When we began our current Literary and Practical Nonfiction Writing unit of study, I hadn't completely thought through what I hoped the students' finished products would look like. In my mind, I was remembering that other year in first grade and how it seemed my students then just seemed to have a topic they felt "expert" about. All I had to do was teach text features and craft moves. Ha!
I am very sure it was not that easy.
This time, I am teaching under an entirely different set of circumstances. I am beginning my writing instruction with this group of first graders with a nonfiction unit. Last time, I had already taught narrative units on Launching the Writing Workshop, Where Writers Get Ideas, Illustration Study, and How To Read Like a Writer by the time we got to this informational unit. These students have never made a picture book. Last time, my first graders had already written four or more picture books. Some of them had written a lot more!
All of this is to say that as I teach this unit, I am having to work backwards even more in order to make sure these writers have the understandings they will need to be successful authors of a picture book about a season.
Reflect. Adjust. Move on.
So, I have added two lessons (so far) to the original seven in this Unit of Study. The first is a Prewriting Research lesson in which I read the book, Sky Tree, by Thomas Locker, and I used his quote to suggest to the students that authors often write nonfiction books about topics they are experts in -
“I have spent most of my life learning to paint trees against the ever changing sky. After all these years I still cannot look at a tree without being filled with a sense of wonder.”
We talked about how the students needed to become "experts" in the season they chose to be the topic of their picture book. I modeled how to use the books from our library stack to add to what they already knew about that season. The writers collaborated with others who were writing about the same season. They helped one another fill out a brainstorming grid with blocks for subtopics such as weather, holidays, outdoor activities, indoor activities, foods, colors, clothes, etc. They deepened their knowledge base and at the same time hopefully increased their confidence as nonfiction authors.
The second lesson I added was a scope and sequence lesson. I realized that these writers had little to no idea how to make a nonfiction picture book. So, we took our mentor text, Whales and Dolphins, by Judy Allen and Mike Bostock, and spent a lot of time looking at the Contents page. We discussed how to lay subtopics across the pages, one at a time, with text and illustration support. We then looked back at our brainstorming grids and chose at least four subtopics to include in our books. We chatted about a glossary. We looked at the Index.
It was a start...and I definitely feel that these writers now have a better idea of how to make this kind of writing. Tomorrow we will begin to draft and draw. I hope the students are excited as I am!
In all honesty, no two years of teaching writing are ever the same. Even at the same grade level. The teacher rethinks her lessons. New mentor texts are uncovered. Fresh ideas surface. Past missteps invite walking down new instructional paths...
And, most importantly, new writers sit in the seats of our classrooms. They bring their unique experiences, their brand new influences, and their crisp, clear voices to our teaching.
It is always magical. Backwards or not!