I will explain to the students the nature of a panel discussion, which is simply to have students participate in a talk-show like discussion of important issues (themes) within a character's role or perspective. I expect this to be somewhat familiar to students, since they have already done the hotseat discussion, and this format simply multiplies the possibilities by having several students up at the dais to respond to questions.
While the Panel leverages the speaking and listening affordances that we have been developing in recent activities like the Fishbowl (SL9-10.1), and while all of these activities foster metacognition and selecting evidence for rich discussions (RL9-10.1), the key focus here is on developing, displaying, and questioning character inferences. By giving student the chance to enact a character, they have to display their knowledge, and by asking and answering questions of that character, their inferences are evidenced.
Too, a key focus of the year to date has been question-asking. In particular, we have been focusing on student-generated questions as a means of fostering inquiry, so this activity allows the students to show what they know about questioning when they ask follow-up questions to the panel discussants.
On the board I will write a quick grid chart with four themes: friendship, assimilation, identity, family background. I will ask which students would like to play the role of a particular character in a talk show about a particular theme. Again, the students' ability to select and help shape their roles in this discussion makes it more collaborative and thus puts more responsibility on the students for making it go well (SL9-10.1). I am not suggesting that these types of discussions become a free-for-all, do-whatever-you-want type of thing. Instead, I focus the students on the constraints of the roles that we are enacting and then let the constraints be their guides. Wherever possible, within those constraints, the students can flex their agentive choices.
First, which character (RL9-10.3) would you like to play? Rowdy, Junior, Mr. P., mom, dad, Eugene, Gordy, Roger, Penelope, Grandma, Mary. Once students have selected a role, they are to fill out the attached handout, while roles are established. The handout is global, but the idea is that it can be sandwiched in at any point in the unit (end of book is best). Students write while I arrange the members of each group.
Second, I begin asking each student in turn to state which theme would go well with his or her character. For example, Mr. P suggests that Junior assimilate and fit into White society; Gordy teaches Junior how to be himself (nerdy is ok) and also how to make new friends. Ultimately, I am looking for 5-6 students to sit on each panel, and the students will get a voice in self-selecting which panel to join; each panel will attach itself to one of the themes stated above.
By the time I finish this arranging, I am hoping that the character prep sheets (attached) will be nearly done.
In larger groups of 5-6, the students will add up to five open-ended questions about the theme in question. The goal is that each student's character should be able to answer the questions and attach some form of thematic reflection to the response. The students will write the questions on the large butcher paper that I will provide, and we will post this butcher paper on the wall when the panel discussion is going on the next day.
Tracing a theme in literature can be a challenge for 9th graders, and we teachers often approach the task from an analysis standpoint; this preparation allows the students to make thematic connections by questioning each other in role.