Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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

About Making Meaning in Literature: A Workshop for Teachers, Grades 6-8

Individual Workshop Descriptions

1. Introducing our Literary Community
2. Encouraging Discussion
3. Going Further in Discussion
4. Diversity in Texts
5. Student Diversity
6. Literature, Art, and Other Disciplines
7. Assessment
8. Planning and Professional Development
9. Starting in September...

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Student Diversity


Key Points

Learning Objectives

Background Reading

Homework Assignment

Classroom Connection
Ongoing Activity

Additional Reading

Extension: Classroom Connection

Student Activities
Try these activities with your students:

Contemporary/Classical Pairing
Read a contemporary work of literature with a companion classical piece. Consider comparing author styles, how themes and conflicts are addressed, character similarities, and how time periods are portrayed. Some possible pairings:

  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
    1984 by George Orwell

  • Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
    The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

  • Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
    excerpts from The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

  • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
    To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

  • A Separate Peace by John Knowles
    The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

  • Freak the Mighty by W. R. Philbrick or Rodman Philbrick
    Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

  • West Side Story by Paul Laurents, Paul Werstine, and Norris Houghton, editor
    Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

  • Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
    Anne Frank Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Student Book Selection Discussion
Discuss with your students how they go about selecting literature for pleasure reading. Allow students to volunteer their ideas while you record them on poster paper, a chalkboard, projection screen, or overhead projector. Once students have offered a fair amount of ideas, ask them to narrow down the list to their top five criteria for selecting books. Ask students to keep in mind that these criteria should guide one of their friends in selecting a book that is appropriate for them either for enjoyment or for an assignment for school. Ask students to also consider how you avoid the problem of choosing a book that is much too hard or easy and the advice they would give to someone else. Post the students' criteria in your classroom and the school library or media center for students' future reference.

Dramatic Read Aloud
Model a dramatic read aloud for your students. Carefully select an engaging text. You might consider Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, or The Giver by Lois Lowry. Select a compact passage that draws the students into the story. Be careful to select only a few pages, so that you will not lose your students' interest. Start your presentation by giving the students just enough information about the book and the scene you plan on reading to help them connect to the text. Consider using props, music, dramatic voice, movement, and music during your reading. You may want to refer to the book The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease (Penguin, 2001. ISBN: 0-14-100161-5.), as you prepare for your read aloud. After modeling the dramatic read aloud, challenge your students to prepare and present their own read alouds. Assign this project in advance and schedule class time to hear all of the presentations.

Teacher as a Reflective Practitioner

Build a Classroom Library
If you do not already have a library in your classroom, consider making one. Utilize the criteria mentioned in the workshop video as a starting point in selecting appropriate literature. As you stock your library, invite students to offer their favorite reads and authors. At the end of each school year, poll the students for the books they would most recommend to their friends. Evaluate and review the books you keep on the shelves and continue to add to your collection. Utilize the activity sheet Evaluate the Literature in Your Classroom for this purpose. (See the Appendix in the Support Materials.) Remove books that are rarely checked out from the library and bring them to your students' attention through book talks and read alouds, when appropriate.

Utilize professional journals like the National Council of Teachers of English Voices From the Middle and The English Journal as resources for new titles and authors. Use the Additional Reading section of this workshop's Web site for more ideas as you continue to build your classroom library.

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