Welcome everyone to another installment of Common Core Boot Camp! I am so excited about what’s going on in my classroom this week: Discussion Circle! For those of you who have had any sort of Common Core professional department, I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “an inch wide and a mile deep” used to describe the standards. What this means is that instead of our focus being to read as many books as fast as we can, we should be focusing on small parts of books for several lessons in order to promote a deep understanding of the text. This is the main focus of this whole group strategy.
The closest thing I can relate discussion circle to is a book club meeting. If you’ve ever been a part of a book club, you may be familiar with the format: a book is assigned with some guiding questions and you have to read the book and jot down a few observations, questions, or discussion points. You may also be familiar with how one person can completely dominate a book club. One of the main reasons I love using this strategy with my students is that it helps us practice active listening for when students are collaborating in smaller groups.
Procedures to Model
- Active listening: listening to what the person is saying before you think about your own response
- Patience: waiting your turn to share or respond; accepting that someone else may share the same thought before you
- Self control: not blurting out or interrupting (see patience)
Step 1. Make sure that students understand what you’re looking for by teaching a mini-lesson.
This week we’re working on plot elements, and my lesson today focused specifically on conflict. At the beginning of the mini-lesson, we talked about how conflict is usually inferred; we read about the characters and the event unfolding, and we see clues that something isn’t quite right. I read the picture book My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother as Mentor Text, and we identified the clues that helped us figure out the conflict: Her brother is better than her at everything!
Step 2. Assign a short reading with a purpose that matches your mini-lesson. My 5th graders have been reading The Giver, so I assigned a page from the chapter we’re on that talks a lot about some of the rules and procedures of Jonas’s society that I knew my students would think were flat out wrong.
Purpose: Close read page 26. Use your blue “key terms or main ideas” post-it to record anything you see that gives us hints about what the conflict in this book might be. Remember that you are looking for things that don’t seem quite right.
Step 3. Have students move their chairs to make a giant circle around the classroom. They will need their Reading notebooks, a pencil, and their post-it notes. There are two methods that you can use for this part. I have high achievers, so method 1 really works for me. If you have students who don’t like to participate, method 2 may work best.
Method 1: Share/Respond
One student begins the discussion circle. I use an item to signal who is speaking, and students know that the person with that item is the only one allowed to speak. I usually use a magic wand, but it was mysteriously missing today, so I grabbed a stuffed animal off my desk and it worked just as well.
The student shares one of the following:
- Something that confused them (I don’t allow them to share words they don’t know since they use dictionaries while they read; they need to share an idea or concept they didn’t understand).
- A key detail that matches today’s purpose: A clue about the conflict
- A feeling they have about what they read
Method 2: All Share
The procedures for this method are the same, except students pass the object to their right so that everyone shares in order.
I personally prefer to have my students share when they feel like they have a good response, but they are very motivated to earn their participation points. For my students who are shy, I allow them to get used to the group and feel comfortable with discussion circle before they share. As long as they are actively listening and writing about what the other students are sharing, they get full points! I encourage them later in the year to add their own ideas to the circle.
Lastly, enjoy your class discussion and facilitate! When a student shares something relevant to what you are teaching, have them restate it with the content vocabulary. Use this time to reinforce the elements students should find in books! This strategy also works very well with informational text, and can be especially interesting when reading or writing an opinion piece!
How do you deepen understanding of difficult text and concepts in your classroom? Share in the comments below!