making thinking visible

Adventures in American Lit Book Clubs, Part 4: Circle of Viewpoints Across Multiple Texts

In my last post, I shared how I set up “mixed” American Lit book club groups to facilitate a final cross-text discussion.  My 2A Honors class utilized the Making Thinking Visible strategy of Peeling the Fruit to make connections across texts.  For my 3B Honors class that met the following day, we utilized another Making Thinking Visible strategy called Circle of Viewpoints.

Just like the Period 2A class, Period 3B students were organized into mixed groups; this particular class required some adjustments at the beginning of class that due to an unusual number of absences.    However, the tweaking of groups did not take long, and students did the same silent written response and then “Turn and Talk” warm up thinking/discussion activities as 2A.  These activities took the first 30 minutes of class prior to our lunch break.  When students returned, we reviewed the protocols and instructions for looking at themes and big ideas across books through the Circle of Viewpoints lens:

Students were asking to craft their poster using the Circle of Viewpoints protocol:

  • The center of our circle was a big idea, issue, or theme that spoke to all of the books; group members selected this theme.
  • In the second layer of the circle, students identified a character from their books and choose to look at the theme/issue/big idea through that character’s eyes.
  • In the third layer, the students explained how the issue, theme, or big idea looked to that character through the character’s eyes.  Several students chose to write from a first person perspective; a few completed this task using a third person point of view.
  • The final outer layer provided students to post a big question–this could be a question that students had after engaging in the analysis or a question they felt their character might ask about the big idea, theme, or issue they were analyzing across texts.

Just like Peeling the Fruit, the Circle of Viewpoints thinking structure generated intense discussion in every group.  Most groups discussed their ideas first before sketching a rough draft and then crafting their posters.  Several students also pulled their annotation notes and organized them into a folder as a reference point for textual evidence to support their responses.

Just like Period 2A, we hung our posters around the room.  Because the activity did take the entire 90 minute block, we did not have time for a formal gallery walk, but many students took the initiative to walk about and examine what their peers had to say.


Though I wish we’d had more time for a formal gallery walk and subsequent whole class discussion, the activity was engaging for students and generated intellectual energy while giving students a chance to share and think about their books in a mixed book club setting.  Given that this was the final day of class prior to final exams and took place as AP and EOC exams were ending, I was pleased with the level of engagement I saw from students.

In my next and final post in this series, I’ll share some student reflections on the book club experience and how our semester long independent reading turned out to be a pivotal key in the success of the book clubs.  If you would like to read the previous posts in this series, you can access those posts easily below:

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.

Gettin’ Sticky With It: Post-It Notes for Formative Assessment, Sharing, Meaning Making, and Noticing

During the week of August 14-21,we read and discussed together the following Native American selections in all of my 11th Language Arts classes:

  • “The Earth on Turtle’s Back”
  • “When Grizzlies Walked Upright”
  • from The Iroquois Constitution

During that week we engaged in a good bit of collaborative work with station work and partner created Venn diagrams.  On Tuesday and Wednesday (we are on a modified block with A days and B days) , we used class time  to do some thinking, reflecting, and sharing on an individual level about the those Native American selections we read the previous week.  Students had the entire 90 minute block to complete the following graphic organizer over the three selections:

Originally, I envisioned students would visit the “stations” I had set up around the room with flyers containing the thinking prompt, QR codes with a virtual version of the hard/physical copy, and a parking lot to post the Post-It notes, but I realized prior to the activity that most of my students often need some quiet individual time for thinking before we begin moving about and get frenetic, or that is at least a need at this point in time.

Once students completed the graphic organizer, they transferred their responses to the sticky notes I provided them. I differentiated the required number of Post-It note shares; for some classes, students shared all 12 responses.  For other classes, I asked them to select their best “x” responses (example:  select and copy what you feel are your strongest 6 answers).

Students called me over to read their graphic organizer before beginning the Post-It note work; for the classes that had the modification of selecting their “x” number of strongest responses, it was interesting to see how many students looked to me to help them select their best responses.  In those instances, I simply asked the student, “What do you think and why?”, and he/she would immediately begin talking me through their self-selection process.  I loved hearing the students think aloud to me, and I think this process also gave many students a little more confidence in his/her decision-making.

Because we do have 90 minute blocks, students used Thursday/Friday (and some will finish on Monday, our “skinny” day) to do an individual or partner gallery walk (see below).

Students visit each “station” of responses and can jot down a response that was memorable or significant to him/her/them OR write about a pattern of responses he/she/they notice(s).   In addition, many students did a first pass of reading as they visited and taped up their Post-It note responses (air is turned off overnight in my building; consequently, the humidity kills the adhesive power of even the “super” sticky Post-It notes).

Many students shared positive feedback about the activity in terms of getting to read the content as well as the colorful look to our room.   I feel it is important to use all of the available wall space inside my room (and any that I can use outside of it!) to create galleries of student crafted work whether we are actively utilizing it for a community knowledge building activity or just simply sharing and celebrating our thinking in a visible way.  At the beginning of the year, I was very intentional about leaving wall (and bulletin board) space empty so that we would have places to share our work and create gallery walk stations; this belief was reinforced by this post from Megan Kortlandt of the fabulous Moving Writers blog.  Many thanks to Smokey Daniels for reminding me of this fabulous resource for envisioning the classroom environment from Smokey and Sarah Ahmed’s wonderful book, Upstanders.