Monday, 7 May 2012

Original Lesson 18: Persuasively Writing Fairy Tales

This is a hybrid unit borne from the necessity of covering both fairy tales and persuasive writing in my placement class. Despite the odd combination of persuasive writing with fairy tales, it worked well and could serve as a fantastic mechanism for children to enjoy some old school tales while still learning a common and critical text type if your curriculum is a bit overloaded (whose isn't?).

I start by telling a fairy tale. No big book required. I ask for student volunteers to be my characters (of which there is no shortage in grade 1/2). As I tell the story, my student volunteers act it out. I try to involve as much of the class as possible. For example, during Hansel and Gretel many of the students were trees in the forest. This works an absolute treat for student engagement. Try to vary your voice as much as you can and pause to hold the suspense for a while; it's also heaps of fun to watch the actors pause as you do and children with their mouths and eyes wide open waiting to hear what happens.

Abruptly, I stop the tale at a critical point. For Hansel and Gretel, it was the point at which they spot the house of candy. For Rapunzel, it was the point at which the prince calls for her to let down her hair. I then ask the students as our task for persuasive writing, what should the characters do?

Should Hansel and Gretel approach the house, eat it and enter OR should they run away?

Should Rapunzel let down her hair and let the prince climb up OR should she ignore him?

As a class, to avoid writers' block, we brainstorm arguments for and against.
Eg                     Eat and go in the candy house                                Run away
                            -  Candy is yummy.                                                -  A witch could live in there.
                            -  They are lost and hungry.                                   -  The candy could be poison.
                            -  It could rain and a storm could come.
During our brainstorm, I often ask students to decide their viewpoint and have the FOR students on one side of the carpet and the AGAINST on the other.

I also model the structure of the writing with younger year students, by writing my own version of the writing on the board, before releasing them for their independent writing. During modelling, I focus on the different elements of the writing - introduction, arguments and conclusion for persuasive - and sound out challenging words. For persuasive in particular, the hamburger model approach to structure works well. (This is not my idea but the image is my creation).

During this unit, and in general in literacy, I find two of the strategies below work well in terms of catering for different abilities (differentiation):
- Elkonin encoding: I invite carefully selected students to work on the floor with me. These students often have a shortage of sight words and become stuck when sounding out words. Together, we use Elkonin boxes (explained here) to encode and quickly resolve blocks.
- Chalkboard challenges: I pair my highest students and encourage them to risk-take with their word choices. Between their books, I place a blackboard. They tap each other on the shoulder when they have a challenging word in mind and sound it out together. I let them check it with a dictionary.

What hybrid units have you taught? 
Was the combination by necessity or choice?  

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