Teaching and Learning

Reading Workout with Literary Nonfiction and Memoir Book Clubs

Inspired by the always innovative Sarah Brown Wessling, I adapted an activity she shared this past December that she calls Reading Workouts for independent reading time.  I made a few modifcations to account for a shorter literacy block of time and the needs of my 8th grade learners, but here is my version that was a great success this past Friday.

My 4th period (the class I take to lunch) was the only class that completed this activity as a warm-up because we had extra class time, and I didn’t want to jump into the activity with only 15 minutes before our scheduled lunch time.  If time had permitted, I would have done the “warm-up/stretch” with all classes; this was a great way to get them thinking before reading time.

For all other classes, we began with a quick review of concepts we had worked on the previous day:

We then began the first formal part of our workout!  Our focus was on reading; I told students to NOT take notes at this point or to annotate, but they could use the “baby” size sticky notes to quickly flag passages of interest.  I provided baskets of the sticky notes needed for the day at every table to save time and provide ease of access to the materials.

We then moved to the second part of our workout.  Students could choose any partner they wanted; it did not have to be someone from their book club.  We lined up 2×2 outside the room and began our walking reps.  One partner led the conversation for the first rep/lap; the second partner led on the second rep/lap.  This “walk and talk” part of the workout is another idea I’ve adapted previously from Wessling.  For our reading workout, we did a modified/shorter version to fit the reading workout structure.

We then moved to the next part of our reading workout:

We then ended/cooled down with this graffiti wall/parking lot activity for our books:

This work was a great formative assessment to see how well (or not so well) students were understanding themes and issues in their books as well as the concepts/terms  of theme and issues themselves.  I created the gallery of book graffiti walls/parking lots with chart paper and signage I crafted in Word.  You can see the gallery and student work samples in the slideshow below.  We’ll get into the parking lots/graffiti walls for a gallery walk activity later this week and then continue adding our thinking about themes and issues as we get deeper into our books this month.

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You can see, hear, and learn more about the design of this activity in the video I made after school this past Friday.  I love this learning structure and plan to use it again later this year!  A big thank you to Sarah Brown Wessling for always generously sharing her ideas for the rest of us to use as they are or to adapt for our learners!  In my next post, I’ll share how we are moving forward with our book club thinking work this week, including choices for gentle note-taking strategies as we read.

Introducing Book Clubs with Partner Reading and Noticings About Themes, Central Ideas, and Issues

Yesterday, I introduced book clubs by issuing students their books with their reading tickets/schedules (see previous blog post, please).  Students also got new seating/table assignments when they arrived; I projected these onto the board as students arrived.  Students are either seating with their entire book club OR in a “subgroup” of a larger book club since some groups are reading different texts around a similar theme or genre (memoir, specifically).

Once we reviewed our reading schedule/assignment for the first week, we did a quick mini-lesson on themes, central ideas, and issues and how we might begin to notice these elements of our literary nonfiction/memoir books.  I used one of my favorite texts, Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats by Kristen Iversen, to model my thinking.  My mini-lesson and subsequent activity are modifications of a mini-lesson from the Lucy Calkins Literary Nonfiction Unit of Study in reading.

Students then broke into small groups by book club/same books or partners for subgroups of book clubs for the read aloud portion of our activity.  I have blogged earlier this academic year about the power of partner read alouds, and yesterday only reinforced my belief in their value.  Most classes were able to get about 15-20 minutes of reading time in.  Students then jotted down any initial noticings about theme, central ideas, or issues they noticed in the day’s reading.  Students will be adding to this graphic organizer as we get deeper into our books.

Yesterday was hectic, so I apologize I don’t have video for you to see/hear the partner or small group read alouds, but you can see/hear this awesome energy in my previous posts on read alouds.

Literary Nonfiction and Memoir Book Clubs: Organizing Groups and Resources for Success

We just started our literary nonfiction (my favorite genre!) and memoir book clubs yesterday!  In this post, I’ll outline the “legwork” I did to get the clubs formed and ready to go.


Book Sampling/Book Tasting

We began with a book sampling/tasting in early December; compared to years past, I kept this activity pretty low key.  I basically put 5 copies of each book selection at a table or seating area, and students rotated at their own pace.


Book Voting and Tallying/Sorting Votes

Once students completed the book tasting, they voted online in a Google Form their top three choices.  I downloaded each spreadsheet per class from Google Sheeets and sorted the spreadsheet by the first choice.  I tallied how many books got the “first choice” votes and calculated how many books I would need to meet the “first choice” requests if possible based on how many copies we owned from our bookroom (or didn’t own in several cases since I picked some newer titles for the activity).

Based on the needs, I created an Amazon wish list and shared widely through social media and my blog.  I am delighted and humbled to share that my list was pretty much completed, and I was able to give every child one of his/her top two choices.  I tweaked the working book club assignment list several times based on the incoming books purchased right up through the beginning of this week to make the clubs happen.  I actually finalized the list Wednesday night on the eve of issuing books!

I organized clubs either by book title or by related topics/genres.  You can see the clubs below by class period (I teach four sections of 8th Language Arts).

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Additional Support for Book Club Readers

The other important task I tackled prior to issuing the books and identifying the club members yesterday was to create a reading schedule for each book–all 15!  I created a master handout (you can access it here), ran copies, cut into strips, and stuffed them into the matching books.

