Adventures in American Lit Book Clubs, Part 3: Connecting Themes Across Texts with Peeling the Fruit

In my last post, I shared the nuts and bolts of the student book club work and meeting structures.  After our May 14 book club meeting, I wanted the remaining class sessions leading up to the week of final exams to be meaningful for students and engaging.  I wanted positive energy and for students’ final learning experiences to be relevant and challenging.  On Tuesday and Wednesday (May 15-16) , my students composed book club reflections and complete a self-assessment; they also had the opportunity to work on a quote analysis assignment for their individual book.  For the final two days, Thursday and Friday, I wanted my students to have an opportunity to work in mixed book club groups and participate in conversations that would give them an opportunity to hear about other books and to do some critical thinking.

On Thursday, May 17, my 2A Honors class used the Peeling the Fruit thinking routine (also see here) to examine big ideas across multiple book club texts.  As students arrived, they received a handout with a set of 8 questions on one side and their mixed book club groups seating assignment to help them find their “new” group for the day quickly and easily.  Setting up the groups in both classes was a little bit of a balancing act because some students were taking district or state tests that day, and because there were varied numbers for each book club group, I was not always to have a member of each book represented in every mixed book club group for the day since those numbers varied.

We first started with 10-15 minutes of quiet thinking and writing; students wrote jot notes on their papers in response to these questions:

Next, students spent about 20 minutes with Turn and Talk time within their groups as they shared their thoughts and responses to the eight conversation starter questions:

The turn and talk time gave students an opportunity to debrief each other on their books and to have some common starting points for talking about their books and the big ideas in the books.

Next, it was time to do some collaborative critical thinking.  I gave each group a “Peeling the Fruit” template (I used this one) and reviewed the procedures for “Peeling the Fruit”; these were our big ideas:

  • Layer 3 or The Core:  what theme or big idea speaks to each of your texts?  What theme or big idea do they have in common?  Though the core is the ending point when you use this routine over a series of days or weeks, I used it as our starting point since we were doing the activity in a compressed time setting.  However, if I were doing mixed book clubs in the future, I would use this routine throughout the book club process and let students arrive at their conclusions of their own big idea as they traced their thinking through the book over time.   This starting point generated intense discussion and the students in Period 2A were engrossed in weighing and comparing themes to come to a consensus.
  • Layer 1 or “Getting Under the Skin”:  normally this layer is your starting point when you use Peeling the Fruit over a series of days or weeks.  However, in my modified use of this thinking structure, students made this their second step after deciding a common theme or big idea.  This space on their charts is where they gathered textual evidence from their books that exemplified the theme.
  • Layer 2 or “Substance”:  in this section, students shared how their textual evidence represented the theme; this space is where students connect the textual evidence to the big idea.

I also reviewed “intersection points” for making connections across texts.

Once students finished their discussions and planning, they received markers and oversized Post-It notes–and off they went to crafting their posters!  It was fascinating to see how each group approached their work.

Students worked intensely the entire 90 minute period–no small feat for the final day of class prior to finals!  Though some students transposed their layers, they still engaged in the critical thinking piece, and ultimately that was my goal for them and to see connections across their different texts : Of Mice and Men, The Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, and Raisin in the Sun. Because they worked up until the very end, we didn’t have time to do an extended gallery walk or poster presentation though students did get to browse them prior to the final exam in class.  In the future, I would do this activity and then end with the book club reflections and self-assessment to allow enough time for a meaningful gallery walk or poster presentation session and discussion.

My big takeaway:  I don’t know if I have ever students work with such enthusiasm on the final regular day of class in the 25 years I have been teaching!  It was a wonderful last day of regular class, and the students really enjoyed digging into the big ideas of their books.  In my next post, I’ll share another Making Thinking Visible structure, Circle of Viewpoints, that I used the following day with my 3B Honors class and how we used that thinking structure to kick up our cognition across multiple texts.

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