November and December: The Perfect Time for the Writing Mini-Unit
If you’re reading this in mid-November, your next month is about to be an interrupted mess.
Partial weeks, holiday programs, special events, and distracted students define the final four weeks until winter break. Sometimes it seems like we can’t get anything done during this time period. We have this great long-term project idea that will be highly engaging for students to keep them motivated through the holidays. Every day is planned out perfectly so the unit ends the day before break. It supposed to work flawlessly, right? Unfortunately, that never happens. I’ve been there. You probably have too. One program bumps a lesson to the next day, which gets delayed by snow, which gets bumped by a music performance, until you’re trying to cram a week’s worth of work into that final day in December when nobody’s mind is on school (not even yours). Why do we do this to ourselves?
There is a better alternative. I call it the writing mini-unit. These one-week units fit perfectly into the fractured weeks ahead. So what is a writing mini-unit? Well, it’s going to mean different things to different grade levels. I’ll explain what I have planned for my students and the thinking behind my decisions, and hopefully it will be something you can adjust to fit into your classroom.
First, when deciding what content might work best in a mini-unit, think about the big writing projects you have coming up in January, February, and March. Then, develop a mini-version of that unit to teach before the break. This way, you can teach the basics of the genre or skill now and build upon them later.
For example, in January, my students will write a major persuasive piece – a letter we actually send out to a self-selected audience. So, in late November, we will do a mini-unit on persuasive writing. We’ll learn a few of the basics as students produce a persuasive paragraph reviewing a movie, television show, or video game. Just a paragraph! Resist the urge to develop this into a monster piece that swallows all your time and your sanity. The students will benefit from a bit of prep work in this genre before that major piece later in the year.
Additionally, during the second semester, my students will write a large informational composition about a self-selected state history topic. They will be doing lots of research, including finding sources and paraphrasing what they learned. So, in early December, we do a writing mini-unit about animal adaptations. Students work with a partner, using our lessons to learn about researching a topic, to create a short Google Slides presentation. Since our state science standards include a section on animal adaptations, we’re hitting two birds with one stone! The kids are motivated, interruptions and delays can be handled, and I’m not going crazy.
Think about what big writing projects you have coming up after winter break. Are there some background skills students would benefit from being exposed to early? Try shaping those in writing mini-units to use in late-November and December instead of the massive unit you might be worried about getting started right now. The kids will be glad you did…and so will you!