Supporting Student Conversations About Books: Senior Book Club Meeting #1

Student book clubs are a concept dear to my heart.  I’ve sponsored them in an after school context, I took a graduate class at UGA on book clubs, and I even did an action research project on student book clubs in my graduate studies at UGA.  The graduate book club class–once known as ELAN 7700 with Dr. Mark Faust–was the very first one I took on campus in Athens way back in 2002, and the experience set in motion a new course of study that shifted my professional life in a new and positive direction.   Until this year, though, I have not had an opportunity to incorporate book clubs into my own classroom.

Aderhold Hall, UGA

In a recent post, I recently shared how seniors participated in a book tasting in my classroom and how I organized students into book club groups.  With one final tweak to avoid having a small group of three students, the book club rosters were finalized around topics and themes.

Groups established meeting norms, roles, and how many pages they needed to read each week for their book on Wednesday, February 21.  These are published on our bulletin board.

On Friday, February 23, we reviewed our guidelines for the book club experience and our calendar for March the following Friday (we meet alternate days on our modified block).

As you can see from the embedded handout above, Mondays (our “skinny” day in our schedule) is an “acceleration” day to boost students and give them in class time to read with the understanding reading must be done outside of class to meet their self-determined weekly targets.  However, the Monday date provides students an opportunity to annotate and work on marking up passages as they read as they enjoy utilizing my Post-It note stash of many sizes and colors to meet everyone’s needs, plus I’m available to conference with students about their reading as needed.  We are working on argumentative writing and text structures on Wednesdays, and Fridays are our days (four total) devoted to book club meetings.

Since most of my students have never been in a book club, I have tried to build in structures to support their book club talk.  Our goal is to have 30 minutes of sustained and rich conversation about our books.  Students are required to bring the following to each meeting:

  • A one page written reflection on the week’s reading with a focus on a specific passage for discussion.
  • Annotations and marked passages with questions or talking points for discussion.
  • A current event article or reference article from any of our library databases related to their book in some way.
  • Prep work for their role in the group that week (inspired by my work with Sarah Rust a few years ago, we are using the College Board’s version of book club roles here).

Students reported directly to the media center this past Friday for our first meeting.   As students arrived, we moved tables (LOVE tables and chairs with WHEELS!), got our butcher paper for our visual notes, and distributed Sharpies and markers to each group.  Students put their phones on the designated parking lot so that they would not be a temptation for distraction and got out their meeting materials and books as we listened to the morning announcements.  After reviewing some reminders for our meeting participation and etiquette as well as tips for contributing to the visual storyboard the groups would create as an artifact of their meeting, we jumped in and students began their discussions.  I walked around the four groups with my AV cart and laptop, listening to student talk and typing notes for what I heard and observed with each group.  I made four rounds so that I could have notes on different points of book club observations during the 30 minute period.

When the meetings concluded after 30 minutes, each group received a “debrief” handout and took about 12-15 minutes to come to a consensus on their thoughts.

We then gathered to another area of the media center and groups presented their collaborative reflections from the meeting and visual notes.  As we transitioned to the meeting time, students turned in their individual work; as groups finished, they turned in their debrief notes and “posters”/visual notes of their meeting talk.

After the large group share from each book club, book clubs completed the planner sheet for meeting #2 coming up on March 9 to set roles for next week and share any notes for things I might need to know to help them prepare for the second meeting.  I made copies of these, and students received copies of their planning sheets in class today Monday (March 5).

We then ended our day with individual reflections:

After reviewing my notes with my observations as well as the student reflections completed at the end of the day Friday, I felt my students–even those in the strongest groups– needed some additional scaffolding to help them with their book club talk.  We’ll talk through these ideas on Monday before having in-class reading time, and I am eager to see if these glows/grows + scaffolding for richer talk will help students take their discussion to the next level.

As expected, the most prepared groups seemed to thrive this past Friday while the groups not as equally prepared struggled.  In the spirit of the growth mindset, I want to help students “grow” the depth an richness of their conversations, and I think those who didn’t come prepared found it difficult to fully engage in the discussions—hopefully, this teachable moment will stay with them and motivate them to be better prepared for our second meeting.

