This post was written by first grade teacher Heather Frank.
Among first grade students and teachers, our realistic fiction unit is one of our favorites! After being immersed in realistic fiction mentor texts, students created a new first grade friend who is the focus of their writing pieces.
Using a graphic organizer, the children brainstormed and made decisions about their character’s outsides (hair color/ style, clothing, eye color) and insides (likes, dislikes, feelings). The internal characteristics were used to generate realistic problems for the character. For instance, a character who liked drawing had difficulty drawing a puppy in Art class and a character who liked soccer could not score a goal. The characteristics also served as a support when the students add their character’s voice to their piece.
Using the characteristics listed on their graphic organizer, students drew their new friends. Their original drawings were displayed on a bulletin board in the classroom throughout the unit.
To heighten the excitement and connect the unit to the children’s experiences outside of school, I took photos of the characters. I enlarged, laminated, and cut out the characters for the students. I invited the first grade writers to take their new friends on adventures and reflect upon the problems they faced and solutions they chose.
I also shared this information with parents so that they could engage in dialogue at home with the students about the characters and writing. The students were thrilled! Immediately, the first grade students began enthusiastically sharing with each other places they planned to take their new friends–grandma’s house with the fancy chandelier, a Super Bowl party, a baking session with an aunt, and even lacrosse practice.
Meet Our New Friends!
In the subsequent days, the students came to school talking about the problems their characters faced outside of school including difficulties sharing a toy with a friend or a messed up cupcake recipe. This activity helped the first graders solidify the idea of realistic first grade problems and solutions as a component of their realistic fiction pieces. When problems arose in the classroom, we discussed how our characters could solve the problem. Equally important, students recognized how everyday experiences could be the inspiration for our writing pieces.
Given our realistic fiction unit was the first unit in which students are writing fiction pieces, their excitement was palpable. Being able to create a new friend heightened students’ engagement during the unit. The writers related to the characters they have created and felt a sense of ownership for their new friends. They truly viewed the characters as friends who could easily be a part of our classroom community. During conferences, students often connected the problems their character faced to problems they had experienced.
As I watched the writers grow during this unit, I saw changes in their views of themselves as writers. Many reluctant writers were more engaged than they had been during previous units. Finally, the student were writing made-up books similar to the books that parents had been reading to them or they had been reading themselves. It has been a learning experience as we go on adventures with our writing–and our new friends. The students’ realistic fiction characters are their own unique creations and are as quirky, funny, and sensitive as the students themselves.