Facts or Fiction? There’s a Genre for that!


Lesson Study 1: Sixth Grade Book Genres


Throughout the year my sixth grade Language Arts class is introduced to different genres of books so that they can practice how to best read the material for comprehension and overall enjoyment. By the end of the year, the goal is for each student to read at least one book from the different genres discussed. This introductory lesson is meant to familiarize the students with the concept of literary genre as well as facilitate a discussion about how to categorize books into specific categories based on the book’s content. Take note, this lesson is meant to span over two or three days so the students will be able to really solidify their understanding of genre as a concept and a tool to use throughout the school year.


Students are accustomed to completing a daily warm up in their composition notebooks each day. Today the warm up will be more open- ended in that students will be asked to give their opinion. The question they must answer will probably go something like this:

What makes a book interesting to you? What are your favorite parts of this interesting book? Take the next five minutes to list as many different reasons as you can for why you like this book. You don’t have to write in complete sentences.

After a short while, I will ask the students to share their opinions with their table groups on what the word ‘genre’ means and how the students’ descriptor words that they came up with in their warm up might help put books into different subject categories.

After the students are done sharing within their table groups, I will hand out a quick little handout that gives a brief overview of the different components of each genre. The handout will provide an overarching definition of genre at the top and list the various other types of genres. The students will be able to use this as a guide in case they forget a particular genre throughout the school year. I will choose random students to read through the genre definitions at this time.

But wait! There’s more!  The students will then be given a task to create a poster for around the room. They will create these in a group and will be assigned one particular genre from a list of genres at random. Using the given definition and their own brainstorms from their warm up, the students will be asked to create a poster that describes their particular genre. They will be given magazines, markers, glue, and whatever craft supplies their hearts’ desire to create a poster that gives examples of the genre along with key words associated with the genre. This will take some time to accomplish but once the posters are finished the students will be hang them up around the room. The posters will be a visual guide for the students so that they can quickly recognize different parts of different genres. The groups will then share their genres with the whole class and essentially ‘teach’ their peers all about their genre and the key words associated with the genre as well as give some examples from their poster.


The students will have a produced a poster that shows their understanding of their particular genre. Because this is a pretty lengthy introductory lesson, the overall goal is to connect students’ own understanding of a particular genre with terms and examples they already know.  The students should be given an opportunity to create their own idea of what a particular genre entails by using words and images that they understand. The idea is to create a foundation in which the students are asked to make their own connections to that is relevant and useful to them in the future.


At the end of the first day of this lesson, I will assign the students to write a one page reflection in their composition notebooks about genre for homework. This reflection will ask the students to pick their favorite genre and explain why it is they like that particular genre using the key words and images they talked about in class. The students will also include their least favorite genre and why they don’t like it/ have trouble with it. Their reflection should include insight as to how the student can use genres as reading tools for categorization in Language Arts. This is somewhat informal in that I will use these to judge the lesson plans and provide the supports needed to the students who have difficulty understanding different categories of genres. The more formal evaluation will be the poster which will be grade mostly on content and originality as opposed to presentation and style.

What kinds of thinking will the students need to do to participate in the lesson?

Overall the students will need to:

  • Know the content
  • Differentiate or comprehend the differences between different genres
  • Create a visual aid that explains the particular genre using students’ own key words and phrases
  • Reflect on their own opinions and preferences about genres and how they can use genre as a reading tool in Language Arts

To what extent do the students have options or choices regarding these lesson components?

While I must provide the lesson materials, the students autonomy really boils down to the creation of their posters and the discussions they lead within their table groups. The group discussion is essential to creating an understanding between peers. Not only will discussion facilitate cooperation, but also give kids to share their different insights and concerns about the concept. The lesson is structured, but is also give the kids a chance to create a tool that will best suit them in understanding the content.


When I first set out to create this lesson plan I had an idea about how I wanted to incorporate more student autonomy into the process and finished product. What came out of my lesson was a snarling monster of note-taking and fill-in-the- blank that would have stifled my students’ creativity and essentially smashed any dreams of them owning their own education. So I did what felt right, and I deleted that lesson study. I threw it out, emptied my virtual trash can, and never looked back. Lesson #1 learned from our peer editing class was something simple and yet crucial to being effective and engaging in the classroom: Throw things out. Start over. Invent that new wheel. And if your lesson plans turn into yet another snarling monster that needs to be tamed, you fight it head on and start over. Your kids will thank you one day for saving them from the burden of a lesson plan that didn’t require their special talents in defeating a particularly hard concept.

