Back at the beginning, I bought a class set of composition books. NOT SPIRAL. Those were too flimsy for what I wanted. I found them for a quarter at the old Wally-World. I labeled them with student numbers and names and they were all set to go!
For each of our units, our journals are home to all graphic organizers, writings, and other assignments that we might need during our time with the text. To get things started with this unit, I copied all of my organizers half-sized so that they would fit on the pages (and to save on copies since they were being counted). On the first day, we glued in our title page, vocabulary organizer, and character tracking sheet. (seen below) Every time we read a chapter, met a character, changed setting, etc. ,we recorded it in here. New words were added every single day.. We ended up with two full pages of interesting words!
Once these were in place, we were ready to start our unit. Each day we tried to read one chapter. There was always something that we would do after, whether it be a writing prompt, illustration, response to the day's happenings in the stories, etc. We also focused on the FACTS in the text as compared to the Opinions and fictional happenings. We recorded one of those each day as well.
The following excerpt occurred on DAY ONE-Chapter One of the text. At the beginning, the students are drawn in by the actual event of the ship going down. The main character George is holding onto the bow of the ship, watching things and people fall past him. My kids were MAD that we stopped when we did but I had them visualize what was happening to George and put themselves in his place and write. Check out the sample below..completely blew my mind that he wrote like this...
I was ecstatic nonetheless..He did get a bit graphic but those were his thoughts..and they were ON paper. This coming from a kid that wrote four sentences as his beginning of year writing sample. So we kept going.
The next couple of chapters were very descriptive so we went with that. We worked together to discern the factual from the fiction. We used highlighter tape as we read to point out factual information and recorded it on an anchor chart. Once that was finished, we set out to do a bit of informational writing. Now, my students hadn't been taught the informational genre yet so this was just a test run.
Not to shabby, huh? We kept on with the informational. We watched videos, read other books, searched for pictures, and jotted down our notes to use when we finally did get to that genre. But the entire class was itching to draw... so we did.. And this is where my little guy put his sparkle in it.. He did better than I ever could!
Our journey toward the sinking got more and more exciting, and the kids got so enthralled with this text! I absolutely loved it. We did several more writings..each one more engaging than the next. And the kids...whoa..the kids... THEY DIDN'T WANT TO STOP!
In one chapter, the main character isn't allowed on a lifeboat because he looks older than he is. My class was FURIOUS! So we put our anger and our attitudes to work--look out STYLE! This one shows a little 'tude' if you ask me...:-) It starts out...Dear Mr. Crewmember...
I think he might've been a little upset. Since the main character was a boy, I decided to change it up and have them write from the perspective of the character's Aunt or sister. Some of them got the idea..but most of them just went with their own reaction to being told to get on deck in the middle of the night.
We finished up the unit with a bang and did a Reader's Theater with the same text. The class was actually sad when we wrapped up the unit. I have NEVER taught a reading unit quite like this one and I can only hope that they continue to be just as good.
As far as our journals go, we are still using them. Yep..our beginning of year journals are still going strong. Covers look a bit shabby but all the pages have held and all of our materials from the entire year have been safely stored away. I like to take them out at parent conferences, PTO nights, and let my kids share their writings with their parents and each other. Ive been asked several times about what is done with 3rd grade reading at my school and this is what I share.
I hope...just maybe..someone out there might see the value in teaching reading in this manner. I have seen a room full of reluctant and unmotivated readers blossom into a community of avid book devourers. And it all started with a notebook.