To help students build better connections in discussion (an area which can always use extra support--connections are hard to make because they require students to listen carefully to their peers and then add new information in a quick manner), we start today with a theater warm-up. Students stand in a circle and must add a detail on to a phrase spoken by the person before them. I start with a simple phrase, "Cheese is good."
"Yes, and cheese is good with crackers."
"Yes, and cheese and crackers are served at parties."
"Yes, and cheese and crackers are served with salami at parties."
And so on. Students are able to complete the circle by making logical, though sometimes comedic, connections. So long as they truly listened and built off the person before them, they are a success. The laughter just serves to increase our positive class culture.
I remind students of what I am looking for in a good discussion: connections to one another, natural flow (versus reading from their logs), honest questions and answers, and participation from everyone. They take it from there.
There is a different vibe, a more positive one, in the room from the start. Students are smiles and laughter, and not because they are off topic. Character names and plot events float through the air--they are engaged with their books and with one another. Great improvement!
Check out one group's discussion in the resources section; while they aren't perfect yet, they've made a lot of progress from their initial reading of notes. This time, they are actually interacting with one another. Before the summary is even finished, they are discussing higher level questions, including making a connection to the time period and providing reasoning for "weird" behavior. It is clear that these side conversations are not scripted, but are genuine reflections being shared.
I again give students time to read, knowing that many students won't read at home if they aren't engaged or at least nearly done from reading in class. Students get comfortable and push further into their novels.