Overall, I think my students did well in their first meeting.   I know that students need time, modeling, and experience to grow their book club discussion skills, and most truly made a heartfelt effort to engage with their club members and books.a

I’d like to give special thanks to these friends and fellow Language Arts teachers who have been so incredibly supportive of my independent reading projects with all my classes and the senior book clubs:

  • Sarah Rust, Norcross High
  • Sean O’Connor, former Norcross High teacher and now Gwinnett County Literacy Instructional Specialist
  • Darrell Cicchetti, Norcross High
  • Kyle Jones, Lanier High
  • Julie Swinehart, Amman, Jordan
  • Harvey “Smokey” Daniels, godfather of literature circles and all things wonderful related to inquiry and literacy

Last but not least, a heartfelt thank you to our media specialist Suzanne Gordon at Lanier High (and fellow UGA alum) for pulling all the books I needed for the book tasting and for graciously providing us space with mobile tables and butcher paper in the media center for our weekly meetings!

How do you support student book clubs and how do you help your students grow their conversations?  How are you incorporating them into your curriculum?  Though I sadly did not get to attend their session in Atlanta a few weeks ago, I’m excited to read the forthcoming book by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle because I know from friend who did attend that Gallagher and Kittle shared their ideas and strategies for book clubs as part of a year of reading and writing studies in their new workshop about the ideas in the new book.    I also hope to book clubs in American Literature with my juniors like Julie Swineheart–check out her blog post for super ideas and inspiration!

Notebook Time + Research Metacognition=Vocabulary Yoga with Mari Andrew

For the last few months, I have been inspired by the ways Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell have used the art of Mari Andrew with their students for notebook time.


I’ve already used one illustration as a notebook prompt with my seniors earlier this year, and the students loved her work.  With these things in mind, I decided to use this illustration as a “mentor text” for my students to help them rethink a vocabulary word or concept from their research around their self-selected “future of work” topic.

With the hopes of engaging my students in some meaningful metacognition, I asked my students to think of an important vocabulary word or concept from their research and see if they could recast it in the spirit of Mari Andrew.  For groups who didn’t have colored pencils, I distributed packs of supplies to help students craft their work.  Though a few students originally got a little confused and picked a random word, most jumped right in and those who had wandered a bit got back on track with a little redirection as I walked around and “eavesdropped” on their work.


This was definitely a creative stretch for students, but I think the value was that it gave them an opportunity to really think through the qualities of the word or concept from their research they selected.  Students had an opportunity to share out their work and thinking with their peers.  Because students will create a multimedia or performance product to accompany their written paper of their research, students have the option of refining, revising, and adding to this work on a poster as part of their project portfolio.

I plan to incorporate more of Mari’s work as inspiration to help us engage in “vocabulary yoga” and think of alternate ways to represent meanings and connotations associated with words.  What other artists do you like to use for notebook time and how are you using them with your students for notebook time?  I’d love to hear your ideas!

Welcome to the Hot Seat: Philosophical Chairs for Participatory Discussions

As we move forward with our inquiry into the future of work, students have formed birds of feather interest groups this week.  Since roughly half the class is interested in artificial intelligence as well as robotics, and other groups have topic areas impacted by these technologies, I thought it would be helpful to have students engage in a discussion around the pros and cons of the ethics of artificial intelligence.

We began by using Cris Tovani’s annotation strategies (I have slightly modified her version—see Chapter 5 of her book to learn more about annotations as an assessment tool) to mark up five articles.

Students had two articles from NewsELA and three news articles from the open web.  Students took about 30 minutes to read and annotate their articles with a focus on thinking about evidence and talking points that would support or refute the ethics of artificial intelligence.   A few students took up my offer to use colored mini-sticky notes to flag their “pros” and “cons” they had noted.

After this 30 minute period of reading, annotating, and thinking, each student then received an index card and was asked to write one of the following to describe his/her feelings on this statement along with his/her name:

  • Agree
  • Disagree
  • Neutral

We then reviewed the procedures for participation in the philosophical chairs discussion and the purpose of it:

We then moved to the project room 400 across the hallway; students formed a squared off “horseshoe” with one side representing agree, one side representing disagree, and then the back or horizontal row representing neutral.  I was a bit surprised to discover roughly 85% of the class fell into the neutral zone, but I rolled with it.

