Confessions of a Real Teacher: Why I Owe My Most Successful Unit to Dinosaurs
Updated: Aug 18, 2018
A High Interest Unit
After reading Wild Card I was incredibly motivated to create my own high interest reading unit. I knew I wanted my high-interest unit to be centered around nonfiction text structures (NFTS). Last year it was one of our grade level's lowest skills, and #realteachertalk, the way I personally taught NFTS last year was not successful.
Wait, What is Nonfiction Text Structure?
Nonfiction text structure is how the author organizes the text. There are five main text structures: Description, Sequence, Problem Solution, Cause and Effect, and Compare/Contrast (that also happens to be the order I recommend teaching the structures based on my research). By the end of third grade, students are expected to be able to read an informational text and determine what structure was used, or what multiple structures were used. They then should be able to use that structure to identify why the author put details in particular paragraphs. If you hadn't yet gathered, it is an incredibly difficult skill.
Similar to one of the book's authors, I LOVE the Jurrasic Park franchise and really anything involving Dinosaurs. I laugh hysterically like a child anytime I see the T-Rex running with those tiny arms. However, I wanted my students to be just as excited about our unit as I was, so I used google classroom to create a poll for students to vote on what topic interested them most. It was a tie between dinosaurs and oceans... I decided that in the case of a tie, the teacher can vote. Dinosaurs and T-Rex's with tiny arms was the winner!
Making the Unit
Next came time for me to put in the hard work. I HEAVILY researched teaching identifying NFTS to determine the best way to teach the skill. Then, I had to research dinosaurs in order to write all of the passages about dinosaurs. Lastly, I put it all together, the passages, graphic organizers, extension activities, EVERYTHING! In the end, the hours I spent creating was time well spent.
Time to Teach
I gave each individual structure two days of instruction. I always started the first lesson with an anchor chart describing why being able to identify what text structure is used is important.
Next, an anchor chart where we take notes on each text structure. I have a large copy for the class, they keep one in their binder to reference
Then an anchor chart for the text structure we were learning about that day (what can I say, I love an anchor chart).
I then read a passage about dinosaurs to the class and modeled breaking it down into that text structure's graphic organizer (I do). Then, we read the next dino passage together, we would do part of the graphic organizer as a class, the rest they would do with a partner (we do). When finished we reviewed the graphic organizer and everything we learned that day. On day two, we went back and reviewed the anchor charts, discussed what we learned the day before, then students read a passage, completed the graphic organizer independently, and we went over it as a class (you do).
Then I would pick a dinosaur related topic for students to create a paragraph about. Basically, we spent day one deconstructing a paragraph based on its structure, and on day two we constructed a paragraph into the text structure we were learning about.
Sounds very work intensive right? Students probably hated it? Wrong! They LOVED it! The students never complained about all the work or even the repetitive process of I do, we do, you do because we were always learning new things about dinosaurs and they were interested. I supplemented the direct instruction with a dinosaur themed choice board of extension activities for when they finished early and during our intervention block. After two weeks of learning the structures, we had a week of reviewing and identifying a text structure of a random nonfiction text.
If you want to use my unit, you can get it here! If you can't get excited about dinosaurs, find a topic you get excited about and get your students excited about it! Frame it around the standard/skill you need to teach, and BAM awesome learning will occur.
Lauren Mary Medlin