Realistic Fiction Writing: Narratives with Meaning
When I was told I was going to be teaching a 7th grade section this year (I only ever taught 6th and put my heart and SOUL into 6th), I was instantly stressed. What OTHER writing could I possibly do that I haven't done with my 6th graders? I do personal narrative, fiction writing in response to reading, research essays, eBooks, literary essays, and fantasy writing in 6th...that's a whole lot! When I prepped my 6th grade units, my intention was to cover everything.
Well, I always search first for Units of Study by Lucy Calkins. I know many people have mixed feelings about her, as do I, but I love her units as a basis for my own units. I do not use her units religiously and never use the scripted writing. So, I got the 7th grade writing units and started digging through the material.
One of the first units is Realistic Fiction Writing. I read the unit and here's my take on it.
I start with revisiting personal narrative writing. I have them brainstorm ideas for personal narratives and actually write those narratives. As always, I sample one for them. This also allows me to see their writing abilities since this is my first writing unit for the school year.
After they write their narrative, I continue the process of brainstorming based on their own lives. I like to give a lot of real-life examples of movies or shows that were inspired by the creator's own life. I reference the book Ghost by Jason Reynolds, a read-aloud they had the year prior, and how that was inspired by his own childhood.
So, they list more moments from their lives that could inspire fictional stories. I then have them start listing story ideas, encouraging them to focus on a problem that could occur.
After every brainstorm, they write about a topic. They try out the stories.
Next up, and this is where I want them to zero in, I have them focus on current events and social issues. We discuss issues in the world, list those issues, and write ideas based on those issues. I have them go on Newsela for inspiration on topics.
Once they lock down an idea for a story, the next important aspect of realistic writing is character! They complete a slide that focuses on the main character, what they want, what motivates them, what obstacles get in the way, and attitude toward themself/others.
We touch upon the opposing character but not a ton as I want this to be focused more on the issue and on the main character. I did a lot of character developing the year prior with their fantasy stories. I also don't do a lot with setting because, like I said, this was more important with the fantasy writing. I wanted this story to be character-centered.
I love teaching students to write scenes as opposed to a set structure. The Lucy Calkins' unit has a lesson on putting the character in an everyday scene. I elaborated on that, having the students use this scene as an opener. Putting the character in their world DOING something is a great introduction in a story. Having them in school, at camp, at home...interacting with people (or not). This all can pave the way to what could happen in the story.
The final step before getting into the drafting of the full story is planning out the story. I always use a story structure chart as my go-to for this. First, I have them use the chart with a mentor short story...one I've used before. Then, they plan their stories based on the chart. You could get this chart for free if you subscribe to my site!
Last but not least, they write! I have a story that I show them. I go through it with them, working through revisions, etc. It's super important that you write what you expect them to write.
That's Not All
There are so many lessons you can do within this unit. Some other lessons you should get into, if not addressed already:
I do show don't tell, focusing on description.
A few lessons on dialogue. Not just punctuating it, but using it to elaborate.
Giving characters problems. You could do this by analyzing some mentors and how the characters always have problems. Interpret how the author presents the problem.
Speaking of mentors, I spend a lot of time having them look at mentor stories, analyzing author's craft and story structure. This also follows my investigating characterization unit.
You may want to consider going over mood and tone, as well, although I focus on this more during fantasy.
My students loved my story. They actually cheered at the end! They really liked writing about realistic situations because they were able to relate to the scenarios.
It's a great unit to follow a character unit or a personal narrative unit. It's also a great way to start the year with writing.
You can get this entire unit by clicking the picture below!
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