Author Guest Post!: “The Power of One” by Mark Bouman, Author of The Tank Man’s Son


“The Power of One”

I remember the times as a child when I simply wanted to disappear from the classroom or wished I had been able to hide under my desk.  The humiliation of having been verbally assaulted the night before by my dad stripped me of any shred of confidence I might have been able to muster that day.  My teacher saw that lack of confidence not only in my eyes and school work, but in how I always seemed to avoid her.  She asked me repeatedly throughout the school year why I had not done my homework and more than once berated me in front of the whole class for being the ONE student who kept “forgetting it at home… again.” Had she asked me if anything was wrong, I would have responded with a shrug and then a simple, “Nothing.”  Attention, any attention from anyone in authority was always bad and I avoided it like the plague.

As a teacher, helping students who have a rough home life can seem more difficult now than ever. Getting involved often opens a can of worms that can lead down a rabbit hole that seems endless. Having said that, there is a wonderful way to breathe life into a student whom you suspect is having a rough time at home: spend time with them.  Coaching, after-school activities and other events give you opportunity to invest in them.  Find out their interests and be intentional.  Invite them to be a part of what you’re doing.

I once had a teacher encourage me to join the debate team that she coached.  Mrs. Turner was the first teacher to say, “I think you’d be good at this.” I never heard those words from a teacher before.  Her confidence in me made me want to do anything to please her. I was so shy and reserved I would never have considered doing something like that, but her persistent encouragement won me over. Her kindness and patience helped me get over my fears and birthed a hope in me that grew with time. She was the one bright light in my dark world. At first, I limped through each practice debate barely able to look up from the podium while speaking. I was surprised to discover many of other kids were as scared as I was.  I felt a camaraderie with the other students as we all struggled to overcome our fears. After each practice debate, the teacher would critique our performance. She wisely started with a whole list of things we did right and then would kindly pick one or two things that we could work on to improve. She had a way of making us feel important that pushed us to try harder.

My home life situation deteriorated more as my father began to get more violent.  His verbal assaults were accompanied by physical abuse, and eventually my mother chose to divorce my father. More than once, the debate coach gave me a ride home after a late night of practice so I didn’t have to walk the five miles back in the dark.  Eventually, I got over the terror of public speaking and our debate team went on to win the Regional tournament in Debate.

After the divorce, we moved to another town. No other teacher had an impact on my life like Mrs. Turner did. I never forgot the look in her eyes when she said, “Mark you can do this.”  She believed in me and was able to see not what was, but what could be.  Many years later, her investment and confidence in me bore fruit.  I became a motivational speaker and have spoken in front of groups of thousands all over the world.

I have taught in the classroom many times, and I occasionally have a student in class who I recognize as having a difficult home life. They are wounded in a way that seems to scream out, “help me,” but their cries for help are not heard in the noisy classroom.  Mrs. Turner was not deafened by the noise. She made it her mission to filter out the noise.  She showed me the power of one.


Tank Man's Son

What did it mean to be the Tank Man’s son? To grow up overwhelmed by my father’s presence and personality? It was as if I didn’t exist, as if I was just something else for my father to crush.”

So begins the haunting memoir of Mark Bouman as he recounts the events of his childhood at the hands of his larger-than-life, Neo-Nazi father in brilliant, startling detail. From adventure-filled days complete with real-life war games, artillery fire, and tank races to terror-filled nights marked by vicious tirades, brutal beatings, and psychological torture, Mark paints a chilling portrait of family life that is at once whimsical and horrific—all building to a shocking climax that challenges even the broadest boundaries of love and forgiveness.

An epic tale of redemption and reconciliation, The Tank Man’s Son is a literary tour de force that is sure to become an instant classic.



Mark Bouman

Mark Bouman shares more about his horrific childhood and the power of forgiveness in The Tank Man’s Son. He and his family served as missionaries to Cambodia for more than 20 years. Mark, his wife Joan, and their two sons Andrew and Nik, currently reside in Anchorage, Alaska.

Thank you to Mark for this powerful post about positively impacting students with rough home lives. And thank you to Christy at Tyndale House Publishers for connecting us with Mark!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books I’d Recommend to Students If They Like _____.


top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. The feature was created because The Broke and Bookish are particularly fond of lists (as are we!). Each week a new Top Ten list topic is given and bloggers can participate.

 Today’s Topic: Books I’d Recommend to Students if They Like ______.