We reviewed these schedules yesterday, and students are keeping them in the sheet protector with their overarching January course calendar.  I am also going to post these colorful versions in the room later today just in case someone loses his/her individual copy on plain paper.  This task was time consuming, but I felt it was an important one to help my students be successful in staying on track so that we can finish our books by January 31.  I am providing students two full days of class time to read and do their prep work (more on that coming next week!) with an optional third day; of course, they can also work at home on their book club reading and prep activities.


Next Steps

In my next blog post, I’ll share our first day of book club learning activities and how I re-organized my seating assignments to support my book club readers.  I’ll also share our first mini-lesson learning activities that got the students into their books to give them a “boost” with their reading and thinking!

Revisiting and Exploring Tone in Nonfiction and Fiction

Last week, we engaged in some targeted mini-lessons and learning activities to grow our understanding of tone.  We had practiced analyzing tone earlier this fall, but since this is sometimes a challenging concept for 8th graders and because I knew they would have a constructed response about tone on their 2nd quarter benchmark, I designed a few strategic and new learning experiences around tone for my students.

Day 1

We first began by reviewing some notes on the differences between tone and mood.   In addition, we reviewed the differences between denotation and connotation and looked at examples of both.  Next, I assigned students picked a partner or trio group to do our table talk activity.  We began this activity by reading and watching this excerpt of the “I Have a Dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Students were asked to work with their partner or trio to:

  1.  Identify the tone of the speech.
  2.  Identify specific word choices and/or phrases that created that tone.  Students also shared how the connotative or denotative meanings (or both) of their selected words impacted the tone of the speech.
  3. Groups shared out to the entire class their findings and reflections.

Day 2

The following day, students were asked to find a passage in their independent reading books OR to choose an alternate text I provided (a selection of poems or informational article).  Students then analyzed the tone, following the same procedure from the previous day.  I provided a thinking/drafting script for those who wanted to jot down their thoughts in writing first.  Students were asked to snap the passage they were analyzing and then post it in their Seesaw account.  Students could type a text book with their analysis, record an audio note of their analysis, or type a text note with their analysis.  They also labeled the word choices with highlights and/or arrows of the word choices they felt created the tone.  I provided a model I completed for them based on my reading of Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes.  In addition, I provided a list of positive and negative tone words for students who were struggling to find the right word.

While this task may seem easy to us as adults, it really is challenging for many 8th graders.

Day 3

We did one more analysis activity of tone, but this time, students read an excerpt of an informational text I pulled from NewsELA.  I provided students a drafting template to help them compose a paragraph in which they analyzed the tone of the informational text excerpt.  This task was similar to the one on their benchmark.  Like the previous activity, I provided an optional list of negative and positive tone words for those who needed/wanted it.  For one of my classes, I gave the students of reading the excerpt alone; my 4th period class voted to partner read aloud the excerpt and discuss it before tackling the writing task.

Additional Learning Fun with Gimkit

Depending on the pace of completion, at some points over four days students had an opportunity to play a Gimkit game on tone.  As I shared in my previous blog post, I was able to see strengths and weaknesses in understanding of this concept as my kit included many “application” types of questions.


Overall, I felt these learning activities challenged my students and pushed their critical thinking/analysis skills in a variety of ways.  What are your favorite strategies for teaching tone to middle or high school students?

I Scream, You Scream, The Students All Scream for Gimkit!

Have you tried the hottest learning tool in the edtech universe, Gimkit?  Fellow Language Arts teacher Jeanne Rountree first put this technology on my radar during preplanning in August, but I didn’t actually try it with my students until November.  According to Gimkit’s creator, high school student Josh Feinsilber, Gimkit is:

“…a game show for the classroom that requires knowledge, collaboration, and strategy to win.  Students answer questions on their own device at their own pace. Throughout a Kit, each student will get exposure to the questions multiple times to ensure mastery.  I built Gimkit to be the game I wanted to play in class! While working on Gimkit I developed a passion for making learning memorable. I graduated in June, 2019 and kept working on Gimkit because of the positive impact I know it can have for teachers and students.”

In addition to generating an insane amount of energy and excitement about learning, Gimkit has these additional awesome features:

I like that Gimkit can be used in many ways in the classroom for a live learning activity or as a homework/independent learning assignment; I think it would be fun to use the assignment features on a station rotation day.  In addition, Gimkit features a help center for educators.

I tried Gimkit as a way of creating a fun and engaging review of some of the short stories we had read in early November.  I thought my students were going to lose their minds (in a good way) when I announced we were playing a review game for those stories in Gimkit and that we would be in team mode.

 

While the game was tremendous fun, the data from the game also helped me to see gaps in understanding that we could tackle the following day in class.

I was so impressed by the student response to the game that I purchase a year’s subscription to get the extra features and unlimited kits.   It takes a LOT these days for any technology to impress me, so for me to invest in a professional subscription says volumes.

Last week, we spent several days doing a variety of learning activities on tone (blog post coming soon on that topic).  I created a kit on tone with a variety of difficulty in the questions, and students very much enjoyed the holiday theme and music that are available this month in live games.

 

If you want to learn more, I encourage you to try the free version yourself.  Here are some awesome blog posts and online reviews that will also give you ideas on how and why to use Gimkit!