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

Asking Questions

In a seventh–grade gifted and talented language arts class in Miami, Florida, Ana Hernandez prompts students to pose their own questions as they read Sharon Draper's Tears of a Tiger. As they discuss major issues of the text and consider the actions of the characters, the students immerse themselves within the story.

About This Video Clip

“I feel sometimes that I’m asking more questions than I should; that they should be the ones that are asking. So I just monitor myself — like today I had the students come up with their own questions.”
Ana Hernandez, Teacher
Howard A. Doolin Middle School
Miami, Florida

Ms. Hernandez motivates students to get involved with the texts they read by selecting engaging young adult literature that features adolescents struggling with real problems. Ms. Hernandez believes that students become highly engaged in their reading experiences and gain greater literacy when they see themselves and real life conflicts in the literature they read.

In this lesson, students in Ms. Hernandez’s class are reading the young adult novel Tears of a Tiger by Sharon Draper. These students have been identified as Gifted and Talented within their school. Students read aloud short passages and discuss the text with teacher facilitation. As they read, students pose and respond to questions about the text. Students are encouraged to express their own interpretations and unique perspectives about the passages. Ms. Hernandez pushes the class discussion along by returning students’ comments with additional questions, constantly asking students to consider how characters behave in the story, what the students would do in the characters’ situations, and what lessons about life they can take from the text.

Students are assessed through participation in class discussion, written questions and answers, and culminating projects and assignments.

For resources that can help you use this clip for teacher professional development, preservice education, administrative and English/language arts content meetings, parent conferences, and back-to-school events, visit our Support Materials page. There, you will find PDF files of our library guide, classroom lesson plan, student activity sheets, and other Teacher Tools.

Featured Texts

Tears of a Tiger by Sharon Draper
Andy Jackson drives under the influence and crashes his car, killing the star player of the basketball team and his best friend, Robert Washington. Andy must find a way to deal with his grief, guilt, and pain.

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
Jerry Renault takes on a dare by his school’s secret society known as The Vigils, when he is asked to resist selling chocolates for the annual Trinity School fundraiser.

Ms. Hernandez selected the novel Tears of a Tiger for this lesson, which focuses on adolescent conflicts of peer pressure, responsibility and consequences for actions, and drinking and driving. The Chocolate War was previously read by the class, which contains similar adolescent conflicts and themes.

You can access additional resources related to these texts in the Additional Resources section.


Classroom Snapshot

School: Howard A. Doolin Middle School
Location: Miami, Florida
No. of Students in School: 1,980
Teacher: Ana Hernandez
No. of Years Teaching: 4 Years
Grade: 7th
Subject: Language arts
No. of Students in the Classroom: 30

Named after a Dade County music teacher, Howard Doolin Middle School in Miami, Florida, is a fine arts school with an emphasis on character education. The school building was constructed in 1997 and has a spacious, open feel. It serves the rapidly growing, racially and economically mixed neighborhood of West Kendall. Most children walk to school or take a bus paid for by their families; the district does not arrange transportation if students live within two miles of school. The student population is approximately 82 percent Hispanic (many from South America) with a smaller percentage of African Americans, Caucasians, and Asian Americans. Although many students are bilingual, classes are conducted in English. Students take the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test (FCAT), an essay and short-answer exam, at the end of each year. The school receives a grade based on student results.

Doolin boasts a Gifted and Talented (GT) program into which students are admitted based on an IQ test or teacher recommendation. Class periods last nearly two hours, in an ABC schedule, allowing adequate time for a wide range of activities within a single period. Because GT classes are looped in the sixth and seventh grade, teachers like Ana Hernandez have the additional luxury of working with the same students for two full years before passing them to their eighth-grade instructors. As a department, the language arts teachers establish a scope and sequence that prescribes what standards and objectives teachers should address but allows for teacher discretion in how to meet these goals.

Ms. Hernandez strives to incorporate connections from literature into what students are studying in other subjects and into their own lives and choices. She employs a mix of both formal exams and project-based assessments in her classroom to monitor student progress.

Classroom Lesson Plan: Whole-Class Literature Discussion

Teacher: Ana Hernandez, Howard Doolin Middle School, Miami, Florida

Ms. Hernandez’s lesson plan is also available as a PDF file. See Materials Needed, below, for links to student activity sheets related to the lesson.

