Boarding the Frigate: Choosing Books for Literature Circles

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SWBAT choose a book to read in literature circles from five options--"That Shakespeare Kid," "Life of Pi," "MAUS I & II," "Pride and Prejudice," and "Tuesdays with Morrie."

Big Idea

"There is no Frigate like a book to take us Lands away." --Emily Dickinson

Teacher to Teacher: Lesson Context and Time Frame

It's the last three weeks of the school year. Seniors are ready for prom and graduation. Most have completed their senior projects, and they are in the process of disassociating from their high school life as they prepare for the next stage of their lives. 

How will a teacher ever manage to keep seniors engaged in learning and accountable for their learning? 

Literature Circles offer an opportunity to engage students in student choice reading and in developing a life-long love of reading. Building post high school readers is an important goal for the year. 

This final unit provides much class time for students to read in class and to meet in small group discussions with one another and with the instructor to discuss common reading selections, much like adult book club members do. 

For the literature circle unit, it doesn't matter which texts a teacher makes available, but I do try to offer selections we have available in our book room, selections we did not study as a whole class but that I may have taught in the past to the entire class, and books that help students confront and clarify their personal philosophies. 

The books students explore and choose from in this lesson are 

  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin,
  • MAUS I and II by Art Spiegelman,
  • Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Album,
  • That Shakespeare Kid by Michael LoMonico, and 
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel

The big idea for this unit is that books expand our world, and this is important for teens preparing to set forth on the next phase of life's journey in a few short weeks. And sometimes a book takes us back in time while keeping us in the present world of young adults: There is no Frigate like a Book and That Shakespeare Kid.mp4 talks about that idea.

Sparking Readers' Interests Using Video Presentations

30 minutes

When students enter the room, I have the projector on and a book trailer ready to go. I tell students that they will watch five movie "shorts" that will introduce them to the five books from which they will choose for their literature circle selection. I tell students not to worry about whether or not there are enough books to go around because I have enough for them to have their first choice. I also tell them that if they are unhappy with their choice after a couple of days, they may switch once. 

Additionally, I tell students not to consider length as they choose because despite its length, Life of Pi is a quick read. 

We begin with Pride and Prejudice. I tell the class that this is a "pastoral" novel and that it deals with "manners" in nineteenth century England, a time when women had few rights. I also tell students that the book has been updated many times, including in the movie Clueless and in a Mormon version of the novel. Then I show the trailer:

Next, we take a look at MAUS I and II by watching the book trailer for Meta MAUS, which chronicles Art Spiegelman's writing process for MAUS. I have the book and its CD available for student use in their book clubs. Also, I have a Power Point based on Scott McCloud's book Understanding Comics for students to use so that they will know the rhetorical techniques of the graphic text format. 

Our next selection is Tuesdays with Morrie, a book I read in 1997 when it was first published. I tell students that Mitch Album, the author, is an award-winning sports writer and that his book is about his sociology professor, Morrie: 

The fourth book students may choose is a YA novel titled That Shakespeare Kid by Michael LoMonico. It's a cute book about a boy who gets hit on the head with the complete works of Shakespeare, The Riverside Shakespeare, and awakens the next day capable of speaking only lines from Shakespeare's texts. The book is unique in several ways: It was self-published via a Kickstarter campaign; it uses lines from all 37 of Shakespeare's plays; and the author will be doing a SKYPE session with our class in a later lesson.

The last book I introduce is Life of Pi. I save it for last because it's my favorite as it was the subject of my MA thesis, and one of its important themes is empathy. I created an Animoto video using images from the illustrated version of the novel, which I bring to class for students to peruse. I include lines from the novel, too. At the end is a picture of my dogs, Puck and Snug. 

Exploring the Books and Making a Choice

30 minutes

The remainder of the period is used for student exploration of the book options. I have the books available so that the students see there are no limits in terms of the number of students who can select each book. 

As students peruse the books, I rotate around the room and address student questions. Some need clarification about the MAUS requirement. Since it is a graphic text that takes less time to read, I have students read both MAUS I and II. 

Many students are interested in Life of Pi because they know it is the subject of my MA thesis, and they have heard me talk about it often. It's a book that I have used as a whole-class novel as well as in literature circles. 

Some students have already decided which book they want, so they sign the check-out sheet and begin reading in the time remaining.