Blurring Genre: Exploring Fiction and Nonfiction with Diary of a Worm
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This lesson provides an introduction to the use of factual information in creative writing. Students first examine texts to identify how a published author incorporates facts in fiction writing by reading and questioning the books Diary of a Worm, Diary of a Spider, and Diary of a Fly (Cronin). After conducting inquiry on their own to gather facts on a topic decided upon by the class, students use their facts to write several diary entries collaboratively, entries which will contribute to a class book modeled on the mentor texts. Finally, students peer review each other's work, and revise and edit their own writing before using the Multigenre Mapper interactive to publish their work.
Multigenre Mapper: Students can use this online tool to create original multigenre, multimodal diary entries in genres of their choice.
From Theory to Practice
In the book Strategic Writing, Deborah Dean asserts the importance of inquiry to all effective writing (24). But inquiry doesn't apply only to research papers; it can provide the crucial details in engaging and entertaining fiction as well. Furthermore, using mentor texts helps students see possibilities for their own writing (60-61). Using mentor texts in the classroom helps students understand that what they read can help them as writers and can provide them with possibilities for writing-both in content and in genre.
In Genre Theory: Thinking, Writing, and Being, Dean explains how students develop sensitivity to how texts work differently when they are exposed to and work with a variety of genres. This increased sensitivity is important to students as they grow as writers. Finally, collaborative writing can "move students toward more thoughtful, sophisticated writing habits" (Dale 68). By working together on interpreting others' texts and writing their own, students develop as both writers and readers.
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
- 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
- 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
- 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
- 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
- 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
- 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
- 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
Materials and Technology
- Copies of Doreen Cronin's Diary of a Worm (2003), Diary of a Spider (2005), and Diary of a Fly (2007)
- Websites and print texts for student research of the class-chosen topic
- Computers with Internet access
- Obtain a copy of Diary of a Worm, Diary of a Spider, and Diary of a Fly.
- Make copies of necessary handouts.
- Gather resources (either print or online texts) for inquiry after students have chosen a class topic. Check ahead to recommend appropriate online sites.
- Depending on your students' familiarity with research skills and processes, you may wish to provide students some instruction adapted from the following ReadWriteThink lessons: Developing Searching, Skimming, and Scanning Skills with Internet Bingo; Inquiry on the Internet: Evaluating Web Pages for a Class Collection; Wading through the Web: Teaching Internet Strategies; and the interactive Fact Fragment Frenzy.
- Test the ReadWriteThink interactive Multigenre Mapper and NoteTaker to familiarize yourself with the tools and ensure you have the proper Internet plug-ins, available at our Technical Support Page.
- identify factual material in fiction writing.
- identify important information from sources.
- use information to write in a variety of text types.
- work with others to write collaboratively.
- use the writing process to produce effective, polished writing.
- Introduce the activity by asking students to discuss briefly the difference between fiction and nonfiction. Student responses will largely focus on nonfiction being factual or "true," while fiction is made up, imaginative, or "untrue."
- Affirm student responses of this sort, and tell them you want to develop their understanding of fiction and nonfiction by reading the books Diary of a Worm, Diary of a Spider, and Diary of a Fly.
- Ask students to take out pencils and paper and have them jot down everything they learn about worms, spiders, and flies as you read.
- Ask students to return to their initial observations about fiction and nonfiction. Follow up that discussion by asking students to share the factual information they found in the books.
- Discuss their answers and make a complete list of "facts" on the board. Discuss the strategies Cronin uses to weave these facts into the different diary entries of the different characters.
- Explain that the class will have the chance to explore the kind of writing that uses facts in fiction by writing a book together modeled on the Diary of. . . books. Have students make suggestions for a topic (animals work well for this activity) and vote on one for the class focus.
- Distribute the KWL chart and have students complete the "What I Know" section on the specific animal (or other topic) the class decided on.
- Have students get out their KWL charts and ask them to write questions they are interested in learning about the chosen topic in the "What I Want to Know" portion of the chart.
- If appropriate, provide a short lesson on note taking and summarizing skills. Help students understand that they do not take notes on information that they already know (and have written in their KWL chart).
- Provide time for students to conduct inquiry, either from print texts or Internet sites, taking notes in the "What I Learned" section of the KWL handout. Remind students to keep track of their sources. Although this assignment does not require a formal bibliography or Works Cited page, students will be expected to submit evidence of their sources with the final project.
- Students may wish to use the ReadWriteThink NoteTaker at this point.
- Distribute and discuss the Diary Book Rubric and answer any questions students have about the expectations for the diary entries.
- Have students meet in groups to create collaborative lists of facts on the chosen topic. Then, as a class, compile the small groups' lists into a class list of at least 25 facts the students can use in their writing. Point out that it is not necessary for all 25 facts to appear in the final project.
- Discuss genre options for the creative student texts. Return to the mentor texts and guide students to notice that, although the books are (overall) a diary, entries take several different forms: lists, reflections, retelling of events, postcards, telling dreams, and so forth.
- Lead a discussion of the qualities of each of the kinds of writing within the diary genre. Also have them describe the voice of the writing and have them consider such a voice as an option for their own writing.
- In small groups, have students decide on three textual patterns from the ones the class listed (lists, reflections, dreams, and so forth) and begin drafting the diary story, incorporating the researched information into their entries.
- Give student groups time to continue drafting their diary.
- When students are ready, have them trade drafts of their three entries with another group.
- Using the Peer Evaluation Guide, have them provide feedback for revision.
- As necessary, adapt elements from the following ReadWriteThink lessons to support writers in the revision process: More Than One Way to Create Vivid Verbs; Once Upon a Fairy Tale: Teaching Revision as a Concept; Reciprocal Revision: Making Peer Feedback Meaningful; or Shared Spelling Strategies.
- When students have received feedback, have them revise and edit their entries.
- Using the Multigenre Mapper, have students type in their entries and add a graphic before submitting the pages.
- Have students reflect on the process: what did they learn about the topic, about writing, and about writing with others? What specifically did they learn about using facts in writing? Discuss these questions as a group, or have students complete the Diary Book Reflection Questions. Use their reflections to guide future instruction and class discussion.
- Have students continue the production process by designing book elements: cover, author information, resource pages, dedication pages, and jacket summary. Use the ReadWriteThink Book Cover Creator to faciliatate this process, which can continue to develop their sense of genre.
- Bind the books and donate them to an elementary classroom, sponsoring a reading of the stories as part of the gift.
- Additional teaching ideas for Diary of a Worm can be found at Then What Happened? from Scholastic.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- Use the Diary Book Rubric to assess students’ writing and collaborative efforts.
- Consider student responses to the Diary Book Reflection Questions in their final assessment.
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