Grade Level: Seventh

Topic: Using student-generated questions for whole-class, critical literature discussions

Materials Needed:

  • Novel, Tears of a Tiger, by Sharon Draper
  • Student questions about text
    Before this lesson, students should prepare questions as a homework assignment or in pairs as a prior classroom activity, using the Question Guide student activity sheet.
  • Selected passages of text for student read-alouds (consider passages that focus on characters’ dilemmas)
  • Student Activity Sheets

Background Information:
The students involved in this lesson are considered Gifted and Talented (GT) in their school. They are able to evaluate and synthesize information at a critical level. The students’ reading of the novel Tears of a Tiger is in progress, and they have already generated their own questions about the text for this lesson’s activities. Students have previously read the novel The Chocolate War, which deals with similar conflicts and themes as Tears of a Tiger.

Lesson Objectives:
Students will:

  • participate in critical literature discussions, focusing on conflict and characters’ actions in the novel.
  • pose thought-provoking questions about the literature.
  • expand their own understanding of the literature by raising questions, challenging classmates and themselves, and by listening to multiple perspectives in the classroom community.

Expected Products From Lesson:
Expanded understanding of the text Tears of a Tiger through written answers to student-generated discussion questions

Instructional Strategies Implemented:

  • Teacher-facilitated discussion
  • Students generating and posing their own questions about the literature

Collaborative Structure of Class:
Prior to this lesson, students worked in pairs to formulate thought-provoking, open-ended questions about the text. For the class discussion in this lesson, students participated individually, offering their interpretations, questions, and thoughts.

Lesson Procedures/Activities:
Prior to this Lesson:

  • Distribute Question Guide to help students form their own questions as they read the text.
  • Assign students to work in pairs to read the text, gathering their own questions about what they encounter there. Direct them to write down the questions and think about possible answers.


  • Students will read aloud significant passages from the novel. Passages should be pre-selected by the teacher, focusing on particular themes, conflicts, or characters’ actions.
  • Teacher will facilitate discussion about conflicts presented in the novel, in order to solicit students’ opinions and to help them make personal connections to the text. In particular, teachers will encourage students to analyze the characters’ actions, choices, and consequences and to consider various changes across time in character, actions, and mood. Students’ questions should drive the discussion.
  • Initial Assessment: If you have time to allow students to write in the same class period as the discussion, ask them to start these initial assessment activities:
    • Post the questions asked throughout the discussion. Ask students to respond in writing to the questions they posed in the discussion as well as two additional ones posed by classmates.
    • Ask students to reflect upon their understanding of the novel, how it has changed and expanded, and how the class discussion influenced their current interpretations of Tears of a Tiger. Students can respond in class journals, write a letter to their teacher or classmates, or turn in an individual answer and reflection sheet.

Follow-Up Activities or Culminating Activities:

  • Students will select a teen issue or conflict presented in the novel and create an informative brochure about Tears of a Tiger. Each brochure will include facts, interviews, and suggestions for dealing with problems.
  • Students will create a Venn diagram to compare and contrast the conflicts and themes presented in the books Tears of a Tiger and The Chocolate War.

Teacher will assess student participation in the class discussion and expected student reflection on the experience.

Professional Reflection

Take a step back from your classroom and examine the video clip in relation to your own instructional practices. Use the questions below to spark discussion about instructional practices in department meetings, team meetings, or as a writing prompt in your own professional journal.


  • What is successful in this classroom’s literature discussion?
  • How do you think the teacher brought the students to this point?
  • Keeping in mind the goal of helping students create their own understandings of literature, in what ways can this classroom discussion evolve?
  • How can students contribute to the conversation? How can the teacher push the students’ dialogue along?

Teacher Tools

Whether you are a classroom or preservice teacher, teacher educator, content leader, department chair, or administrator, the materials below can assist you in implementing the practices presented in the video clip.

Teacher Feedback Form
Administrators may use this feedback form to support classroom visits among English/language arts teachers within the school. Here, professionals can observe literature discussions in action and share and learn with their colleagues.

Literary Community Discussion Guidelines
These guidelines may assist you in setting clear expectations for students’ participation in whole-class or small-group discussions.

Text Pairings
As you begin to plan literature experiences for your students, consider offering text pairings, so that students have a rich palette of text background and reading experiences to draw upon in their literary conversations. Some texts that may complement the ones used in this classroom lesson plan include:

  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  • A Separate Peace by John Knowles

Additional Resources

Online resources related to the texts used in Ms. Hernandez’s classroom:

Tears of a Tiger by Sharon Draper

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

Additional resources related to the tenets of this lesson: