What a busy first week back at school! I feel like it flew by! The students and I started the new year by jumping into the nonfiction unit (okay, so they sort of walked….no, crawled.) For my own sanity, I decided to break things up by focusing on a different standard each week. This past week it was standard RI.6.1. “Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.” At the beginning of the year the students and I spent so much time on making inferences about characters and events in a fictional story, but the kids have a hard time translating that skill to nonfiction (understandably so). Which is why I was so happy when I came upon the site kids.mysterynet.com, it is filled with mysteries to solve. The site has mini mysteries (quick solves) and longer mysteries (solve it’s). The stories focus on Nina Chase and Max Decker, two kids who like to solve neighborhood mysteries: Who stepped in the wet cement? Who broke into the local snack shack?. The stories are easy to follow, but definitely require quiet a bit of thinking.
Okay, so how does this all relate to nonfiction? Everyday, after each mystery, we worked on using evidence based terms in relation to nonfiction texts. Here’s how it went:
I introduced the unit and a list of “evidence based terms” (you can find anchor charts on pinterest!). As a class, we read an article on germs (hello, flu season!) in National Explorer Magazine.
Mystery – The students solved one of the mini mysteries as a warm up.
Nonfiction – We looked more closely at Monday’s article by examining strategies the author used and backing up those strategies with evidence. For instance, “The author connects with readers by using relatable examples”. I provided the strategies and students worked with a partner to find evidence.
Mystery- Students did another quick solve, but this time they had to put to use their evidence based terms and write out who they think did it and why.
Nonfiction – Looking at a new article (from Newsela.com), I provided students with a list of inferences I made and they had to find strong, specific evidence. They worked independently on this and I collected it to grade and provide feedback (They did so well!).
Mystery – Students had to solve one of the longer (and harder) mysteries. It was amazing to see how engaged they were as they contemplated who stole the “For Sale” signs; the room was completely quiet! For this mystery, I gave them five minutes on their own, then two minutes with a partner. There were so many ideas bouncing around the room – everyone was sure they were right! Again, students wrote out who they thought the thief was and explained why using evidence from the text.
This time I collected their sentences and graded them – not on whether they arrived at the right answer, but on how well they constructed their sentences. I have to say, I’m so glad I did this! They are using the terms correctly and referring back to the evidence, but they are having trouble connecting back to the question. For example, a student might say, “I believe Freddy stole the signs because in the text it says he built a tree house made of wood.” However, it should continue: “….. The ‘For Sale’ signs are made of wood, therefore Freddy likely used the signs to build his tree house.” See what I mean? They are almost there! So, next week I am going to return to this case and we will rewrite sentences as a class.
Nonfiction – Students worked in groups and had a choice of three different articles (again, all from Newsela.com). This time, they had to make their own inferences (or comment on the authors strategy or the text structure) and back it up with evidence from the text. This worked really well – especially allowing them a choice of article! On Monday of next week I will have them meet with another group that did the same article and discuss what they found.
*At one point during this last activity a student was feeling very frustrated because she was having trouble making inferences based on the nonfiction article. I said, “It’s just like solving a mystery, pick a part the sentences.” To this she replied, “Ohhhhh!“, then hurried to jot something down. My favorite part of teaching – the light bulb moment!