When I start a unit of study with students I immerse them in the genre. I read a piece of writing to them, then I tell them what I noticed. ”Did you see that there are paragraphs? Did you notice that the writer used some interesting punctuation? Hm…it seems like the writer is trying to express an opinion?” Then I let the kids explore, giving each one a copy of the text, looking for more features that belong to this genre.
I did this lesson yesterday in a third grade, but guess what? Some kids weren’t noticing! That’s okay. I was prepared. I knew that in this group, some kids might struggle. Maybe they hadn’t done this kind of exploration before. Or maybe they didn’t have the language to articulate their noticings. I did some of the noticing for them, ahead of time and gave them cut up sticky notes to then name the parts/features of a personal essay. Then it became a treasure hunt–they had to look for features that were already named.
This kind of activity helps build background knowledge for ELLs, helps students who are new to the work, and makes for an interesting way to read as writers. (For more information on writing personal essays check out my website. Click the ‘Tools’ button and look for Personal Essays.)