This is the first post in a four part series where I will give you my top tips for teaching: Fiction, Non-fiction, Argumentative Text and Poetry. In this blog post you will walk away with clear steps for how to launch and teach your next fiction unit.
Teaching students how to read or approach a genre or text is important and tantamount to teaching students how to plan for a road trip to a particular location, using a specific route. In this episode we will talk about the what, the why and the how of teaching students how to navigate reading fiction.
What is Fiction?
Let’s start with the what. What is fiction? I’m going to start by saying something controversial right out of the gate. Please for the love of all things literacy stop telling students that fiction is fake. It is not in fact fake. It is a made up story, but it is not fake. Why would I say this? I say this because even fiction authors have to do their research in order for the characters and events in their books to make sense.
Please indulge me as I jump into this rabbit hole so that I can make this point: I once attended a librarypalooza event in my district where a fantasy author detailed the research that she had to do in order to write about a character riding a horse going on a journey. She did research on how long a horse could travel for knowing that her audience was intelligent and if she made it ride for a ridiculous amount of time she would lose her audience and they would not find the rest of her story/book credible.
So even though it was a made up story there were some elements of facts and research involved. Also teaching students that fiction is the only genre where things may or may not get embellished is misleading and leads to students accepting everything that non fiction author’s write as gospel truth. Which is dangerous and produces non thinking citizens, but I digress. Okay jumping out of the rabbit hole and back into this blog post. Now that we’ve talked about the what, let’s talk about why we teach students how to read or approach fiction.
Why Should I Teach Fiction?
We teach students how to read fiction for a variety of reasons. Here are my top three:
1.It helps students use their imagination if needed.
Reading fiction allows your students to meet characters and visit places that they would not meet or visit in real life. By learning how to immerse themselves in the fiction genre and by learning how to make mental images they are able to visit and meet a host of new people.
2. It helps them with real world skills like how to discern a person’s character, how to pull out the lesson in the situation, and how to identify why an author is doing something in a text.
Think about how often you judge or decide if you can trust someone because you know how to pay attention to what a person says, or does. You learned by reading fiction that people/characters show you who they are. When something happens in life, usually when it doesn’t go well, knowing how to identify the theme or pinpoint the author’s message equips you to sift out the lesson in your life that you need to glean from the current situation.
3.It allows students to walk in the shoes of someone else for a little while and develop empathy for someone else.
These days empathy is a soft skill that our students don’t have a lot of practice using. In order to build empathy, students have to be able to see the world from someone else’s perspective and live through some of the things that they would have to live through. The only way to do this is for students to have the opportunity to step into a book and into a character’s life. So to recap we teach fiction because teaching students how to navigate fiction is one way that we can teach students how to navigate real life. We’ve talked about what fiction is, and why we should teach students how to read fiction. Now we are going to talk about how to teach a fiction reading unit in your classroom.
How Do I Teach Fiction?
When teaching fiction you want to:
- Teach students the elements of the genre-
- Teach students how to read the genre-
- Teach students how to think through the genre-
- Teach students how to discuss the genre-
- Teach students how to respond in writing to the genre-
Let’s take a deeper dive into each teaching point:
1.Teach students the elements of the genre. Students need to know that fiction consists of characters, setting, problem and solution. They also need to know that although fiction is a made up story it is not fake. You could do this by choosing two or three fiction texts for immersion and then use these same texts to teach from during the rest of your fiction text unit. You could also do this by immersing students in a quality middle grade chapter book that you use for both your mini lessons and read aloud with accountable talk opportunities.
2.Teach students how to read the genre. Students need to know that fiction text follows a plot structure which consists of: the exposition, rising action, turning point, falling action, and resolution. They also need to know that it will have a beginning, middle and end. Once they know the structure they need to be taught how to mine the text for these plot elements as well as how each element moves the story forward.
3.Teach students how to think through the genre. This is where your mini lessons and read-alouds come into play as you model your thoughts aloud during your fiction unit. You will teach them how to infer things like: character traits and author’s purpose. These are lessons that can be revisited throughout your unit which will provide students the opportunity to become proficient. Once you’ve taught these during whole group instruction you can move the practice of these skills to small group instruction which will give students more ownership of the skill and help cycle the learning.
4.Teach students how to discuss the genre. Teaching students how to discuss the genre requires that students have turn and talk opportunities. It also requires that you provide students with sentence stems that will help them try on the language of literary discussion. These stems should first be modeled by you via a think aloud or during your mini lesson and then gradually released to students via the I do, We do, You do model.
5.Teach students how to respond in writing to the genre. Students need opportunities to respond to what they read in writing. Model for them how to respond to what they read by applying what they learned during your mini lessons with their own text. You can scaffold this by implementing the I do, we do, you do model.
So to recap we teach fiction by….
- Teaching students the elements of the genre
- Teaching students how to read the genre
- Teaching students how to think through the genre
- Teaching students how to discuss the genre
- Teaching students how to respond in writing to the genre
We talked about the what, the why and the how of teaching students how to read fiction. Teaching students how to read and understand fiction is just as important as teaching students how to read and understand any other genre. Teaching students how to read fiction is another way to equip students with skills that they need to be able to navigate life.
**One tool you can use to help you execute this model is my Fiction reading response choice boards. These choice boards include everything you need to model your thinking to students as well as give them an opportunity to participate in the we do and I do portion of your lesson. You can use these to teach your Fiction unit and then transition to giving them to students in order to practice the skills you taught them. Because of the scaffolded approach you took they will be able to do these independently and you will be able to confidently assess their application of the skills. These choice board units include a roll out plan, a teacher rubric, a student checklist and a reading log.
Next steps: Use the steps you learned in this blog post to teach students how to navigate fiction text. If you need one-on-one coaching support with this endeavor or want me to talk to your school about how to teach their students to love reading, let’s set up a discovery call. If you want to work alongside other educators in a group coaching container then get on the waitlist for my mini lesson revamp bootcamp. Getting on the waitlist will ensure that you are the first to know when the group coaching program opens for enrollment.
Prefer to Listen? Listen to the episode below: