Getting Ready for Literary Essays

It’s time to move past our historical fiction unit and on to new things!  Our next focus in writing is essays; we are quickly revisiting all that we learned this fall about writing opinion essays and now are going to move forward with “literary essays”.  We will dig back into a familiar text (Tiger Rising) and write one together, then we will work in pairs to write one about the read aloud book we are about to finish (Flutter), and then they will write one on their own about a book of their choosing.  Whew!  At about an essay a week, this is going to be a busy time!
The great news is, we can use some of our new close reading strategies to dig back into Tiger Rising…last year I purchased 12 copies of the book for this very purpose.  We are going back to hunt for important events…evidence of character traits…glimpses of character struggles, and so on.  Looking more deeply at texts is new for fourth graders, so they are going to need a LOT of modeling.  Here’s how things unfolded in our first few days.
Now…I am a firm believer in making most anchor charts WITH students…but this unit has a few charts that are totally teacher made–because they are geared toward helping students know where we are headed.  I spent some time last weekend getting some of my charts ready so the unit would be RELATIVELY organized to start!  
I wanted the key targets for our unit posted so I can refer to them often.  We are really working on PROVING our claim with this unit…when we wrote our opinion essays, our evidence was a little sketchy (often the reasons just weren’t the most important reasons) and I really want the students to realize that we can do more than write an essay about our opinion…we can find what the author did to make the text “special” for the reader…
Although this was NOT new, my students seemed shockingly unaware of how we used these terms during our opinion writing unit.  Time to review….
So to kick things off, we started digging back into Tiger Rising, our mentor text for this unit.  I had the students work collaboratively to skim and hunt for interesting things in the text that COULD turn into a good “claim” or thesis next week.  This was pretty tough…I tried breaking the text into smaller sections to make it manageable, did some modeling–and it was still tough.  More work needed!
So we started to get a decent list of some of the important topics that showed up in the book…bullying…friendship…loss…the importance of family…freedom…and many more.  I want my students to deepen their understanding of what “theme” is–but I have really struggled in the past teaching this CRITICAL but very important skill.  I did some snooping online to try to boost my own understanding and came across a nifty video.  This is a video for teachers about how to teach theme…and I really thought it did a neat job.  If you feel you are a little lacking in this area like I was, CLICK HERE to view it!
So here is where we are headed next.  I want the students to see that there are ZILLIONS of things to write about in a  literary essay.  Some are better than others–but if they can state a clear thesis and support it with plenty of evidence, they may just be able to craft a decent essay!

I think we are ready to dig in next week.  I am going to actually DO the writing with input from the students so they can see how I work through the process. Then I am going to release them a little bit…as a class we are going to work with “Flutter” to do some brainstorming about possible essay “claims”, and then partnerships will work together to craft their essays.  Finally…I am hopeful that they will be able to do the full process themselves in a few weeks!  Thanks for stopping by–and I hope you have a wonderful week!