Literature Circle #1: Introducing Holden's Character

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SWBAT analyze how Holden Caulfield is introduced, develops, and interacts with others in the first five chapters of "Catcher in the Rye", moving the plot and introducing themes, through contribution to the literature circle small group collaborative discussion.

Big Idea

How would you cope if forced to leave the environment you knew? How would you say goodbye?

Introduction & Welcome: Remembering Nelson Mandela

10 minutes

I wanted to take a few minutes from class today, and address the life and death of Nelson Mandela, who passed away the day before this lesson was given. I greet students at the door, and provide them with a sketch of Mandela's life (with thanks to Infoplease) and of the poem, "Invictus" (with thanks to Wikipedia). I ask for a volunteer to read the biography, and share the reading of the poem from the film, "Invictus." (As always, I cue the recording after the ad.)


Some students are  familiar with Mandela, as he is studied in Sociology, but his passing seemed a momentous enough occasion to address, given the inclusion of community and cultural literacy in my class. We still needed to keep on track with literature circles today, but the look at Mandela and "Invictus" took the place of a scheduled reading check quiz.

As a transition, connecting to both Holden's getting kicked out of school and Mandela's twenty-seven years imprisoned, I ask students to consider how they would handle making the decision to give up what they know, and discuss this in their groups.

In addition to the skills needed to succeed via the Common Core Standards, I incorporate cultural literacy and try to reflect a broad liberal arts education in my classes. I chose to address Mandela for these reasons, but also to share with my students someone who I consider to be a "hero." Holden Caulfield struggles with needed an "anchor" in his life, and many times students suggest finding a role model. By sharing my respect for Nelson Mandela, I hope students gain an understanding of on possible role model. 

Student Literature Circle Discussion

35 minutes

As noted above, I ask students to consider the "big idea," what would make them give everything up, and how do they think they could handle that situation. A big idea question such as this helps focus the students. Students draw connections between their own reactions and how Holden Caulfield advances and develops this theme of "moving on." The responses to their literature circle assignments should reflect Holden's development. Students especially focus on how he relates to other characters, develops the plot of the story through his actions, and reveals the themes through his relationships and interactions: adulthood/growing up, elitism/prejudice, and trust (RL.9-10.3).

After a brief reminder of the order of and direction for sharing their role assignments (see "Catching onto Holden: Independent SSR and Role Assignments" for these directions), students are free to move into their groups and begin their discussion on Holden Caulfield. Today, students share their group activities. The Discussion Director, Connector, and Character Sorter present strong and thorough textual support in order to analyze  Holden's characterization in novel and draw inferences about him from their reading (RL.9-10.1), students who have completed the Illustrator role present inferences from the novel in order to illustrate a scene or concept (again, RL.9-10.1) and students who have completed the Vocab Finder role will present the definition of words in context, verifying the meaning of terms from the vocab list and using the terms appropriately (RL.9-10.4). Students participate in a collaborative discussion, sharing their work and responding to each other to build on ideas and express their own clearly and persuasively (SL.9-10.1).  Students have prepared for discussions by reading the assigned sections of the novel and  draw on that preparation by using evidence from the novel in their role assignments in order to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas (SL.9-10.1a) . In these discussions, the assigned roles, especially “Discussion Director,” allow students to propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas (SL.9-10.1c). Through sharing their ideas and responses to the role assignments, students  respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives and justify their own views and understanding, making new connections in light of the ideas their peers present (SL.9-10.1d). 

As students discuss their understanding of Holden, I circulate the room to monitor their progress and conversation. After they have completed their discussions, I ask students to turn their work in the the group's assigned folder, and plan for and work on their board game projects until all groups are done.

Students are working in groups to test themselves and each other, exchange ideas and gain a deeper understanding of the novel, and collaborate on the final board game product. Along the way, I can provide guidance and clarification, but the primary impact is for students to take ownership of the material and product. 

Once all groups have completed their discussions, I open the floor for any questions and discussions the students may have regarding the novel so far. 

Wrap-Up & Reminders

5 minutes

If I have not already done so as students complete their discussion, with five minutes remaining, I call the students back into rows, ask for their group folders, and open the floor for any discussion. I remind students that our next class will be a literature circle work day. 

With student end times varying depending on group discussions, there is not an exit activity today.