One of my most important jobs as a reading teacher is helping students find books that they will like. Often students don’t know what to read next, and it is up to me to help them find their next book. My Top Ten Tuesday list this week is ten books/series that my students really enjoy and some books/series I may recommend, depending on the student, for them to read next.


1. If a student likes the Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi, I recommend the Battling Boy series by Paul Pope or Doug TenNapel graphic novels.

Battling Boy 0-545-31480-1

All of these graphic novels are very complex and deep, but often my students get stuck wanting to read only Kibuishi’s work. Paul Pope and Doug TenNapel are perfect books to turn to because they are brilliant graphic novelists.

2. If a student likes the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, I may recommend Promise of Shadows by Justina Ireland, the Olympians series by George O’Connor, or Oh. My. Gods. by Tera Lynn Childs.

promise of shadows zeus oh my gods

Often by the end of any of the Riordan series, students are fascinated by and experts in the mythology that was shared. To continue expanding their mythology knowledge, O’Connor’s Olympians series is perfect while the other two novels are YA mythology-based action books that are perfect for Percy Jackson fans.

3. If a student likes the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney, I may recommend the Origami Yoda series by Tom Angleberger or the Joey Pigza Series by Jack Gantos. 

origami yoda joey pigza

Kids who like Diary of a Wimpy Kid like it for the humor and illustrations. While Origami Yoda and Joey Pigza may have less illustrations, they both are hilarious.

4. If a student likes the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, I may recommend the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld.


While Hunger Games is probably the most popular dystopian series, when I think of the epitome of dystopian, I think of Scott Westerfeld’s series.

5. If a student likes the Dork Diaries series by Rachel Renée Russell, I may recommend Sugar and Ice by Kate Messner or the Ginny Davis series by Jennifer Holm.

sugar and ice middle school is

My students who read Dork Diaries are looking for stories that they will connect with. Both Sugar and Ice and Ginny’s books are true representations of middle school, and I know students will find the same connection with them.

6. If a student liked the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz, I may recommend the I, Q series by Roland Smith or the Matt Cruse series by Kenneth Oppel.

i, qairborn

Alex Rider is definitely my go to for adventure/spy books for my students, but when they finish his series, I always recommend Matt and Q’s story as a next step because they are both as action-packed as Alex’s stories yet different enough to be new and exciting.

7. If a student likes Wonder by RJ Pacalio, I may recommend Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin or Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper.

rain reign out of my mind

The protagonists in all three novels are so special, and readers reading their stories will build empathy for those around them.

8. If a student likes the Harry Potter series, I may recommend The Dungeoneers by John David Anderson or The Books of Beginning series by John Stephens.

dungeoneers -c emerald atlas

When I read both of these books, my very first thought was that students who were Harry Potter fans will love these as well. They are fantasy-based yet not too far fetched while also being adventurous and well done.

9. If a student likes Smile and Sisters by Raina Telgemeier, I may recommend El Deafo by Cece Bell.

el deafo

Smile and Sisters are so popular, but students often don’t know what to read when they finish with Raina’s books; however, they don’t have far to look because Newbery Honor El Deafo is sitting on the shelf right next to Raina’s books and is brilliant, thought-provoking, emotional, and funny.

10. If a student likes the Maze Runner series, I may recommend the Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness.

knife of never letting

The Maze Runner series is suspenseful, has an evil government, and is packed with excitement from beginning to end. My readers who finish The Maze Runner series are looking for another book that will hold there attention, and the Chaos Walking series is the epitome of suspense, evil antagonists, and excitement.

What books do you recommend if your student likes _____?


Author Guest Post: “An Element of Fun: A Teacher’s Reflection” by Melissa Polyakov, Author of Mr. Fact and Miss Opinion


“An Element of Fun”

In every job that must be done there is an element of fun. – Mary Poppins

I believe that my experience as a teacher is very much like the students’ experiences. The school year starts with excitement, anticipating what’s new. The work isn’t too much of a bother because we’re fresh and there just seems to be a feeling of, “Well, that’s what we’re back to school to do!” Two months later…

Teacher thoughts: How long is this grading going to take? I’ve only graded 10 papers? It feels like 20! When will the work end? I just want to sip some coffee and read a good book.

Student thoughts: How much more homework are we going to have? Seriously? I just want to go outside.

