Sunday, February 17, 2013

Boosting Writing with Genre Studies

You know that ugly word I was avoiding earlier this month? You know, those things that take over our curriculum each spring? The very big state t-e-s-t-s. Yuck! Well, we're less than a month out from the applied skills section which means writing, writing, writing is on our minds.

I really don't like to "teach to the test" or do things only for tests so we're practicing our writing with one of my favorite genres-- fantasy! We just wrapped up a month-long study of fantasy in reading workshop so my students are experts in the genre. We started the writing part of our unit with a quick anchor chart.
gotta love my fast-writing to get all the ideas down
Now it was time to plan, plan, plan our writing. I like to use the picture book Sweet Dream Pie as my mentor text for this unit. After reading it (and having my students hang on my every word) we mapped the story.
After mapping our mentor text, it's time for students to map their own fantasy stories. While they're sketching out the map, I like to read the picture book If.... to get their ideas going. It's full of fantasy ideas, like what if lightning made rhinos. By the time I'm finished reading, most students are well on their way to mapping their stories.

After that, we just write, write, write our little hearts out. I have my students write one page a day (one page for each box of their map). Our stories/maps usually have more boxes but we're running a little behind on my curriculum map so I shortened them this year. I like to have my students write one box/page a day so that I can give them minilessons to try out along the way.

My first minilesson reviewed an old skill, stretching out our writing. I noticed this group of writers wasn't really stretching out the plot very well. Instead, they were summarizing the most important parts of their stories in one or two sentences. I'm really working to get them to write more. Again, I used our mentor text to show students how that might look.
In addition to rereading each part of our mentor text before writing, I read student work (both shining examples and work that could be approved) anonymously each day before we write. Then I have students do a quick revision on their previous pages before moving on to their new page each day. After we finish our drafts we'll go back and conference in order to revise them extensively, but I've found that it makes things easier to revise along the way too.

I really do love this genre. It reaches so many reluctant writers because it really plays with their imagination. It also captures boys better than so many other genres and writing projects that we do. So far, all of the examples I've read aloud in class have been by boys!

If you decide to try this unit out with your students, these are the books I use most.
If you need a little more direction, my fantasy unit is available in my TpT store. It has my 20 days of lesson plans, forms, book lists, etc. that I use in our room. There's no reason test prep can't be fun! =)
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1 comment:

  1. I love the idea of mapping the story, especially with the boxes. I always struggle getting my students to write. I've tried many different pre-writing activities, (webs, outlines, jot lists) to little avail. I think the graphic organizer you used would really work well for my students. I also think I'll use your words when getting them to write more details, "Stretch out your writing!" Thanks so much for sharing!
    Mrs. Miller’s Monkey Business


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