Monday, September 29, 2014

Exploring Craft and Structure

A major goal of CCSS is to focus attention on the craft and structure of nonfiction. That means thinking about word choices, nonfiction text features, and how point of view shapes content. Each of these can be readily examined by using Ben Franklin’s Big Splash: The Mostly True Story of His First Invention, written by Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by S. D. Schindler. This narrowly focused book deals with Franklin’s attempts to invent items that could help him swim better—more like a fish. It highlights the beginnings of his lifelong fascination with science and invention.

After reading this book simply for enjoyment, here’s how to focus on craft and structure:

·      Word Choices: Alliteration Everywhere.  From the beginning, the author uses alliteration, or repetition of initial consonant sounds. On the first page, she describes Ben as “the sturdy, saucy, smelly, son of a soap-maker” (underlines and bold characters added). But what grabbed me the most were the words related to swimming—words like sloshed, squirting, spurting, and spouting. Other alliterative words like stared and speculated deal with scientific observing and thinking, while still others like sketched, shaped, and sanded deal with invention. You could have students list the alliterative words in the book, group them according to their shared meaning, and give each group a label. Not surprisingly, this strategy is called List, Group, and Label.

·      Text Features. There are several text features that bring meaning to the book, making the reading more interesting and enjoyable.

o   Different Sizes and Colors of Words. Words that are capitalized and written in red throughout the book highlight the author’s interpretation. For example, she tells us emphatically in red that it was Ben’s practice of swimming “WHICH MADE BEN A STRANGE KID IN COLONIAL BOSTON.” It was his invention of swim fins “WHICH MADE YOUNG BEN EVEN STRANGER THAN BEFORE.” I was delighted to discover that the words Author’s Note, at the end of the book are also colored in red. Does this connect the red in the text with the author’s interpretation? I think it does.

Words that are capitalized and written in blue throughout the book
are examples of alliteration. Sometimes there are red, blue, and black
words on the same page. These pages provide opportunities for discussing how the different colors signal different meanings. Great options, right?

o   Different Page Designs. There are single page illustrations, double-page illustrations, spreads with two or three illustrations per page, and spreads that show Ben’s thinking and imagining things. This variety of illustration and format show the different options available to the author and illustrator for presenting and enhancing meaning.

o   Author’s Note. The author’s note has several interesting features to discuss. First, it begins with a quote by Ben Franklin (in blue) about sharing inventions with others. Second, it includes a letter written by Franklin to a fellow scientist dealing with his swimming invention, but the letter was written more than fifty years after the invention. Third, it includes the author’s interpretation of that letter. There’s more. See what else you and your students can find in this author’s note.

o   Illustrations of Future Inventions. A double-page spread illustrates and labels Franklin’s later inventions, but doesn’t discuss them. This provides a perfect opportunity to begin additional research on Franklin’s many inventions.

Books that are rich examples of craft and structure are not only enjoyable to read. They show us the many ways we can think about and present life stories.

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