing on telling the story with extra action, dialogue and details. We want the kids to focus on ways to keep your reader engaged in the story.
    • End of Unit Product: Students publish a picture book featuring extra illustrations.
  • Writing to Share Research - (5 weeks) - This unit is combined with the reading research unit. Kids choose a topic and then research it. After researching, kids take that new learning and create a product to show what they learned. 
    • End of Unit Product: Kids have a menu of choices to demonstrate what they learned during research: create a game; draw and illustrate a comic strip; or write a play, news report, song, rap, or magazine. 

Reading Units of Study

I've had several requests for a list of the units of study we follow in reading and writing. I am absolutely happy to share. Our units of study are crafted by our fantastic elementary language arts coordinator and the instructional coaches in our district. We are given a written narrative for each unit that describes what the classroom should look and sound like by giving guidance in areas such as read aloud, guided reading, independent reading, and readers' and writers' workshops. The units are revised each year as a result of teacher feedback. I can't praise our LA coordinator enough. She is very knowledgable and very accessible to teachers! She truly listens when we offer feedback or suggestions.

Here are the reading units of study that we follow in third grade. I'll give the title and then the instructional focus of each unit.


  • Launching Reader's Workshop - (3 wks) - This unit is all about teaching those rules and routines necessary to make your classroom and workshop time work. The First 20 Days of Reading from Guiding Readers and Writers (Fountas and Pinnell) are a big resource in this unit.
  • Readers Build Good Habits - (6 wks) - This unit is designed to help kids review and learn strategies that good readers use, including reading with phrasing and fluency, interacting and staying engaged with the text, and monitoring for understanding.
  • Readers Make Inferences and Draw Conclusions About Fiction Texts - (5 wks) - This is one of my favorites! This unit is all about characters in fiction texts and the changes they undergo. We also look at plot and story structure during this unit.
  • Reading Poetry and Drama - (4 wks) - During this unit we focus on building meaning and understanding of various types of poetry. However, we also do daily focus poetry lessons (similar to shared reading) to help expose kids to poetry and the vocabulary associated with it from day one. You can't wait until this unit to begin exposing them to poetry and expect them to master it in four weeks! :)
  • Readers Read Nonfiction Text To Gain Information - (4 wks) - This one is all about nonfiction: various text features readers find in nonfiction, main idea, ways the author can structure the text, and responding to nonfiction. We don't save nonfiction for this unit, though! We include nonfiction in our regular read aloud rotation throughout the year.
  • Readers Infer and Synthesize Themes in Texts - (4 wks) - This is a fun unit that the kids enjoy. This unit is about theme across all genres. The kids think about the big picture in reading. What is the author trying to teach or tell you? What can you take away from this unit and apply to your own life?
  • Readers Maintain a Reading Life While Preparing for STAAR - (5 wks) - This is our test prep unit. We use this unit to teach good test taking strategies and help the kids understand that the test booklet is similar to a magazine but with questions after each article. We still read test passages the same way - by reading, thinking, and responding - even though the text and booklet may look different!
  • Readers Read and Research for Information - (5 wks) - This is a combined reading and writing unit. In this unit, we teach kids how to use research skills to choose and narrow a topic, generate questions to research, choose resources, take notes and generate a product to demonstrate new learning. (Can you tell this is the unit we're right in the middle of??)
  • Readers Make a Plan for Summer Reading (last week) - In this short burst we want to help the kids make a plan to keep growing as readers over the summer by doing things such as setting reading goals or generating a list of books they want to read.

Friday, May 3, 2013

We Have a Winner!

I am so excited! Our awesome librarian hosted a poetry contest during the month of April in honor of National Poetry Month. Students from all grade levels were encouraged to write their own original poetry to turn in. The winner would receive a gift card to our upcoming book fair in the library. I was so excited...no, make that thrilled!...when one of MY STUDENTS was chosen as the winner!

Here is her poem. It is beautiful. I could not be prouder of her.