I am constantly reflecting on my teaching and the success of my students. My first year of teaching, I taught units by genre: poetry, short story, fiction, nonfiction. Students explored the elements and text structures of each genre in depth. Since then, I have transitioned over to multigenre thematic units. After analyzing state assessment data and talking to other teachers, it was evident that my students were still struggling with genre recognition. It made sense. We studied folklore at the beginning of the year, so if my students were fuzzy about folklore at the end of the year, it was understandable. They didn't use it, so they lost it. I also noticed that English language arts skills were not transferring to other content areas. It became apparent that students needed to be making text-to-text connections between different genres and other content areas. Multigenre thematic units helped me to bridge these gaps in my curriculum.
When teaching multigenre thematic units, genres are spiraled and content area reading is integrated into my curriculum. Students make text-to-text connections. Most importantly, my 6th graders analyze how authors write on similar topics in varying genres. Our year-end goal is to complete a multigenre writing piece that consists of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Engaging in these activities throughout the year helps them to prepare for the final project.
Designing the Multigenre Thematic Unit
I use Understanding by Design (Wiggins & McTighe, 1998) curriculum mapping framework to design my units. Greece Central School designed a multigenre thematic unit template based on Understanding by Design, which is a very helpful in guide in the designing process. Each unit I design consists of reading fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. I also include two written components: a creative piece and a nonfiction piece. Below is an image of the template Greece Central School Designed. Click on the image to get a full screen view.
Once I have established my learning goals and target student outcomes, I select an anchor text and develop a theme that interests middle school students. I love to integrate with other content areas. As a rule, I integrate with social studies; however, all content areas are integrated at some point throughout the year. Compatible texts or excerpts can be pulled from novels, memoirs, biographies, speeches, newspapers, magazines, Web sites, instructional manuals, junk mail, commercials, etc. ReadWriteThink has a handout of possible genres that can be used in pairing text passages.
An example of a multigenre thematic unit is posted on my Web page. It is tied together with the theme, “Actions Speak Louder than Words.” I start with the anchor text “Charles” by Shirley Jackson, a short story. Other texts are then explored: an obituary of the author, a humorous poem, and a news article. My students explore how actions define who you are or how they are perceived by others, whether you are a fictional character in a book or a real person. Making text-to-text connections improve comprehension as students think about what they are reading.
Some of my favorite books on teaching reading include:
- "Reading and Analyzing Multigenre Texts" (ReadWriteThink)
- Pairing Fiction & Nonfiction by Deanne Camp
- Poems for Teaching in the Content Area by Laura Robb & J. Patrick Lewis
- Teaching Comprehension With Nonfiction Read Alouds by Dawn Little
- Teaching Text Structures: A Key to Nonfiction Reading Success by Sue Dymock & Tom Nicholson
- Nonfiction Passages With Graphic Organizers for Independent Practice by Wiley Blevins & Alice Boynton
Each unit contains at least two different forms of writing: creative writing and nonfiction. Whenever possible I like to use the reading passages as a model for author’s purpose (entertain, describe, inform, explain, or persuade) and patterns of organization:
- Compare and contrast
- Cause and effect
- Advantages and disadvantages
- Problem and solution
Spiraling various genres throughout the year improves retention in reading and writing. The chart contains a list of writing activities that engage students in exploring different types of writing, considering patterns of organization, and including text features illustrated in different forms of writing. If you want to give your students voice and choice in the classroom, create a tic-tac-toe board containing selections from the types of writing listed above. They can select any writing activites to complete a tic-tac-toe.
There are also a number of resources to draw from for the writing portion of the unit. For writing lessons, see Scholastic's "Writing an Autobiography," "Short Story Writing," and their educational program inspired by the Kit Kittredge: An American Girl Movie, Journalism With Kit! They also host a section of online workshops, Writing With Writers, which includes biography, book reviews, descriptive writing, folktales, mystery, myth, news, poetry, and speech. And Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's site Great Source iWrite provides descriptions of the forms of writing and tools for teaching each of them.
But I'd love to hear from you. How are you designing your units? What text passages would you pair together?