To start our next unit, one focused on novels (or novel-like biographies) featuring transcendence, I first ask students to reflect on our last novel unit. What went well? What didn't work?
I give students a minute to think while I take attendance, and then we discuss.
"Sometimes people didn't read, so it was hard to discuss."
"Some people were too controlling during discussion."
"I liked working with the small group because it was easier for everyone to talk."
And so on. I acknowledge the validity of each comment and promise to use their feedback to reformat how we will work with our next books.
To introduce our next books, I explain that we will engage in a visualization activity like we used when we first studied Walden. Students will work in groups to make inferences and visualize either an excerpt of the text showing setting or a description of key characters. Students will create posters of their visualizations and present them to the class to introduce us to the books, including their reasoning for how they sketched the setting or characters.
I pass out the excerpts for visualization and give students 15 minutes to work, circulating to provide guiding questions:
"I think this guy must be hairy and dirty..." Why?
"Well, he's hiking every day, so he probably doesn't have time to keep clean."
To another group, I ask, what do you think the weather is around the jail?
"The prison is described as dark, and it seems like the mood isn't happy. That would probably mean bad weather, too." Great!
After work time, groups take turns presenting their work. I fill in gaps by giving an overview of key themes and conflicts in each novel, a brief description of the key characters from the resource included here, and other relevant information like difficulty and length. Eventually, students are ready to make their choices.
I ask students to write their name and top book choice on a small slip of paper. I require silence while they make their requests so that friendships do not influence choices. After all, I would rather have students working with content that interests them than sticking to the safety of their preferred peer group; they'll learn so much more if they are interested in what they are reading.