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Making Meaning in Literature Grades 6-8
Conversations in Literature — Workshop

About Making Meaning in Literature: A Video Library, Grades 6-8

Individual Clip Descriptions

1. Introducing the Envisionment-Building Classroom
2. Building a Literary Community
3. Asking Questions
4. Facilitating Discussion
5. Seminar Discussion
6. Dramatic Tableaux
7. Readers as Individuals
8. The Teacher’s Role in a Literary Community
9. Whole Group Discussions

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Featured Texts

Classroom Snapshot

Classroom Lesson Plan

Professional Reflection

Teacher Tools
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Featured Texts

Cages by Peg Kehret
Shoplifting, family alcoholism, and a struggle for personal honesty are central themes in this novel. When ninth-grader Kit doesn't make the cast of the school play she goes home to find her stepfather drunk again. Later, she impulsively tries to steal a bracelet and is caught. Sentenced to community service at the Humane Society, Kit is too humiliated to tell even her best friend about the incident. To make matters worse, her final exam in speech is to be an oral report on shoplifting.

Chasing Redbird by Sharon Creech
After the death of her beloved Aunt Jessie, 13-year-old Zinnia Taylor discovers an old trowel covered with weeds and dirt. Her discovery leads her on a quest to clear the 20-mile long Bybanks-Chocton trail that leads away from her family farm. By the time she has uncovered the trail, she has uncovered family secrets and solved mysteries about her family and her past.

Drawing Lessons by Tracy Mack
Seventh-grader Aurora (Rory) finds her world shattered when she discovers her artist father in a compromising position with one of his models. She and her father had shared a mutual love of drawing, and he had taught her about color and line. When her parents separate, she burns her sketchbook and finds herself unable to draw any more. Slowly she manages to rebuild her life and regain her art.

Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
Freak the Mighty is really two characters — both social outcasts — who learn to function as one entity. Kevin, a brilliant child whose misshapen body and stunted growth makes getting around difficult, is the brain. The body is Max Kane, a huge boy with learning disabilities and the conviction, shared by many, that he is stupid. Max carries Kevin on his shoulders, and at first Kevin does all the thinking. Soon Max discovers that he's not as stupid as people think. Kevin demands that Max be placed in the regular classroom with him rather than in the special education class. Max learns to read and write and value himself.

Holes by Louis Sachar
One person, and one person only, is responsible for Stanley Yelnats going to Camp Green Lake (a juvenile detention center for boys)—Stanley Yelnats. Or at least that's what the camp counselor tells him. Overweight, friendless, and a target for bullies, Stanley is wrongly accused of stealing the used sneakers of baseball great Clyde Livingston. As punishment, he and the other inmates are ordered to dig holes five feet wide and five feet long in a dried-up Texas lakebed. Stanley accepts his undeserved punishment as the result of the curse that has plagued his family for generations, ever since his great-great-grandfather broke a promise to a Gypsy, Madame Zeroni.

Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolfe
LaVaughn is a 14-year-old who sets her sights on college but knows she can't rely on her widowed mother for the money. She accepts a baby-sitting job for Jolly's two small children, but quickly realizes that the 17-year-old single mother needs as much help and nurturing as her children. LaVaughn becomes emotionally involved with Jolly's difficulties, and even considers giving her the money she's saved. She makes the decision not to, reflecting, "That won't help... I feel very mixed but my eyes stay steady.'' Instead, LaVaughn persuades Jolly to enter a high-school program for young mothers.

My Louisiana Sky by Kimberly Willis-Holt
Although both her parents are mentally challenged, Tiger Ann Parker is a happy little girl growing up in Louisiana in the 1950s. She always gets straight As, and has won the spelling bee several years in a row. When she enters middle school, Tiger begins to feel embarrassed by her parents, even though she loves them very much. When Tiger's grandmother dies, Tiger goes to live in the city with her aunt since her parents can't care for her on their own. At first, it's exciting to be able to reinvent herself. She cuts her hair and starts using the name Ann. Eventually she discovers the strength of her parents' love and realizes that home is where she really belongs.

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
Set in the bleak landscape of Oklahoma during the dust bowl, this Newbery winner is told in a series of free-verse poems by 14-year-old Billie Joe Kelby. Her mother and newborn brother die as a result of a terrible accident, and her hands are severely burned in the fire that kills them. Denied the solace of her piano playing, she fights her guilt, anger, and estrangement from her father, finally learning to forgive him and herself.

A Place To Call Home by Jackie French Koller
Fifteen-year-old biracial Anna O'Dell tries to care for her five-year-old sister and infant brother when her alcoholic mother disappears again. Anna discovers her mother's car in a nearby lake-evidence of her suicide. After hiding in a cabin in the woods and then being placed with an unloving foster family, Anna, in desperation, travels to her mother's hometown in Mississippi, hoping to find family and a home. Instead, she learns of the horrors of her mother's past and meets white grandparents who don't want her.

Scorpions by Walter Dean Myers
Jamal Hicks lives in Harlem with his mother and sister. When his brother is sent to jail for murder, Jamal is left to be the "man of the house." When Jamal's brother tells him he wants him to be the new leader of his gang the Scorpions, Jamal isn't so sure what to do. His brother's friend Mac, another Scorpion, gives Jamal a gun. Jamal feels power with the gun, but he also feels scared and guilty.

Slam by Walter Dean Myers
This coming-of-age novel presents 17-year-old Greg "Slam" Harris. On the basketball court, he is in control. Off the court, however, his grandmother is in the hospital, possibly dying; he has trouble fitting in at the predominantly white high school he attends; his grades are sinking ever lower; and his best friend from the neighborhood may be dealing crack.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli (class read-aloud book)
Stargirl Caraway, a new 10th-grader at Arizona's Mica Area High School, shocks the whole school by wearing pioneer dresses and kimonos, strumming a ukulele in the cafeteria, and dancing when there is no music. She does nice things for total strangers. When Stargirl joins the cheerleading squad, she cheers for the other team as well. Leo Borlock, the 16-year-old narrator, falls in love with her and finds himself having to choose between Stargirl and his friends when the school becomes hostile to Stargirl's unconventional behaviors.

Tangerine by Edward Bloor
Paul Fisher lives in the shadow of his older brother Erik. Visually impaired since five, Paul is an outsider in his own family and seems to be the only one to understand the brutality behind his brother's football star façade. With the help of prescription glasses, Paul can see, and is an excellent soccer player, earning a position as goalie on the middle school team. As Paul records his story on his computer journal, he begins to remember menacing incidents involving his brother. He senses that the mysterious accident that damaged his eyes is also the reason he fears his brother.

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