Narrative Reading and Writing

After giving my 7th/8th graders a small grammar pre-test, I launched my first unit for the year.  When examining the Common Core standards I decided to launch a narrative unit first. Generally speaking, students really enjoy writing narrative pieces and reading them as well.  I kicked off the unit by displaying the CCSS literature standard and the writing standard on the whiteboard:

  • (RL.8.2)Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text.
  • (W.8.3)Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.

    a. Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and point of view and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.

    b. Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, description, and reflection, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.

    c. Use a variety of transition words, phrases, and clauses to convey sequence, signal shifts from one time frame or setting to another, and show the relationships among experiences and events.

    d. Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to capture the action and convey experiences and events.

    e. Provide a conclusion that follows from and reflects on the narrated experiences or events.

*I am displaying the 8th grade standards here as an example.

I then wrote a few I can statements on the board so the students know what they will be able to do by the time we finish the unit.  I do not put all of the I can statements on the board at once.  I only put the ones on the board that the students will be currently working on.  In a given day students could see up to four I can statements.  Today, I had two on the board.

  1. I can analyze plot (the events that happen) to determine a theme (author’s overall message).
  2. I can define narrative and describe the basic parts of plot (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution).

After sharing the standards and explaining what we are going to be doing, I share with my students the CCSS website. In addition, I share with them the mastery connect app where they can access the CCSS at anytime to see what they will be learning.  I did actually have one student download it to their phone.

With all curriculum talk aside, I introduce my students to memoirs.  We discuss the characteristics of memoirs and then provide them with some models. The book I introduce them is The Freedom Writers.  I give the students background information on the book and then read a few passages out of the book.  We then focus our attention back to memoirs and I assign them to write a 6 word memoir.  I provide the students with several examples and then release them to write a 6 word memoir on Schoology.  I put their assignment under the discussion tab and ask them not only write their 6 word memoir here, but to collaborate and respond to one other classmate. Tomorrow students will go back and create their first writing piece to put into their portfolio by revising their 6 word memoir and adding a picture and putting it into Google Docs.  The 6 word memoir is the start to how the students will scaffold into a more complex memoir and narrative.  My 7th graders are going to write a This I believe Paper and my 8th graders are going to write the more complex memoir.  Below are some student examples of 6 word memoirs.

  • Dance all day, sleep all night. (7th grade)
  • Everything is lost, nothing is found. (7th grade)
  • Ate Mom’s cooking; died right there! (8th grade)
  • Keep smiling, even without the camera. (8th grade)

On a side note, my 5th hour class ran into a Schoology glitch today.  Schoology decided to shut down their site for an update or something along those lines, it was very inconvenient and instead of panicking, I had the 8th graders research online what is an osage orange and if it has a realistic purpose..  You always have to have plan B ready to go!


Book Project for Christmas Break

Friday was the kick off for my students to begin their Christmas vacation book project. This is the first year I have had any of my students do the project while on a break. To begin, my students have to choose a book that is at least 100 pages long and the book can not be related to a movie in anyway. In addition, I ask the students to not read something they have not already read. At the conclusion of their reading they must choose to do 1 of 2 projects. They need to either make a 6 sided three-demential cube or create a glog on The three-demential cube is related to a math unit they covered in their math class dealing with surface area and three-demential shapes. The choice of the glog comes from the technology standard that comes out of the CCSS. Overall, my main goal of the project is for my students to be engaged with reading on their own and for them to explore some new genres. Furthermore, my requirements the students are meeting for the project are covering some of the reading standards for the Common Core. For example, tying theme or the central idea to the characters, setting and plot. Also, I don’t want my students being bored with a traditional book report. If you are attending the Michigan Reading Association(MRA) conference in March, I will presenting some student examples in my session.

So, to get them ready for this project, I have taken the 7th and 8th graders down to the library and the book fair for the past two weeks and I have had some interesting conversations with my students and I have witnessed some miraculous transformation with my students. As always I received a few grumbles and groans about the project. Little did my students know, most of them would be engaged in a book outside of class. I am orally reading The Hunger Games by Susanne Collins with my students and we are just about finished. My students are begging me more and more each day to keep reading. With the book project, I have several students reading the second book in the series and I am seeing students read in the hallway. These are 7th and 8th graders I am talking about. It has been amazing. The math teacher approached me last week and said she was having great conversations with students about books and what they are reading. She has enjoyed it. I think she has even had to get after kids for reading in her class.

Just the other day I had several boys ask me if they could read Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney. I said sure why not. I am in full support of graphic novels. Nevertheless, they were really surprised by my response to their answer. I clarified to them I am pleased they are taking an interest in reading something. Hell, I remember growing up spending hours in my local library reading Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side.

After the boys and I talked, I approached a young man who was struggling with finding a book. I asked him his interests and after discovering he liked the outdoors and hunting, I pointed him to the author Gary Paulson and a book by a different author called Touching Spirit Bear. Great author and great book. After he made his decision, he was asking me about what the big deal was about reading. He was struggling with why people talk about books and form book clubs. I asked him if he felt left out. He responded by saying he could never understand what they were talking about. I worked this conversation to the fullest and told him it isn’t so much fun feeling like you don’t belong or know what people are talking about. He is definitely one of the popular kids and he never did respond, but I think he got the point of what I was saying.

The final thing I noticed was how much my students opened up and responded to me when I actually did take a vested interest in them and asked them about books they have read and what they they like to read. I have been forming more solid relationships with my students all because of reading. Who says reading isn’t powerful? I beg to differ and I can’t wait to see what kind of work my students produce over Christmas break.