In the previous lesson, students work with a partner to identify how the Ice Age setting affects the characters and conflict in the story. Each partner group receives one of eight short passages. Today the students share their written responses with the class. Most have no problem accurately identifying the setting, but providing an explanation can be challenging. There is a tendency to compare the past to today and respond with phrases such as “Today we cook in microwave ovens.” Or “We get our food at grocery stores.” We decide that while this is true it does not correctly address the prompt. The goal is not to compare the present with the past, but to explain how difficult it was to find food, clothing and shelter in such a harsh setting. Another trouble spot is citing text evidence. Not many groups include direct quotes in their written response. After making this adjustment with one or two groups, I realize the need to stop and clarify this point with the entire class. Then students begin self-correcting their work during the presentations to the class saying, “We wrote this, but now we know…” It is gratifying to see this type of self-assessment in progress.
Students come to class having read chapter 5. They bring along their annotations and answers to a set of comprehension questions to share with their group. Those that arrive without having completed the assignment do not get to participate with their group that day. Knowing that chronic offenders will work individually until consistency improves is usually enough of a deterrent to keep students on task.
It turns out that all of the students have taken part in literature circles in earlier grades. To bring their previous experience to mind, we discuss what these groups looked like in their other classes and come to realize that, while there may be differences in the expectations, the fundamental process remains the same this year. They are aware of the requirement that each person shares and that they come to agreement on the main events of the chapter and the answers to the questions. They move through the process with ease and as I listen in to their conversations there are no major misconceptions to address. I take this opportunity to prod them into taking a deeper look at the text by asking questions like “What is the role of Old Mother?” “Explain the character traits that you see in Maroo? Otak?" Questions such as these require more than a simple yes or no answer or simple restatement and must include specific references from the text. The goal is to provoke students into analyzing the plot and often requires making inferences and/or drawing conclusions.
Now that students have a good grasp on the text and understand the process of comprehending the text, they are ready for an additional challenge. So I introduce the idea of literature circles: each person takes on a different role and is responsible for presenting their work to the rest of the group. The attached packet contains eight options for literature circle roles, but we start four: Setting Detective, Figurative Language Enricher, Vocabulary Enricher and Life Lessons Connection. I let each group choose their roles among themselves, with the reminder that eventually they will do each one. They keep the same role for two days before switching to another. That way no one is 'stuck' with one they do not like or find too challenging. Also, it keeps students from sticking with the one they find easiest. An added caveat to this method is the negotiating skills they acquire.
Here's some additional thinking on the topic:Literature Circles in the Classroom