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

About Making Meaning in Literature: A Video Library, Grades 6-8

Individual Clip Descriptions

1. Introducing the Envisionment-Building Classroom
2. Building a Literary Community
3. Asking Questions
4. Facilitating Discussion
5. Seminar Discussion
6. Dramatic Tableaux
7. Readers as Individuals
8. The Teacher’s Role in a Literary Community
9. Whole Group Discussions

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Classroom Lesson Plan

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Classroom Lesson Plan: Life's Not Fair

Teacher: Barry Hoonan, The Odyssey School, Bainbridge Island, Washington

Barry Hoonan's lesson plan is also available as a PDF file. See Materials Needed, below, for links to student activity sheets related to the lesson.

Grade Level: Fifth and Sixth

Topic: Life's Not Fair

Materials Needed:

  • Selected books in themed sets
  • Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli for class read-aloud book
  • Writer's notebooks
  • Sticky notes
  • Handmade bookmarks
  • Art materials
  • Computer access for background research
  • Student Activity Sheet:
    Literature Circle Discussions (this is formatted so that it may be reproduced as an overhead or as a handout to give to students)

students working in a groupBackground Information:
Mr. Hoonan's students are invited to read two books chosen from the dozen thematically linked sets available. Using their writer's notebooks and sticky notes, they record their questions and responses in preparation for discussion. Meeting with others reading the same book, students select a discussion group facilitator, share the questions they have prepared, and determine where to begin their conversation.

As the conversation unfolds, the facilitator ensures everyone has the opportunity to contribute, while encouraging group members to develop their thoughts fully. At the end of the discussion, the group lists questions with which to begin their next meeting. They also decide if they need additional background for their reading. If so, they frame research topics to explore prior to their next conversation.

Mr. Hoonan wants students to connect issues that emerge from their reading with their own experiences and world understandings. Literature discussion groups, he believes, allow for the easy exchange of ideas that encourage such connections.

To enrich the thematic background, Mr. Hoonan chooses a related book (Stargirl) to read aloud. During these readings, he may pause and invite students to interpret a passage or a scene dramatically.

Lesson Objectives:
Students will:

  • read and enjoy literature.
  • learn ways to value the particulars in the texts they read and use them to support interpretive readings.
  • use their writer's notebooks to record their personal responses to their reading.
  • make connections with their own lives through the literature.
  • observe and appreciate the craft of written language.
  • prepare for discussions by noting key ideas and questions with sticky notes.
  • use language to develop as a classroom community of thinkers and learners, respectful of views other than their own.

Expected Products From Lesson:

  • Regular written responses in writer's notebooks: see Using Personal Writing To Extend Literary Envisionments for suggested ways to help students respond to their reading
  • Regular use of sticky notes for comments, questions, and identification of specific passages
  • Literature group discussions
  • Dramatic interpretations of literary moments
  • Visual and/or written response to oral readings and/or literature group selections which take various forms, including diary entries, poetry, dramatic presentation of a scene, creating a collage, artistic representation, writing, and/or the creation of artifacts representing symbolic representations of the book

Instructional Strategies Implemented:

  • Teacher demonstrations of sticky notes and dramatic presentations during oral reading use
  • Writing as a tool for making meaning: for comments on ways to use writing to extend class discussions, see Quick Writes in Teacher Tools.
  • Popcorn sharing of written responses: for a discussion of this strategy, see Popcorn Reading in Teacher Tools.
  • Literature group discussions
  • Student sharing of insights from literature group discussions using overhead transparency: for a discussion of this strategy, see Using Overheads in Discussion in Teacher Tools.
  • Discussion group self-assessment

Collaborative Structure of Class:
Students divide into discussion groups determined by the books they are reading. If a large number of students is reading the same book, they might form two discussion groups. A discussion group might have as few as four members or as many as seven. Desks are clustered to form a convenient meeting area for as many students as are in a group.

Lesson Procedures/Activities:

  • Reading independently
  • Presenting dramatic interpretations of passages or scenes
  • Responding to literature in writer's notebooks
  • Preparing for group discussions by marking passages and writing questions using sticky notes
  • Participating in group discussions of the literature
  • Creating visual projects based on the literature

Follow-Up Activities or Culminating Activities:
Artistic response to literature discussion book(s) and Save the Last Word for the Artist sharing strategy.

Students may be assessed on a daily basis through:

  • preparation and participation,
  • writer's notebook entries, and
  • dramatic responses to literature.

The following activities might receive holistic or scaled evaluation (see Assessment and Evaluation: Some Useful Principles for a detailed explanation of holistic and scaled evaluation).

  • Quality and quantity of writer's notebook entries
  • Written and visual responses to literature
  • Culminating project

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