Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Making Meaning in Literature Grades 6-8
Conversations in Literature — Workshop

About Making Meaning in Literature: A Workshop for Teachers, Grades 6-8

Individual Workshop Descriptions

1. Introducing our Literary Community
2. Encouraging Discussion
3. Going Further in Discussion
4. Diversity in Texts
5. Student Diversity
6. Literature, Art, and Other Disciplines
7. Assessment
8. Planning and Professional Development
9. Starting in September...

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Key Points

Learning Objectives

Background Reading

Homework Assignment

Classroom Connection
Ongoing Activity

Additional Reading

Extension: Classroom Connection

Student Activities
Try these activities with your students.

Select a poem or short story that you have never read before. Tell your students that this is your first reading of the text. Together you can discuss the meaning of the literature and explore its possibilities. Students will see you as a member of the classroom community, taking risks and examining a piece of literature for the first time.

Book Buddies
Ask students to correspond with another student about the book they are currently reading. This can be a book that students are reading independently or it may be a book they are examining as a class or as a small book group. Offer suggested topics for the students to write about in their letters. Distribute the activity sheet Book Buddies: Letter Writing Topic Suggestions. (See the Appendix in the Support Materials.)

Responding Through Art
Select literature rich in description or imagery. Consider novels like The Giver by Lois Lowry, Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, or Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Also, the poetry of Robert Frost, or short stories by Edgar Allan Poe or Ray Bradbury would be appropriate. You may choose to focus on literary concepts like color imagery in a poem or a setting description, or characterization in a short story or novel. Ask students to sketch an artistic representation of the literary concept related to the text. Provide students with large art paper, colored pencils, pastels, or markers to enhance their drawings. Ask students to write a paragraph explaining their artistic response to the literature and how the work represents their reactions to the text. Display the artwork and offer students time to share their drawings.

Use your experience from the Going Further portion of this workshop experience to guide you in implementing this activity.

Responding Through Music

  • Select a poem rich in sound, rhythm, or rhyme, for instance poems like "The Bells" by Edgar Allan Poe, "Harlem Sweeties" by Langston Hughes, or "March for a One-Man Band" by David Wagoner. Play with the different sounds in the poem by creating a "choral round" reading of the poem with different groups of students focusing on selected phrases, words, sounds, or lines. Consider inviting students to make up an additional verse that imitates the poet. As an extension to this activity, invite the music teacher to collaborate with your class. Either through vocal sounds or hand-held percussion instruments, enhance the poetic reading. Conduct a discussion after the musical reading, asking students to explain how their experience added to their understanding of the poem.
  • Ask students to select a song that reminds them of the literature you are currently studying. Ask student volunteers to bring in these selections of music for class listening. Listen to the music selections and discuss how they might represent the literature. Model this activity with a poem and a music selection of your own. Be certain to explain your expectations for music selections and what you consider to be appropriate for your classroom.
  • Expose students to music that represents the time period or setting in the literature you are reading. For example, if you were studying the poet Langston Hughes, jazz music from the Harlem Renaissance would be appropriate.

The Melanie Strategy
In the workshop video, Barry Hoonan describes a naming strategy he uses called "the Melanie strategy." This is his way of giving a student name to an observation technique. He observes students' discussions and towards the end of the conversation, he highlights what he thought was really powerful. This could be his observations of small-group discussions as he moves around the classroom, or it could be from a whole-class discussion. If a student demonstrates a particular approach to examining meaning in a piece of literature, he defines what the student has done for the class and then gives that strategy the student's name. For instance, if a student, Melanie, relates the literature to a personal experience, he may define what the student did, compliment the student, and tell the class this is the "Melanie Strategy." Not only does this help students think about the literature discussion and how they can contribute, but it also celebrates student participation, multiple perspectives, and risk-taking.

The next time your students participate in a literature discussion, observe the dialogue and noteworthy student contributions. Debrief the students at the end of the conversation, highlight powerful student insights, and "name" their responses.

Teacher as a Reflective Practitioner
Take time to reflect on class meeting time.

Classroom Cruising and Discussion Debriefing:
The next time your students participate in a small-group literature discussion, prepare to monitor the groups with a clipboard or a spiral notepad.

Create sections on a piece of paper for each group and label each group's section.

Circulate throughout the classroom as students participate in the literature discussion. Listen for key points, questions, debates, and connections students make to the text. Jot down points of discussion and students' names. You may only have an opportunity to observe a few of the groups. Also jot down additional questions for the students to consider based on the discussions you observed.

Set aside the last 10-15 minutes of class for a discussion debriefing. When debriefing the students, highlight powerful student contributions and raise additional questions for students to consider. Ask students what they gained from participating in their discussions and what questions they would still like to explore.

Plan on providing students with additional discussion time at the next class meeting to revisit questions and areas they would still like to examine.

During planning time, review the notes you made from the class literature discussion. What areas of the literature did the students examine? What additional issues would you like students to explore? At what points in the discussions could you have interjected ideas or questions to push the conversations along? What literary elements did students touch upon and which ones can you help bring to the forefront of the students' next discussion?

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