Essay writing is probably one of the most commonly used forms of writing. As children get older, they are required to write essays for multiple purposes. Whether it is an admission’s essay or personal essay, students must have had plenty of experience with this genre to be successful.
When I started planning my literary essay unit in Spanish, I felt really overwhelmed. There was SO much information to be read and articles to dissect that the task seemed insurmountable. However, as my students and I approach the end of Bend I (more on what this means can be found as you read on), I can truly say that the unit is going much better than what I had anticipated. Yes! There are plenty of ups and downs, but seeing my students’ progress keeps me motivated.
Planning the Literary Essay Unit
There are two books I read that guided parts of the unit: The Literary Essay: Writing About Fiction by Calkins, Tolan and Marron, and Boxes and Bullets: Personal and Persuasive Essays by Calkins, Boland-Hohne, and Gillette. These two books are pretty dense, and if you follow me on Instagram, you know by now that I have a love-hate relationship with Lucy Calkins. I read the lessons more than once and extracted ideas and information I felt made the most sense. If you have read any of Calkins’ books, you know that a one-day lesson, could easily be 2-3 in a real world classroom – so I planned accordingly. I also had the amazing opportunity of attending a 2-day institute solely on literary essays. The readings plus the institute really gave me both the tools and confidence to start the unit.
Throughout the reading, I took notes and selected several teaching points. I used my journal and with the help of sticky notes, I created nine (9) distinct sections: immersion, collecting, choosing, developing, drafting, revising, final editing, publishing and celebrating.The sticknotes represented each one of the different parts in the writing cycle.
1- Students began with an on-demand piece (escritura bajo demanda) where they responded to a prompt and had 45 minutes to write.
2- We then moved to immersion – which I believe is one of the MOST important parts of the cycle. Here students actively listened to several mentor texts in Spanish. We practiced developing thesis statements, and writing long about what they listened. I feel this was extremely helpful. We dedicated a full week to immersion.
What is immersion?
During immersion, children are exposed to several mentor texts via interactive read-alouds. This type of read-aloud, just like the name states it, is very interactive. The teachers starts the reading and stops quite a few times to ask students to think, jot, or share about what they just listened. However, interactive read-alouds are not random – they require planning and thought as the teacher has clearly marked the spots/parts where he/she wants to stop. For example, if I am focusing on characters, my stopping points will be right at the place where I feel students could say more about a character. Children are taught to read like writers by studying mentor texts. Below are some examples of the texts I used for the unit:
Discussions are at the heart of immersion. The more children talk about text, the better prepared they will be to write about those texts. Part of immersion also includes guiding children to generate ideas (thesis) about the text. After each mentor text is read, as a class we create a chart of ideas. I do not judge ideas at this time; I just want my students to talk about the texts. After a deep discussion, students are asked to write about the reading. I usually give them a sentence starter and from them, I push them to write, write and write. Again, I cannot emphasize how important this stage is. This will set the stage for what is to come.
I know that as teachers we feel that we should move ahead fast, but the success of my literary essay unit is closely related to how much time we spent talking about texts.
Stay tuned for the next part in this series: collecting.