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.

Accelerating Student Dialogue with Speed Dating Discussions

In recent years, I’ve been very intentional about integrating student discussion strategies along with the hard academic skills and soft social skills inherent in student conversations for learning.  Our state 8th grade English Language Arts standards also value speaking and listening as well as comprehension and collaboration:

ELAGSE8SL1: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 8 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
a. Come to discussions prepared, having read or researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence on the topic, text, or issue to probe and reflect on ideas under discussion.
b. Follow rules for collegial discussions and decision-making, track progress toward specific goals and deadlines, and define individual roles as needed.
c. Pose questions that connect the ideas of several speakers and elicit elaboration and respond to others’ questions and comments with relevant evidence, observations, and ideas.
d. Acknowledge new information expressed by others, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views and understanding in light of the evidence presented.

In early November, we utilized a discussion strategy I first learned in Dr. Bob Fecho’s class way back in the fall of 2002 at the University of Georgia:  speed dating.  I’ve used it over the years with middle and high schoolers for a variety of topics and texts, and I’ve done assorted variations of it with great success–it is always a student favorite.  This year I decided to provide my students some scaffolding by using these resources to facilitate discussion and reflection.

The biggest challenge for my 8th graders was understanding to pass their discussion ticket to the left while moving their bodies to the next seat to the right during our rotations.  For my team taught class, I eliminated the discussion tickets and just projected a common discussion topic on the board for each rotation.  Texts for discussion included the story “Fish Cheeks” and the poems “I Ask My Mother to Sing” and “Peaches.”  I was able to modify the prompts with this template, and I then printed them out on colored paper before cutting into strips.

Depending on how many texts we were discussing per class (again, I differentiated for each class period), we either completed one day or two days of speed dating chats with roughly 3-4 minutes of discussion per rotation.

For my smaller team taught class discussion group, we did a variation by spreading out discussion partners around the room.  This method of “speed dating” (we still did rotations!) worked great for this class because it was not so overwhelming and students weren’t distracted by conversations of people sitting right next to them.  This class, like my others, showed effort and growth with their discussion skills as well as their listening skills.

For all classes, students jotted down their notes in a 3 minute “pause” period I provided at the end of each discussion round.  Otherwise, I found 8th graders were focusing too much on writing down notes and not really listening or engaging in discussion with their partner.

At the end of the speed dating experience, students provided feedback on the speed dating chats and engaged in self-assessment of themselves with a Google Form.  Overall, the responses was very positive even from students who were reluctant to chat.  My 8th graders overwhelmingly shared they wanted to do more discussion opportunities like speed dating chats!  They also provided feedback on the timing of each discussion round as well as any suggestions for future speed dating chats with this form.

How do you scaffold student discussions, and how do you help them reflect on their discussion skills and interactions with others?

In my next few blog posts, I’ll share some additional discussion strategies we’ve used this fall, including Pop-Up Discussions (hat tip to Dave Stuart, Jr.) and Socratic Seminars.

Finding a Path into Poetry with Annotations, FSLL Charts, and Poetry Chats

Last week  (April 17) we began our exploration of poetry with an inquiry-oriented warm-up.  I presented students two documents:

  • An annotated copy of “Alone” by Maya Angelou (annotations by me)
  • A FSLL (Feelings, Story, Language, and Lines) that I had completed for “Alone” by Maya Angelou.

Students could work alone or with a partner to record their noticings about the annotation strategies evident on the poem; they also recorded their noticings about the kinds of elements discussed in the FSLL chart.   They also got to talk about any overalap they saw between the two.  Once students had recorded these noticings, we shared out to the whole class.

The next day, we engaged in a class reading of “Every Day” by Naomi Shihab Nye; this poem is part of a collection in her book A Maze Me:  Poems for Girls, a longtime favorite of mine.  Students practiced annotation the poem and working on their FSLL charts for the “Every Day”; students also had the opportunity to share their work with a partner.

My two “accelerated” classes also had the opportunity to complete a sticky note lit analysis jigsaw by finding two metaphors and one symbol in the poem.  Students had the opportunity to identify the literary element, draw a sketchnote to represent what they saw in their minds when they read those lines, and to write a short explanation of the literary element and how it contributed to the overall message or meaning of the poem.

This past week we engaged in poetry chats to generate conversation and share our thinking about the poem.  I did two variations of the poetry chat:  one version was set up like a timed station rotation, and the other was structured more like table talk with a large class share.

With the station rotation version, we did timed stations in which students wrote their responses on butcher paper.  This pretty much took the entire class period and is a great option when you have the luxury of time.  On Day 2, each group was assigned the task of reading over the responses and generating a 3-2-1 reflection to share with the whole class:

Students received a performance assessment grade for their poster presentation and a separate grade for the written poster (content, response to the writing/thinking directions).

A quicker version that is also meaningful is to assign a question prompt to each table group and let them brainstorm their responses on a large sticky note to to then share out to the whole class.  Though they don’t get the benefit of the silent “write around” and seeing the thinking of an entire class like the longer version,  this version still engages student in teamwork and critical though as well as an opportunity to speak to the entire class.  I used the same prompts for both variations of poetry chat, and I also provided supporting notes on any literary elements I felt might be helpful for students.  You will note my question prompts say “silent” because originally I had planned for each class to do the silent write-around part first, but as many of you know, time is at a premium right now, and I was not able to do it with three sections due to time constraints.

We are on the eve of state Milestones testing here, but we’ll continue to read poems and analyze them using the FSLL strategies/question prompts to annotate and think about poems.  Our next steps will be to take our charts to the next level with 11×17 posters, so stay tuned for a new post on that in May!

Getting to Know You: Six Word Memoirs

This past spring, I was inspired by a post from the wonderful Moving Writers blog that gave me the idea to begin my school year with six word memoirs.  This past Wednesday, my 12th Honors ELA seniors were introduced to the writer’s notebook purpose and protocols.  Our first writer’s notebook invitation asked students to look at a set of roughly 11 sentences that served as our mentor texts (six word memoirs, which was still not known yet to students) as I want my students to begin reading like writers.  Students were asked to record their noticings about the sentences; they could focus on length, structure, mood, word choice, style, punctuation, and topics.

Our writing prompt was a springboard to small group discussions and then a lightning round large group share.  I then asked students to count the number of words in each sentence since no group noticed they were all six words.  This prompted noticing elicited surprise from the students and was the springboard for us watching a TEDxvideo about six word memoirs from the founder of the genre, Larry Smith (https://youtu.be/jR1V7lxsOu0 ).  Students then did a follow up post in the writer’s notebook reflecting on the video; many were impressed that so few words could make a difference, and we had a class discussion about how we might use this medium of writing as a possible class writing project to make a difference in our Lanier High community to create a space for student six memoirs and their stories.

We then went to work drafting and polishing our six word memoirs.  Once finished, students their six word memoirs on the bulletin board in our classroom to share and celebrate our writing.

If you are interested in buying sentence strips, I use these from Amazon (they were a good bit cheaper when I purchased mine); these Pacon sentence strips might be a good alternative.

Below is my slideshow I used to guide our lesson as well as a copy of the mentor texts I culled from the Six Word Memoirs website.


Gwinnett County Schools AKS (standards) In This Lesson:

Reading Literary AKS

LA12.A.5: analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact (I)

Writing AKS

LA12.C.29: write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences (I)

LA12.C.28 draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research (I)

LA12.C.22: write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences (I)

Speaking and Listening AKS

LA12.D.30: initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (e.g., one-on- one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11–12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively (I)