Small Group Book Discussions in 6th Grade

I've ditched reading logs and book reports for my students long ago. I want them to focus on reading a book that they enjoy - for pleasure - and not worrying about stopping to write on post-its, or record how many pages they've read each night. My classroom (and life) was transformed when I read the book "The Book Whisperer" by Donalyn Miller.

I begin the school year with whole class book discussion each Wednesday. We sit in a circle, each student having a chance to talk about the book they are reading. They choose their own books, and if they do a good job talking about their book, others will ask to borrow it afterwards. I just act as facilitator, keeping the students on task, and reminding them about proper manners when someone is speaking.

Usually around the last marking period of the year, I will try to break them into small groups to embark on their own discussions. It's been modeled, so they know what is expected of them. They will be given a set of questions to guide them that generically work for all book types. Usually, a natural leader will emerge to take on the task of facilitator, making sure the group stays on task, and that the pace continues. My role then becomes one of outside observer - making sure that everyone is participating, and that questions asked are appropriate.

Each week I will make up the groups of 5-7 students in order to ensure those more subdued students aren't overwhelmed by larger personalities. I want everyone to feel comfortable to participate in the discussion about the books they've chosen to read. I made 5 different discussion guide sheets just to keep it interesting (A-E). Each student, besides participating in the discussion, will have one question to respond to on paper about their book.  Even if they are not finished with their book, they can still be an active member of the group.   

If you are interested in the master files of the discussion sheets, just email me and I'll happily send them your way.  (susankotch@gmail.com)




#lowtech #notech One-Pagers Make Fun Assessments

There is nothing I enjoy more than learning from other teachers. Teachers by nature are most giving of all people, and love to pass along their best tried and true lessons to others.

While in search of new, creative ways to engage students of all ages in Language Arts, I stumbled upon a wonderful Facebook Group called “2ndaryELA”. The group is made up of Middle School and High School English Language Arts teachers who generously share their experiences (positive and negative)  and lessons with others.  This is where I first learned about an activity called a “One Pager”.  The appeal to me is it gives those students who are visual and creative a way to show what they know. Being a visual person myself, I jumped all over this activity.  I also love that it is low-tech/no-tech!  Sometimes our best ideas don’t require technology, but paper and colored pencils.

An advantage to this activity is it can be applicable across just about any discipline.  Math or science concepts, periods of history, drama, music - no matter what you want to assess, you can use this to do it.

The idea is to use one sheet of paper (we used 8.5x11) to relay a concept (or two or three) using illustrations, color, artistic fonts, or other media.  The first time I introduced it was in a fifth grade classroom where they’ve  just completed the novel “Rules” by Cynthia Lord.  I visit the class twice a week on rotation to introduce writing workshop and literacy instruction.

My rubric for this assignment was simple: the One-Pager must include 2 questions and answers, at least one full-sentence theme statement, one song title related to the theme of the story and an explanation of why it was chosen, 2 important quotes from the book explained,  at least one relevant illustration, and the title and author of the book. I also added that the whole paper should be utilized. The student either met, or didn’t meet each requirement. 

The steps I took:

I did a quick slide presentation to review the idea of themes and quotes, then talked a little bit  about what “relevant illustrations” meant.

Then, a few quick brainstorming ideas were recorded on the board to get them thinking about how they might present their work.

My sample "Rules" One-Pager

I also did my own One-Pager to show them what I was looking for. I showed them how each element was represented in the rubric. I told them again how each will look different because we all connect differently to the book. I reminded them that we don’t have to be artists to create One-Pagers.

Then, we were off and running.

The results were incredible. The teachers loved the idea as well, and went on to incorporate them in other subject areas. I’m adding some of our creations below, but just google “One Pagers”, and check out Pinterest for other applications for them. Here are some "Rules" and "Frindle" One-Pagers:



I recently presented the idea of "One-Pagers" at an Edcamp which was geared toward incorporating technology and tech-based assessments into the classroom. I strongly believe that #notech/#lowtech teaching can be just as effective and engaging as tech-based teaching, and this activity is a perfect example. Sometimes a piece of paper, some colored pencils or markers and a student's imagination is all you need to show that learning happens.  Besides, you can't hang a computer in the school's hallways. 🙂