Panel Discussion of Characters in "Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian"

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SWBAT question and respond to issues of characterization by participating in a panel discussion of characters in the novel.

Big Idea

Students interpret characters and themes more deeply when they portray and question those characters in class!


Students Prepare for the Panel Discussion

20 minutes

To see this part of the lesson unfold, watchClassroom Video: Student Ownership

I will explain that we will be conducting our own panel discussion with the characters from the book: Junior, his dad, mom, grandma, sister, Rowdy, Mr. P., Uncle Eugene, Gene, Roger and Penelope.  Students will pick which character they will represent, and I will see to it that each character has two students to play the role so that they can prepare in a "mastery pair."

Students will have the remainder of this time slot, about 15 minutes, to prepare the notes regarding their character.  Often, I will run this segment of the lesson the day before and offer students the opportunity to do this work as homework. 


Explain the Panel Discussion

5 minutes

To see this part of the lesson unfold, watchClassroom Video: Connection to Prior Knowledge

I plan to begin class by activating prior knowledge about panel discussions as this is the first time they may be exposed to this type of learning activity.

To do so, I plan to show the image at the top of this lesson. Then, I plan to ask my students to answer the following questions aloud with the hope that they will "participate effectively in...collaborative discussion" (SL.9-10.1).

  • What type of drawing is this?  
  • What do you imagine is going on?  
  • What types of panel discussions exist in our world? 
  • Why do people watch talk shows?  
  • Which one is your favorite?  
  • Which one is the dumbest?  
  • What goes on a school board meetings or town council meetings?  
  • Why is a variety of opinions good?

Students Conduct the Panel Discussion

25 minutes

To see this part of the lesson unfold, watchClassroom Video: Discourse and Questioning

We will set a class goal: 100% of the students will participate, and all of the students need to make eye contact with fellow classmates when questioning or responding in role. 

The panel  will come in 4 stages of 6 students each.  I will set up a dais of six desks at the front of the room and create name tags for each character.  I will arrange the characters in a semi-circle so that they can make eye contact with one another and also respond directly to the audience questions and follow up questions.  It's important to note that this discussion comes on the heels of both a hotseat discussion and a fishbowl discussion, both of which scaffold key moves into the present lesson: questioning, responding with inference, and asking follow-up questions.  Ideally, I will have a student moderate this discussion as the talk show host for the class.

After a time (I know that sounds vague), I will ask the next set of students to come to the panel to participate, and so on.  Some students may have a second turn on the panel, but the discussion is somewhat open and will circulate key issues that have been developed over the course of the book.  In this way, the panel discussion is a key culminating speaking event in which ALL students are being asked to apply what they know about the characters to novel questions and to infer how the character would respond. 

The specific role of students in the audience is to listen and to respond with "follow-up questions" to the student-in-role in question.  Generally, I have to do very little to get students involved in asking questions because they have had some practice in the hotseat and fishbowl discussion that precede this panel discussion; also, it's really just a lot of fun for students to interact in this way.  However, I usually keep a close watch to incorporate students who may be quiet or reticent in the activity.  I also sometimes use a student facilitator to draw everyone in. 

Wrap-Up and Self-Evaluation

7 minutes

To see this part of the lesson unfold, watchClassroom Video: Student Self-Assessment

Students will use the following rubric to self evaluate. 

Part-Time Indian

Panel Discussion







no evidence

READING—Show your careful reading of the novel by referring to the novel with quotations.

-       Notes were prepared.

-       You showed signs of preparation and thinking in advance.






CONNECTIONS—You were able to connect, compare or contrast the character’s decisions and personality to your own decisions and personality.







You asked questions and made observations when you were in the audience of the panel.


















In addition to asking them to honestly fill in their self- evaluation, I will ask the following question: How did we do as a class?  Did we have a balanced discussion which incorporated 100% participation?  How were the follow-up questions?






My mentor, George Hillocks, and a nucleus of brilliant minds--Betsy Khan, Larry Johannassen, Tom McCann, Peter Smagorinsky, and so many others--have influenced me greatly in the creation of this lesson. I wish to credit George with his amazing book, which is out of print but obtainable: The Dynamics of English Instruction.  I wish to credit the group with one citation, but so many are possible:

I would also like to acknowledge the help of the READi group in framing this lesson in context with this unit on metacognition: PROJECT READI is a multidisciplinary, multi-institution collaboration aimed at research and development to improve complex comprehension of multiple forms of text in literature, history and science. READI is a project supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R305F100007 to University of Illinois at Chicago. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Education.

Panel discussion image through Creative Commons search.