Friday, October 9, 2015

Tips for Teaching Realistic Fiction

Shana from Hello, Teacher Lady here.

My 7th graders are currently in the midst of one of my favorite units, Realistic Fiction. It's so much fun to see their creative sides and I'm always impressed with the ideas they come up with. So for today's post, I'd like to share with you some things I've learned about teaching this wonderful genre!

  • Define the genre: This sounds like a no-brainer, but in the past I've jumped right into the unit without clearly defining and consistently reinforcing what realistic fiction is... and what it isn't! As a result I've had students come up with some brilliant story ideas, only they fit into other genres such as science fiction or fantasy. Now I make sure to provide students with plenty of mentor texts to serve as examples and we talk about realistic fiction elements on a daily basis. I might sound like a broken record sometimes, but I don't have to crush as many students' dreams about robot rebellions or magic kingdoms.
  • Brainstorm, plan, share and repeat: It's important to give students plenty of time to brainstorm, plan and share their ideas with others. We spend about a week in the brainstorming and planning stages before students even begin to draft their scenes. They need to have a firm grasp on who their character is and what their conflict/resolution might be, so we spend a couple days solely focused on discovering their characters' motivations and struggles, and a couple days solely on brainstorming potential internal and external conflicts. 

For help with internal/external conflict, I like to show short Disney clips on YouTube and have students discuss the various types of conflicts they notice. "One Jump Ahead" from Aladdin is always a class favorite!

  • Write with them: One of my favorite parts about this unit is actually writing my own realistic fiction story too! I always try to model the thinking process during the brainstorming phase or demonstrate anything that I’m asking my students to do, so writing my own story just sort of naturally happens over the course of the unit. I think it’s beneficial for students to see this progression, and they always have fun brainstorming ideas with me!
  • Collect graphic organizers and exit slips. My district follows the Workshop model, so they have a lot of class time to brainstorm and plan while I circle the room (in an attempt) to "confer" with every student. This is an area of workshop I admittedly still struggle with, as I find it difficult to touch base in a meaningful way with every student. While I’ve always given them graphic organizers to complete before they begin drafting, and I’ve attempted to read through them during our mini-conferences, the fact is there’s just not enough class time for this! To help save time, I started collecting students’ graphic organizers and making comments at home, then using my comments to help guide my conferences during class. This really helps me see if students are on the right track before they get too far in the writing process, and I'm able to identify common problems and can pull certain students for "strategy groups" if I notice a pattern. It’s a little more work at home, but it saves tons of class time and makes conferring so much easier and more efficient! For exit slips, sticky notes are a great tool, and you can display them in your room as visual proof of your students’ thinking and progress!
  • Set a page limit! This one is for your own sanity. I tell my students they have to tell their stories in 5 pages or less. If you don't set a page limit, you'll end up getting some reeeeallly long stories... 

Thanks for stopping by the blog today! I hope you found this helpful! :)


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