Lesson #2 learned through the peer evaluation process required the lesson plans to be tamed rather than slain. The valuable information that I received from my two peer reviewers helped me to see the flaws I was dealing with in my lesson plan. The information may have been there, the delivery and student participation were minimal at best. Thanks to my two evaluators, I was able to take a step back and see how the lesson was relevant to my students. Were they making their own choices? Were they being allowed to use what they already know and construct their own ideas about the concepts learned? Were they allowed to interact with peers during the lesson? It’s these sorts of questions that I should have been answering in my first set of failed lesson plans and the same questions that I hoped to address in my second, improved lesson plan.

Photo title: Rural Wales needs £16,000,000

Photographer: Geoff Charles (1909-2002)

Accessed:  Europeana Libraries Project

Constitution of the United States

The Constitution

Content: My 8th grade students will explore the colonies’ fight for independence and the framing of the constitution in this lesson. This lesson will follow a unit on the colonies and prelude a unit on the U.S. Constitution.

This is defined by the standard that states: students will understand key ideals and principles outlined in the Declaration of Independence, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, the U.S. Constitution, including rule of law, separation of powers, representative government, and popular sovereignty, and the Bill of Rights, including due process and freedom of expression.

This lesson includes three major elements:

  1. Higher-order thinking by creating, evaluating, and analyzing.
  2. Student choice and reflection – students choose their ideas and topics.
  3. Classroom strategies – students collaborating in small groups and working individually.

Process: The lesson is driven by a student-centered approach. Students begin by collaborating in small groups. Small groups are expected to create a list of what they think would be essential ideas/laws for the United States Constitution as if they were colonists in the late 18th century. Each group will then share and discuss their ideas in a presentation to the class. While a group is presenting, the other groups will evaluate and question the presenter’s ideas/laws. Students are expected to ask clarifying and thoughtful questions about the ideas/laws presented. I will work as a mediator, if needed, to help jumpstart questions. After every group has a chance to present and question other groups, students, as individuals, will then evaluate and analyze what they have created by free writing at least one idea/law they believe is essential for the U.S. Constitution. This gives every student an opportunity to evaluate and defend their higher order thinking. At the end of the activity, I will then present the original Constitution that was created by the colonists. Students will then be able to compare and contrast their ideas to the actual colonist ideas that still affect us today. A classroom discussion on the original Constitution will end the activity.

Product: Students will produce a small group list of the ideas/laws to present and discuss with the class. Students will also produce an individual essay that will evaluate, analyze, and defend what they created. The lesson will also give students the chance to present their lists, while other students evaluate, analyze, and question. This lesson will give students the opportunity to follow their own process rather than just learning the facts. Students will also engage in reflecting on their work and the work of their peers during the collaboration in small groups and classroom discussions. The lesson gives the students a chance to understand how the Constitution, created by the colonists, affects and applies to their life today.

Evaluation: Learning will be assessed through student essays. Learning can also be assessed within the classroom discussions, as groups peer-review and question each other’s lists. In order to participate in this lesson, students will need higher order thinking, which includes creating, evaluating, and analyzing. Students have options and choices in the components of the lesson by creating their own list with no “right” answer. Also, each student is evaluating and analyzing what they learned and created in their individual essay. They are able to choose their Constitution topic and what matters to them by reflecting on the group work.

Reflection: I really enjoyed this lesson exercise. Actively working through plans and making sure students engage in higher order thinking, gave me a chance to evaluate and analyze what goes into creating a useful lesson. The peer review and self-reflection process has also helped me gain valuable guidance and suggestions how I can continue to grow and advance my knowledge as a future educator. As I plan lessons in the future, I now know the importance of students engaging in higher-level thinking and the importance and effect of peer review and self-reflection.

Picture Credit: Constitution of the United States

Visit Islam-We have 5 pillars!


Mecca-click here for image source

My 7th grade students and I are going to explore the world of Islam!

To begin, students will turn to section two of chapter five in their social studies book-“Beliefs of Islam.”

We will read the chapter as a class.  I will select a student at random via popsicle sticks and that student will read one paragraph out loud.  After each paragraph, I will ask students brief questions to ensure they are comprehending what they are reading as we go along.

When we are done with the reading, students will have a discussion within their table groups.  Since I am placed in a Catholic school, I will have students compare and contrast Islamic and Catholic beliefs.  One group member will record the differences and similarities. They can set up the notes anyway the like-venn diagram, list, pictures-as long as they understand it.  They will also discuss what they found the most interesting about Islam.

After seven minutes of discussion, groups will share what they discussed with the entire class. I will have each group go one at a time and talk about what they discussed.

