Students come to class having read chapter 7 and with their annotations on a bookmark or Pause & Reflect worksheet and role sheets in preparation for literature circle meetings. But before beginning that activity, we take some time to discuss the plot. At this point in the novel, a shift takes place in the action. In the earlier chapters, the reader gets to know Maroo and her close knit family and joins in on their seasonal migration during spring and summer when food is more abundant and the weather less harsh. Now, though, events have transpired that threaten the family’s ability to make it back to the autumn camp before winter sets in. Most students recognize the rising tension but for those who do not, it is important to explicitly make the point to ensure they track plot events accurately from this point forward.
Once again, students arrive to class eager to share their insights on the story and with their role sheets completed. At least in part, this is because they enjoy the variety of roles and so far have taken on a new one each day. The use of the note taking worksheets to record information shared during discussions is a great tool to keep students on task. This worksheet and the annotations students write up as they read are formative check-ins to assess comprehension. I add a check minus, check, or check plus on a list of student names to make the process of recording grades quick and easy.
In past years, I assigned five or six students to each literature circle, but this year I decided to try something different. No group has more than four students and some have only three. These reduced numbers have actually worked out well. These smaller groups are actually getting more done because time does not run out before each person has a chance to share. Because of that, students are more invested in producing quality work to present to peers. An additional benefit is that the smaller groups have even led to fewer personality conflicts. I wish I had thought of this before!
The one exception to the smaller groups are the advanced readers who have taken on the challenge of reading both Maroo of the Winter Caves and Dar and the Spear Thrower. (Guidelines for this group appears here.) They are a group of six, but they are managing themselves well. Today they have finished Maroo, so we discuss the important plot events and identify the expostion, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution.
As I circulate among the groups, I take note of the best example of each literature circle role sheet and have these students present their work to the class. The roles we focus on are: Setting Detective, Figurative Language Enricher, Vocabulary Enricher and Life Lessons Connection. For example, one student created a water color painting of an event in this chapter (notice the image here), another created a found poem from a section of text! Activities like this provide encouragement for everyone. The students producing great work feel appreciated and others are inspired by what they see.