At first, the students were struggling with a couple of points:

  • Articulating their talking point clearly in 60 seconds
  • Articulating a clear pro or con; many wanted to present both sides (I suspect this is why so many fell into the neutral zone?)

As moderator, I did gently remind the first few students in the “hot seat” to focus on a pro or con instead of explaining why they were neutral.  After a few rounds, they got stronger and stronger with their responses and began asking more thoughtful questions of the person in the hot seat and moving with their feet to another position when they heard a good point or compelling example to change their thinking.  Only once did I have to redirect a few students to show respect as listeners.

Overall, everyone did a great job following the rules of participation, and every person present got a chance to speak.  I do think strong articles and students annotating well are critical to helping students come prepared with relevant information and strong/specific evidence to share with the group.  My only regret is not budgeting more time for the activity—somehow, 45 minutes did not feel long enough!     We did not have enough time left to complete the essential post-activity reflection, but students jotted notes during the activity and will complete the reflection in class on Monday.

The ticket out the door was to write on the original index card whether your position had changed or not, and if so, what was the new position.  Nine students did change positions by the end of class, and 14 remained the same.  On Monday, we’ll do some reflections on the discussion as well as self-assessment.  Students will also meet in their birds of feather groups and finish their compass points discussion.  Bravo to Period 1B for a great job with first ever Philosophical Chairs discussion today, and I’m looking forward to more like this one!

Many thanks to the creators of these resources for inspiring me to try Philosophical Chairs!

Y’all Ready for This? Second Helpings Reading Rumble with Informational Text

Today we reflected on our thinking from Wednesday’s reading frenzy that gave us a chance to explore 30+ articles on the future of work before taking a second pass or helping of reading of the articles with a reading rumble.

First, we began with Writer’s Notebook 4:

We also took our questions about the future of work and added them to our door of wonder!  This is our space where we can view each other’s questions and revisit them for future inquiry in the upcoming week.

Next, I introduced the concept of a reading rumble with some music to pump us up at 7:30 in the morning!

We then reviewed our instructions for the informational text reading rumble.  

This activity gave students a chance to sample more articles than they read with our “slow” reading frenzy this past Wednesday.  After reading the article for two minutes, we used sticky notes to capture our “shortcut” annotation of the articles;  these codes come from Smokey Daniels and Nancy Steineke.

Students then captured a quick reaction or note on their reading rumble tasting logs:

Once you completed your jot notes, you moved to the next desk/article to your left, and we repeated this process roughly 8-10 times.

We then concluded with a ticket out the door that we completed on an index card and stapled to our reading log.

This activity will be our springboard to our next steps for inquiry next week.  In the meantime, we now have a collection of collaboratively annotated texts that will be available for students to browse as needed as we move further into our inquiry mini-project.

Reflections/Changes for Next Time

  • Most students seemed to enjoy the activity, but a few struggled to get into the activity.  It’s always hard to know if this is because we are meeting at such an early hour, if a student is having an “off” day,  if they are not interested the topic, or if they are not used to having opportunities for quiet reading.  These were also the same students who put “zzzz” as a text code for every article and didn’t provide any relevant or meaningful feedback with the annotation to help other students.  I will need to think about how to tweak the activity to nip this issue in the bud next time.
  • On the exit tickets, most students shared they liked the activity but wanted a little more time for each round, so instead of two-minute segments, I might adjust this to be 4-5 minutes.
  • I will give students a segment of sticky notes along with their reading menus to take with them as they travel from one article to another instead of putting the sticky notes with the articles on the desks.
  • Originally I envisioned using small sticky  notes for just an annotation code, but most students wanted to write short comments with the codes (which is great!), so I’ll just use regular sized stick notes.
  • I rearranged the room to have the desks in a square because I thought there would be better flow, but I wonder if it would have been better to have them in their original clusters of four and then have students rotate within a table group area before moving to the next cluster.
  • Overall, I am happy with this activity I designed, and I think it will be even better with a few modifications that I’ve outlined above.

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 ( ).  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)