This unit of study focuses on how characters grow and change as the plot unfolds. To maximize student engagement, they had an opportunity to choose from a list what book to read.
In the past few days, groups were chosen and calendars drawn up. This class is the first day that students come to class prepared to share with other members of the group their insights after reading the early chapters of the novel. For each chapter they record on post-its or a special bookmark important plot events, questions and connections. They are aware that coming to class prepared with the necessary materials (the novel and a folder with the calendar, contract and daily log) and having completed the work due that day is a pre-requisite to taking part in a group discussion.
Class begins with a homework check-in. Anyone that has fallen behind must work independently to catch up. I find this notice to be helpful in managing missed work.
It is important for students to accurately identify basic literary elements, such as setting, characters and conflict right from the start when reading a work of fiction. I write these directions on the board and lead students through the process as in this screencast. Post-its or this bookmark are a useful tool for doing so.
To set the stage for successful group meetings, I have students offer suggestions of what it looks like to work with peers. Some of their insights will likely include staying on topic, not talking too much and not talking too little, everyone comes prepared to share, listen to what classmates have to say, ask questions, etc.If you feel your students will benefit from a demonstration then that is something you can set up ahead of time with a few students or it can be more impromptu, if that works for you.
Once everyone is clear on the expectations, I allow students to share their notes on the previous night’s reading assignment. I circulate among the groups and listen in on the discussions, answer questions as they arise and clarify misunderstandings. One thing I am sure to do is check in on students I know to be struggling readers. I making sure they understand the setting (especially for books set in a different time period) and that they do not get tripped up by unfamiliar vocabulary. I also find that some of the students benefit from guidance on how to summarize (in bullet points) the important events of a chapter. I end class by giving students 20-30 minutes of silent reading time.