Introducing Students to Ralph Waldo Emerson with Gallery Walks, Notebook Time, and Speed Dating Discussions

We are coming down the home stretch of the semester in a fast and furious manner.  Because time is limited, I am being selective in the pieces of literature I want my juniors to read as we explore the key transcendentalist writers in American literature.  I first introduced students to Emerson with a gallery walk that invited students to read, reflect, and interpret 20 different quotes from Emerson.  Students had the opportunity to record their noticings about the quotes and what they felt the quotes meant; they also were asked to record themes of importance on their graphic organizer (a menu of themes was provided).  We did the gallery walk in the hallways just outside of my classroom:

Once students had completed the gallery walk, we used notebook time to record patterns of noticings and reflections on the quotes we read.  Some classes did this indoors with a nature video playing on the board (thank you YouTube), but the weather was nice enough last Tuesday for me to take one class of juniors outdoors for our writing time:

When we returned inside, students had the opportunity to read an excerpt of the first chapter of Nature, annotate that text, and do some quick notes on a graphic organizer to prepare for the upcoming next class session and our class discussion about the text.

Because we are on a modified block schedule, my classes meet either T/Th or on Wed./Fri.  For the second class session, I originally planned on doing a concentric circles discussion to help students engage in meaning making about the text.  However, after my first two classes, I realized that format wasn’t quite working, so I punted on Thursday during my planning period.  I rearranged the desks in my room and organized the students into “speed dating” interview/discussion groups.  This version of the activity (which I learned years ago from Dr. Bob Fecho at UGA) basically was accomplishing the same goal as concentric circles, but it worked MUCH better for my remaining three classes on Thursday and Friday.  I threw out questions based on the text, their gallery walk, and their writer’s notebook responses; while some students did not engage in discussion as much as I hoped, many really got into the activity and got as much out of the learning experience as they put into it.  Students were required to take notes during the discussion so that they could capture the ideas of their discussion partners.

When students finished, they began working on four post-activity reflection questions that asked them to not only reflect on the text itself and its connections to principles of transcendentalism, but they were also asked to reflect on their understandings they gained from the activity as well as their best discussion partner.

Because we had to give a performance final exam the first three days of this week, we will use the last two days of this week to bring it all together and share out our key ideas and understandings.  Though I had to do some fine tuning in progress and not all students engaged with the activities, those who did shared how much they enjoyed everything and how the learning activities connected and built upon each other.  I would definitely introduce Emerson in this manner again in the future, and I love the simplicity yet power of student talk and thinking instead of me being the “sage on stage” doing all the work and thinking for them.  Some students are not used to these activities and push back because it is easier to be lectured to and to answer some low level  thinking questions on a worksheet.  I’ll continue to encourage those reluctant to engage in critical thinking as well as those who love engaging in higher level conversation and meaning making with unfamiliar and challenging texts.

2 thoughts on “Introducing Students to Ralph Waldo Emerson with Gallery Walks, Notebook Time, and Speed Dating Discussions

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