When I was younger, I was obsessed with the video games Final Fantasy. These were video games called role-playing games. Basically, you played as the main character, live his life, encounter new characters, battle, and more. It was a story...amazing story.
A friend of mine and I would write fan-fiction to our favorite game of the series, Final Fantasy VII. We'd put our favorite characters into made up scenarios and write stories about them. We also would act them out. We were way cool.
I also would get my hand on any books or merch from the games that I could find. I actually still have all the game walkthrough books.
Now, this may not be totally relatable to most of you, but think about your favorite television show or movie. If you Google it, you will find what's called a Wiki. These are for the ultimate fans. I though this would be a great writing activity for my students! Read about how I do this with my 7th graders!
What is a Companion Book? The 4 Components:
A companion book is a book that accompanies a show, series, or another book. It analyzes the book, series, etc. in great detail. It'll often list alternate theories about popular ideas in the story. It will detail character relationships and settings. It will analyze how the book/story connects to things in the real world (philosophies, histories, other films/books). Really, the possibilities are endless.
Take a look at this table of contents for a Hunger Games companion.
This shows the four major components of a companion book. I made these up. This is not true for all, but for most. You will also see a lot of this on Wiki sites.
Prior to this unit, my students completed an historical book club unit. They focused on reading skills during that unit. So, they have to read a book PRIOR to this unit.
I get a bunch of companion books from my public library. It doesn't really matter if the students know the material; the point is for them to just look through the books. I also have them look up some Wikis of things they are into. Here is a picture of some of the books I requested.
I have them look for specific things in the books and just take basic notes. I think this is so important before writing anything. They need to look at mentors.
At this point, students should have had some exposure to the basics of non-fiction text structure, otherwise, a refresher is definitely needed. I do three major lessons with this. First, they look through the companion books I got from the library and they try to find specific text structure focusing on key words. They don't have to know the book at all; they should be able to find the text structure either way. Here is the sample I used:
These are great examples from The Hunger Games Companion. It shows them how the book is set up in all different formats.
From there, I have them practice writing using the different types of text structure. I actually really love this activity. They pick a show or movie they love and try using the text structures writing about that series. Honestly, they were so much more excited about this than doing it with their texts that I may end up doing that as the whole project next year ha!
Anyway, I did samples based on The Office.
Next, I have them apply this to the book they are focusing on for their project. I have them think about how they could use text structure in their own companion website. I focused on my text, We Are Not Free, which is a historical fiction book set in internment camps.
The Four Components of a Companion
This is when I discuss the four components I mentioned earlier in the blog. They are going to have to create sections, or chapters, for EACH component. You could do more or less. So, a section that is narrative, a section that is explanatory, another that is investigation, and another that is author's craft.
They start with brainstorming what they could do for each section of their companion site. What narrative (fiction) could they write? What could they explain to those new to the book? What aspect of history could they investigate and connect to their books? What literary elements can they focus on for their book
I then give them time to prep each section in Slides. For the narrative, they have to plan ONE of three options: a continuation, a point-of-view story, or a prequel. (Next year, I think I am going only give one option...my kids need a bit more help with their narrative writing.)
They then write their narrative. Short and sweet...not a super lengthy narrative. (I do an entire narrative unit earlier in the year, so it's not focusing on narrative skills so much as it focuses on how they are connecting to the book).
I give them a bunch of planning slides and this checklist. (You can find those slides more in my unit.)
After the narrative is the explanatory section. For this, they have to explain something specific. Similar to the narrative, they receive planning slides to prep for their website. They use the checklist below to be sure they have everything. I only had my students do 2 sections.
Next up is the investigative section. For this, students are required to do more synthesizing. They do a bit a research on their history and connect it to their stories. For example, I focused on the actual Japanese internment camps. Within We Are Not Free, these camps are referenced quite often. I took quotes from the book to show that that, while comparing it to the real internment camps.
Lastly, they do an author's craft section. They have to choose one literary element to focus on to apply to their story. This isn't anything fancy. They just have to write a reading response like I've taught them. All of the elements are elements we've discussed before. Below is my sample prep slide.
The first year I taught this, the students made their sites on Wix. Big mistake. It was super complicated for them. The did a great job trying. This year, I had them use Canva. There is a new option to create a website. It's super user friendly. The only issue I have is when published, it didn't "feel" like a website. I am hoping next year they will work out the kinks.
My procedure would be: one day work on a section in Google Slides to brainstorm, then the next they'd go on Canva and add their material there. They had a cover page, a brief "about the author" page, then the rest of their sections.
She is a super high achiever, but it's a perfect example.
A companion website is an amazing way to do multi-genre writing. You could do it as one complete writing unit, or even spread it out all year. It's probably best to do it later in the year as a culminating assignment, too, because you can see all they've learned.
It's super rigorous, but they really can handle it!
You can get this unit from Teachers Pay Teachers store by clicking below!