Friday, February 27, 2015

Historical Fiction/Information Text Unit - Civil Rights Movement (Post 1)

Our 7th grade team started a new unit this past week, as we aim to overlap research, reading and writing informative texts, reading literature, and historical fiction narrative writing with a powerful movement in history - the Civil Rights Movement. To start the unit, we told our students that we weren't going to tell them what our new unit was about until later on in the day. They were totally weirded out by that concept, but I think it hooked them early on. (Also, please note that we see our students twice in a day for two 43-minute class periods.)

During our first hour classes, we told students we were going to read a text to learn more about the Greensboro Sit Ins. We read Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins by Carole Boston Weatherford. (We did NOT read the author's note at the end.)

After we read the historical fiction narrative, students took a Google Form survey about the text. The five questions students were asked were:
1. What are the main ideas of this text?
2. Who were the main people in this text?
3. What is the author's purpose for writing this text?
4. What words BEST describe this text?
5. How is the information in this text organized?

In our second hour class, we took the same approach in not telling our students what our new unit was about but we did tell them we would be reading a text about the Greensboro Sit Ins. To this class, we read the author's note from Freedom on the Menu: the Greensboro Sit-Ins on the doc cam. (We copied it and cut off the words "Author's Note" from the top of the copy we made, just so students wouldn't make the connection that it was the author's note to a historical fiction narrative. We did NOT read the historical fiction narrative to this class of students. After we read this informative text to students, they also took the same exact survey with the same exact questions that our first hour students took.

*Let's recap: At the end our first two classes each class had read a text about the Greensboro sit-ins. One class read the historical fiction narrative about the sit-ins; the other class read an informative text (the author's note) about the sit-ins. Both classes took the same Google Form survey after the read aloud.

The next time that we saw each of the classes, we explained that we read a text about the Greensboro sit-ins to both of our morning classes and that each class was asked the same questions. We then pulled up the survey results from each class and compared them. Here are the results from one of the questions that asked students how the text they had read was organized. Results on the left were from the class that read the historical fiction narrative; the results on the right are from the class that read the informative text.

As we analyzed the results to each of the questions, we recorded our discoveries on an anchor chart. We then held a discussion about how it was possible for the survey to yield these results when BOTH classes read a text about the Greensboro sit-ins. Eventually, students came to the conclusion that each class read a different text - that one was more "story like" and one was "just the facts". We categorized these by what they are REALLY called - historical fiction narrative and informational text, and that the informational text was actually the author's note/partner text to the historical fiction narrative. We then read the text to each class that they had not read yet and pointed out how the characteristics on our anchor chart lined up with each. It pulled together the whole picture of how the two texts were very related but their characteristics were very different, aside from the overall main ideas.

The next day, we revealed to students that our goal over the next three-week unit was to write a historical fiction narrative with an accompanying informative author's note related to an event during the Civil Rights Movement. The best way to start the process of becoming writers of historical fiction is to study real historical fiction writers. Who better to study than the author of Freedom on the Menu: the Greensboro Sit-Ins - Carole Boston Weatherford. We read some of her biography, watched a short video clip, and recorded some of her words of wisdom on an anchor chart we titled "Advice from Real Historical Fiction Authors".

We also fell upon five tips from historical fiction author, Tanya Landman. We discussed and summarized the main ideas and added them to our Advice from Real Historical Fiction Authors anchor chart.

Here is the anchor chart we co-constructed. When we asked students to look for themes in the advice we learned from real historical fiction authors, students discovered the word 'research' appeared often. This was exactly what we hoped they would discover! Doing research about the Civil Rights Movement was where we needed to start our journey! By researching several of Civil Rights Movement events, students would eventually pick one to feature in their historical fiction narratives/author's notes.

On the third day, we accessed our background knowledge about the Civil Rights Movement. We asked students to divide their notebook page into three sections - people, events, ideas. A student asked if we could add 'places' to the page - a great idea! After reflecting independently, we shared out about our background knowledge, and we recorded students' answers in green. We were then ready to start the research process.
We taught students about a reading strategy called 'close reading' that our department recently learned about during a professional development session with our literacy coach. 'Close reading' does NOT mean holding a text close to our face; it means a reader carefully and purposefully rereads a text to deepen his/her comprehension. 
In the first read of the text, we wanted students to GET THE GIST - to ask "What is the text all about?" We used the multimedia source "A Time for Justice" as our first source. (There are actually three parts to this video series, so be sure to find all three!) We teachers modeled how to do a first read of the first 8 minutes of the video source and recorded the big ideas we teachers discovered on our Civil Rights Movement anchor chart below. You can see on our background knowledge chart in blue we added Emmett Till's murder and Montgomery and added a blue check next bus boycotts to confirm those were ideas we found in our first read. For guided practice, students watched the last 8 minutes of part 1 of the video, and we shared out the big ideas. You can see those in blue below too, with check marks confirming the background knowledge we had listed.

For students' SECOND READ, we wanted them to dig deeper into each event we had discovered in the first read and "re-read" to record specific details about each event. The advice we had learned from real historical fiction authors revealed it is important to learn everything you can about an event. This is beneficial for when it comes time for us to write our author's note, even if we only end up revealing a little bit of what we know in our narratives.

I modeled how to do a second read of the introduction, listening carefully and pausing to type details to support my learning about the Civil Rights Movement. For guided practice, students did a second read of the Emmett Till murder case and the Montgomery bus boycotts, which were the events that came next in the video. We shared out about what we found, creating a detailed notes sheet for the first three segments of the video (intro, Emmett Till murder, bus boycotts).

In our next session together, we divided students into groups of four. We color coded the rest of the events we had listed in our first read and assigned each student a color which corresponded to two events each student was responsible for doing a second read/digging deeper into their assigned events. Students worked collaboratively within the same Google Doc, recording the details that defined each event. By the end of the day, every student had detailed notes for event event in the video.

This student used the split screen feature to complete his portion of the assignment - Google doc notes to type in on the left; video source to watch and pause on the right.


  1. Thank you for this amazing post! How were you able to split screen on a chromebook?

  2. Open both tabs that you want to have on your screen so the tabs are at the top of your browser. Then jold down on the tab at the top of the screen and pull it downward. It will make a hologram - then let go. Then click the double square icons in the top right corner of both screens to shrink them down. Then you can manipulate the sides to make them both fit on the screen!

  3. Thank you so much! I can't wait to try it with my students. This is exactly what I was looking for. I am eagerly awaiting what new things you have to share on your blog!

  4. Wow!! You are amazing!! Keep the info coming! Do you have reproducibles of any of your log entry prompts?

  5. Fabulous- so well thought out- you covered so much with this unit! Cannot wait to try it.

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