Karen McGee worked as a primary teacher for 15 years and as the Reading Coordinator for WCSD for 15 years. Now retired, she volunteers two days a week at Jessie Beck Elementary in her grandson and her granddaughter’s classrooms. As a member of NNWP for over 20 years, she acted as Co-director for two years and as an instructor for the Open Writing Project for 15 years. She has published her writing twice, as a member of a team teaching group and as the director of the Homeless Literacy Project.
Karen credits this lesson idea to Mrs. Megan Condon at Jessie Beck Elementary in Reno, Nevada, whom Karen co-taught the lesson with.
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Big Ideas behind this Lesson:
Trait Focus: Voice —The concept focus is how Voice changes as one takes on a new persona.
With assistance, identify first-person point of view;
With assistance, make connections to self, other texts, and/or the world;
With assistance, write friendly letters following an established format.
Talking and Reading:
After reading Paul Galdone’s The Three Bears, a more traditional version of the folktale, I taught “The Three Bears Chant,” emphasizing the different voices of the three bears. Mrs. Condon (my teaching partner) had a similar Three Bear chant, and she demonstrated how she, too, changed her voice. We then talked about how different voices can tell us who is talking.
After I demonstrated writing a letter to Goldilocks using Papa Bear’s voice, I explained how my word choice showed that Papa Bear was very serious and stern, maybe even mad at Goldilocks. After Mrs. Condon demonstrated writing her letter to Goldilocks using Mama’ Bear’s voice, she explained that her word choice showed how sad she felt that Goldilocks had come into her home uninvited. We then told the students that they could take on the voice of one of the three bears, but that we hoped to be able to tell which bear they had chosen before seeing the signed name at the end of the letter.
Because this was not the first letter writing experience for these students, we did not directly teach the formatting for friendly letter writing. Instead, as each of us modeled the letter, we did a “think aloud” reminding the students about where to put capitals and why, where to put commas, and where to indent. On the second model, we invited the students to blurt out their own “think alouds.”
After the students had written their own letters, we read the James Marshall version of the story (Goldilocks and the Three Bears), emphasizing how Marshall showed his own voice with his word choice to show humor while still telling the folktale.
On chart paper, I wrote a letter to Goldilocks from Papa Bear. Mrs. Condon then wrote her letter to Goldilocks from Mama Bear. We kept both models available for students to refer to for letter writing conventions, for spelling, or for ideas as they wrote their letters. The students wrote their own letters to Goldilocks, taking on the persona of one of the three bears. The most capable students wrote their letters entirely on their own, while I pulled the most “at risk” students to guide their writing. We supported the middle-range children only at point of need.
The Three Bears Chant, two modeled examples of letters, construction paper to make a directed cutting of a bear.
Over several succeeding days, students read their letters to Goldilocks aloud. Students used a hand signal to indicate which voice was represented in the letter prior to the author revealing the answer. When many students were able to determine the correct voice, we discussed, as a class, the clues within the letter that led us to our conclusions. If many students were unable to determine which Bear’s voice was being used, as a class, we made suggestions to the author about how the letter could have been “voice activated.” This group “out loud revision” was invaluable for the less able writers. Given time, in your classroom, you may wish to have the students rewrite their letters using class suggestions. We displayed all of our letters along with our “Three Bears” art project.