The school year officially begins and the days start to feel longer. If the routine stays the same, everyone will be worn out by December. After teaching my first year and experiencing the need for change in my daily routine, I learned something very important about myself, and I believe about students as well. Sometimes, you just have to have fun and make work feel like play in order to stay motivated.

In my training for becoming a teacher, one of the main pieces of information we were given about students was that they need to stay motivated. If they are going to keep learning and stay engaged, they need to stay interested in the topic. I know this to be true about myself. I noticed in the slow months of teaching, I had to do things to keep my job fun so that I would stay motivated to continue working hard and being the best teacher I could be. Around Thanksgiving I would buy new pumpkin and fall scents to put in my wax burner. As the room would fill with the smell of a nice, warm, baked pumpkin pie, all of our faces would smile, our shoulders would relax, and questions would arise from around the room saying, “Mmmmm!! What’s that smell?!” Immediately, the feeling of the classroom went from “reading my 2 chapters” to reading a book in a cozy home. The smell would motivate the students to work because the environment had changed to something different. A good different.

At the end of teaching a unit, I could always tell the students seemed to be trudging along, needing a boost in their step. I would also need a little boost in my step after all the work put together to organize and teach the unit. All of us needed some kind of break, while still having class and continuing to learn. This was when I would put the books and pencils away and play Jeopardy. The students loved playing Jeopardy and it was a way for them to review all the information they had been learning over the last month or two.  After playing Jeopardy over a couple days, the students were re-motivated and re-energized to learn and continue working hard. I believe this is because we all are motivated by something we enjoy. For students, playing is something they enjoy. When learning and working feels like play and there is an element of fun, the energy goes up and everyone is motivated to continue working.

This brings me back to the original quote from Mary Poppins which says, “In every job that must be done there is an element of fun.” When we work, we must find the fun. We must find ways to make it engaging and motivating. This was my goal when writing my recent book Mr. Fact and Miss Opinion. I wanted to give parents and teachers the opportunity to teach about fact and opinion through a story and not through a workbook. I wanted to add a fun, playful element to a not-so-interesting topic. Not only does the story teach the difference between fact and opinion in a silly and entertaining way, it also shows how two completely different characters can become the best of friends. It can act as a teaching guide for both parents and teachers while also being a cute, beautifully illustrated story about a goat and a pig who develop a friendship and learn about each other. When a story such as this is used to teach a lesson, students remember it because it was wrapped up in a fun, playful package. Children’s literature plays a vital role in the education of children, and I believe that it can and should be used to educate children on a multiplicity of subjects. That is my goal as an author and teacher. I would love to see more books that teach about specific concepts within a story that is fun and entertaining. If you have a favorite children’s book that taught you or your children or your grandchildren something important, please share it so we can benefit from each other’s wealth of knowledge.

Mr. Fact & Miss Opinion Cover

Mr. Fact and Miss Opinion Summary:

This book is a lively and lyrical story about unlikely neighbors, a goat named Mr. Fact and a pig named Miss Opinion.

Miss Opinion shares a flavorful meal with Mr. Fact, attempting to show him that opinions can add spice to his life. This educational children’s book uses endearing characters to introduce terms such as objective and subjective by personifying fact and opinion.

Melissa Polyakov

About the Author: Melissa has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Elementary Education from Multnomah University in Portland, OR, and is a member of SCBWI. An educator since 2012, she has taught multiple ages and subjects. However, it was working as the school librarian where her love for children’s literature grew. During her free time, Melissa and her husband enjoy playing volleyball and spending time outdoors with their beloved Goldendoodle.

Thank you so much to Melissa for her reflections about finding the fun in teaching!

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Extra Special Author Top Ten Tuesday!: Favorite Fictional Picture Book Educators by Josh Funk, Author of Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast


top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. The feature was created because The Broke and Bookish are particularly fond of lists (as are we!). Each week a new Top Ten list topic is given and bloggers can participate.

 Today’s Topic: Favorite Fictional Picture Book Educators

First off, I’d like to thank Kellee & Ricki for inviting me to guest post on my favorite of days, #TopTenTuesday (which coincides with release day for my debut picture book Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast – available NOW – finally!). I’d also like to thank them for allowing me to pick my own topic. As it’s the beginning of the school year, and Kellee and Ricki are two of my favorite educator-bloggers, I thought I’d share my favorite educators from picture books (just picture books … I know there are many fabulous educators in middle-grade and up, too).

