Effective ways to help your students make progress as active readers
These groups of four or five students may discuss a section of a novel, short story, myth, fairy tale, or nonfiction selection that they have recently dealt with in a strategic-reading group. More often, though, they discuss reading materials at their independent levels, in literature circles and book clubs.
Rich, strategy-building discussions don't just happen. You have to seed them in such a way that students apply what they've learned during mini-lessons, guided practice, and small strategic-reading groups to their discussions. Often I'll suggest a focus for book discussions that relates to our work. I might ask students one week to "Be able to find the page that supports predictions and record these in your journal," or "Select a dialogue, reread it, and discuss what it teaches you about the characters' personality and the plot," or "Work with your group or partner to use the text to figure out the meanings of words you've jotted on a sticky-note." If I'm having difficulty listening to all groups in a week, I invite students to summarize their discussions in journals which I can read later.
Suggestions for Organizing Student-Led Discussion Groups
Teaching students how to lead and participate in productive book discussions eventually frees you to work with individuals, pairs, or small groups who require additional scaffolding. During this time, you can also support groups who struggle with valuing diverse ideas, referring to their books for evidence, or focusing on the discussion. What follows are ideas for managing and planning, as well as guidelines for the group's leader and prompts students can use to move book conversations forward.
- Set behavior guidelines with students.
- Offer books that are at the comfort or independent reading levels of students. All students can read the same novel; each student can read a different book, or groups can read the same title that relates to an author study or a common theme.
- Consider the consequences of being unprepared for a book discussion. In my class, unprepared students read the pages in class before joining their group.
- Tell students the reading and writing choices they will have after they complete a discussion and journal work.
- Decide on the number of student-led book discussions you will have each week. The number will change and depend on other reading experiences that you offer students.
- To show everyone what a meaningful discussion looks like, place a group of four or five students on center stage in front of the room. Invite them to discuss a story or several chapters in a book. Prompt students with questions when necessary. Ask the class to discuss what worked well, then set one goal that can improve the discussion. Have other groups, in turn, take center stage and discuss a story or part of a book.
- Reserve time to circulate once groups move from center stage demonstrations to student-led discussions. Listen and validate students' conversations or offer questions that maintain the momentum of the discussion. Spotlight what worked well. Note groups who might benefit from extra teacher support and work with them.
- Help students decide on how many chapters they'll read before discussing. I encourage students to read two to four chapters.
- Ask students to create their own discussion questions or offer open-ended questions that you have practiced with them.
- Emphasize the importance of finding evidence in the book to support responses.
- Have students summarzie a book discussion in their journals bi-monthly. Read students' summaries to assess how much students recall.
- Invite students to evaluate their participation in discussion groups. Ask them to consider these questions: Was I prepared? Did I contribute? Did I use the book to support my ideas? Did I listen to and value the ideas of other students? Did I stay on task?
- Rotate this position so all students can experience leading.
- Open by asking, "Has everyone completed the reading?"
- Ask one of your group's questions. Move to other questions after everyone has expressed their ideas.
- Use prompts to keep moving the conversation.
- Can you give support from the story?
- Does anyone have something to add?
- Does anyone have a different idea?
- Can you connect this book to other books?
- Can you connect a character/event to your life?
- Did the discussion raise a question? What is it?