When Scholastic asked what book selection I'd like to have to work with my students this year, without hesitation, I asked for Owl Moon by Jane Yolen. Yolen is one of my favorite authors. Her ability to paint a vivid picture for her audience is a skill I share with my young authors throughout our studies of writing personal narratives, or small moments.
My school uses the units of study created by a team within our district. The writing teachers that collaborated on the Common Core Units of Study are beyond talented. I am proud to highlight and share the work the Oakland County team has done. You will also find a selection of materials I developed to supplement and enhance this unit.
To launch the unit, we study a variety of authors. We read from a rich selection of picture books so that students can see a wide array of writing techniques used by different authors. Before we get into the lessons, my class digs deep into studying Jane Yolen. As we begin our lessons, we move towards studying Jonathan London. Even though these two authors frame the bulk of our studies, we also infuse many other stories and authors into our reading and writing studies as well. Below are a few of my favorite books for this unit.
Before we begin the writing process, we spend a great deal of time during reading workshop immersing the children in the genre we are studying as writers. Our students closely examine text through the lens of a writer. We notice the techniques authors use and talk about the motivation and purpose behind adding such craft into the story.
The following is a suggested list of possible mentor texts to help launch and support this unit.
Prior to beginning the lessons for writing, we read several mentor texts and discuss what we noticed as readers. This helps us to better understand the genre. One book we use to launch this unit during the immersion phase is Owl Moon.
Day 1: Preview Vocabulary and Read the Story (download printable)
Day 2: Sensory Detail Noticings (download printable)
Students work in partnerships or independently to note when Yolen used sensory detail to help her readers visualize. They jot their findings down on the graphic organizer.
Day 3: Craft Placemat (download printable)
Students work together or independently to reread the story and examine it as a writer. They jot their findings down within each section:
dialog (words used instead of said)
setting (when and where)
internal thinking (thought shot)
character action (what the hands, feet, and face are doing)
simile (using like or as)
onomatopoeia (sound words)
physical description (sensory detail)
other great details you love (ie: cover, title, illustrations)
Day 4: Sequence of Events (download printable)
Readers retell their stories by listing the events in sequential order. Students recall the most important events from the beginning, middle, and end of the story.
Day 5: Notice, Why, Name It, Try It
Students receive four sticky notes. If they have them in a writer's toolkit, perfect! If students don't have access to these, you can prepare four sticky notes on individual clipboards before the lesson.
I have my students only think about one sticky note at a time. I don't even tell them what the other three are for until it's time to use them.
Sticky Note 1 - students notice a craft element Yolen used in her writing and jot it down
Sticky Note 2 - they jot down why they think the author did this
Sticky Note 3 - children name the technique the author used (their best guess)
Sticky Note 4 - writers try to use that strategy in their own stories
*I often have ¼ sheets of paper cut so they can revise on. Then they can staple it onto their story where they'd like it to go.
You could also use this same strategy with other mentor texts within the unit. I find the more we do this as a group, the more the students are able to do it independently. Eventually, the young writers are able to incorporate the quality crafting techniques into their own writing.
Here is an example of a whole group anchor chart using the book, Hurricane! by London:
After the students have been through the immersion phase, they really soar in each lesson of the writing unit. Taking the time in the beginning to set the stage for success enables our young writers to feel more confident as they begin to create their own stories. They have an array of examples and mentors to model.
For more Nonfiction and Fiction text pairings, check out Scholastic's Book Flix!
It was especially helpful for each of my students to be able to have a personal copy of Owl Moon. When children did their investigations of the author's craft, they were so engaged. I allowed 20 minutes of independent time for this activity on Day three. However, when it was time for lunch, they didn't want to get up from their work. It was magical!
What are some of your favorite picture books to use as mentor texts during reading and writing workshop? I'd love for you to share your favorite books in a comment.
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