Next I will assign what will be used to assess their learning.  Students will create a brochure that describes the five pillars of Islam.  The five pillars are a staple of the Muslim religion.  Therefore, it is essential that my students fully grasp the five pillars in order to completely and fundamentally understand Islam.

The five pillars of Islam are:

  1. Shahadah: declaring there is no god except God, and Muhammad is God’s Messenger
  2. Salat: ritual prayer five times a day
  3. Zakat: giving 2.5% of one’s savings to the poor and needy
  4. Sawm: fasting and self-control during the holy month of Ramadan
  5. Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime, if one is able

I will encourage students to layout the brochure any way that they like.  However, they must include in the brochure:

  • A description of each of the five pillars
  • An example of how to live out each pillar

Students will first create a rough outline-it could be as simple as a list-of what they plan to include in their brochure.  They also will sketch a layout for their brochure.

At the next class period, students will share their brochure plans with the table groups.  Other students will give them feedback on what looks good and what could be improved.  They will have class time to work on their final copy of their brochures.  At the next class section, the completed brochure will be due.  Additionally, students will turn in a one paragraph reflection on what they changed after their peer review and how they think they did.


After doing this assignment, I now understand better the importance of peer and self reflection.  I really valued getting to witness it first hand when we went over our assignments with our peers.  In my lesson, I tried to emphasize student and peer reflection as well.  It gives the students more autonomy and I think it makes them feel like they do have the ability to improve after citing it themselves, rather than an adult.  In the future, I will definitely keep peer and student reflection at the top of my list when it comes to planning lessons.

What’s Up With the Constitution?

We the People

8th Grade Social Studies Lesson Study

Content As we introduce our unit on the United States Constitution, we will examine the intent and underlying philosophies of the framers. The learning goal is to understand the concept of basic rights and the role of government.

Process The students will be split up into groups of 5. Each group will be given a different scenario to analyze. The scenarios will focus on the tension between personal rights vs. the good of the community.

1) You want to build a mountain bike trail in the woods near your house, but in doing so you would be damaging rare bird habitat.

2) Your neighbor wants to turn his back yard into a hog farm, causing strange smells to waft through your window.

3) In an effort to curb obesity, the school no longer allows the drinking of soda or other sugary beverages in school.

4) The school implements a new zero tolerance policy for cell phone use. If a student is found using her phone during school hours, the phone will be confiscated for 1 week.

The groups will be given 10 minutes to discuss the possible outcomes and issues with their given scenario. We will then come back together and a representative from each group will explain their scenario to the group, identifying the central issue that is being argued, who are the main actors, and which side they support. The students will take notes on each other’s scenarios during the presentations. For homework, after reading the chapter in their textbook on the framers of the Constitution and their guiding philosophies, they will write a reflection of the exercise they did in class and how it fits into the issues at play in the crafting the Constitution.

ProductThe students will have briefs of the scenarios from class and a written reflection.

Evaluation The students will be evaluated informally by their participation and engagement in the exercises, and their ability to apply the concepts discussed in class to the history of our Constitution.

What kinds of thinking will students need to do to participate in the lesson?

The students will use strategic thinking such as formulating, assessing and analysis when they discuss the scenarios. For the reflection the students will need to use extended thinking like connecting and applying to make the connection from the classroom exercise to the history.

To what extent do students have options or choices regarding these lesson components?

The students can interpret the scenarios any way they choose. They have the option to align more with individual rights or the collective good, either answer is correct as long as they see that there is tension between the two. For their reflection they can choose what they found meaningful and how it relates to the history.


Personal Reflection

This project proved quite challenging for me because it involved both a lesson planning aspect and a technology aspect.  These are two areas in which I have little experience.  My original lesson was very much like a traditional lesson, there was a lecture, a worksheet, and a little bit of group work for the students.  This is the way I was taught and is my first instinct when it comes to designing a lesson.  However, we have learned repeatedly that students need to have more control of the learning to truly understand concepts.  Through the peer review process I was able to rewrite my lesson to put almost all of the learning in the hands of the students.  As the teacher I simply designed the lesson, but the students came up with all the content.  I even decided to leave out the lecture all together and have the students try to make the connections themselves from the exercise to the homework reading.  I can always fill in the blanks if the reflections reveal a lack of understanding of the concepts.  Going forward I will attempt hold my lessons up to a standard of maximum allowable student interaction.  I will see where I can replace my talking with student activity, discovery, and hopefully, understanding.


we the people photo: Wang

reflection photo: essentialscafe