In a very particular order…

1. Miss Lila Greer, Iggy Peck’s teacher in Iggy Peck, Architect (also, Rosie Revere’s teacher in Rosie Revere, Engineer) by Andrea Beaty & David Roberts

iggy peck Rosie Revere

Iggy Peck, Architect is one of four books that inspired me to be a writer. I can’t wait to see if Miss Lila Greer has any other students destined for greatness.

2. Vashti’s Teacher in The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds

the dot

One of the most inspirational teaching moments in picture book history, all stemming from one unnamed teacher’s dare.

3. Ms. Raymond, Ida’s teacher in Dotty by Erica S. Perl & Julia Denos


From The Dot to Dotty. In this great back to school book with the theme of giving up imaginary friends, Ms. Raymond will surprise you.

4. Mrs. Delphinium Twinkle, Chrysanthemum’s teacher in Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes


I waffled between Mrs. Twinkle and Mr. Slinger (of Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse), but ultimately, the name put her over the top. (I’ve read enough #TopTenTuesday posts to know how to cheat and get more than 10 in, too, Kellee & Ricki … hee hee)

5. Tortoise in Back to School Tortoise by Lucy M. George & Merel Eyckerman

back to school tortoise

So, I just ruined the twist ending, but this one is adorable.

6. Miss Kirby, Bobby’s teacher in My Teacher Is a Monster (No I am Not) by Peter Brown

my teacher

I’ve been a huge fan of Peter Brown since I first encountered The Curious Garden, and the relationship between Bobby and Miss Kirby is hilarious.

7. Mrs. Quirk, from My Teacher’s Secret Life by Stephen Krensky & JoAnn Adinolfi

my teacher's secret life

Before teachers were monsters, they lived in school with all the other teachers, of course.

8. Mr. Falker, Trisha’s teacher in Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco

Thank you Mr.

While it’s semi-autobiographical, it’s technically fiction. And wow is it emotional!

9. David’s teacher in David Goes to School by David Shannon

david goes to school

Anyone that can give a child like David a star after a day like that deserves about 5 million stars.

10. Miss Viola Swamp, Miss Nelson’s substitute in Miss Nelson Is Missing! by Harry Allard & James Marshall

miss nelson

No list of fictional picture book teachers would be complete without an entry from Harry Allard and James Marshall’s Miss Nelson series. For some reason, I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with Miss Swamp. Yes, I’m afraid of her, but there’s just something about her that works for me…

Who are your favorite fictional picture book educators?

(and thanks again to Kellee & Ricki for letting me celebrate with them today)

About the Author: Josh Funk is the author of Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast (Sterling) which releases TODAY, September 1, 2015.

lady pancake and Sir

Josh is also the author of the forthcoming picture books Dear Dragon (Viking/Penguin 2016), Pirasaurs! (Scholastic 2017), & more. Josh was born and raised in Boston and graduated from UMass Amherst with a degree in Computer Science. When not writing Java code or Python scripts, he drinks Java coffee and writes picture book manuscripts, alongside his wife, children, and assorted pets & monsters. Josh is a board member of The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, MA and the co-coordinator of the 2016 and 2017 New England Regional SCBWI Conferences. Find out more about Josh, his books, his schedule for public appearances, and more at and on twitter at @joshfunkbooks.

Thank you Josh for your guest list! We loved hosting you!

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Reading Workshop 2.0 by Frank Serafini


reading workshop 2.0

Reading Workshop 2.0
Author: Frank Serafini
Published March 26th, 2015 by Heinemann Educational Books

Goodreads Summary: As reading teachers, how do we deal with the massive shifts that digital literacy is creating? We can’t abandon what we know works to keep up with the latest online-literacy fads. Yet, we need to prepare readers for a world of digital content. Reading Workshop 2.0 gives us teaching that puts reading for meaning first while also balancing the need for kids to become sophisticated users of books as well as online reading resources.

“This book,” writes Frank Serafini, “is designed to help teachers organize their reading workshops in order to take advantage of the latest technologies.” With his guidance, you’ll bring more digital reading into your teaching without sacrificing sound instructional principles or practices. Reading print shares four essential processes with digital reading: accessing and navigating; archiving and sharing; commenting and discussing; and interpreting and analyzing.

Frank introduces important, well-established digitally based resources that further these processes, while his lesson ideas transfer learning from classroom to real-world digital reading.

“If it doesn’t help children develop as readers,” writes Frank Serafini, “it doesn’t matter how shiny the new object is.” With Reading Workshop 2.0, you’ll help students with print while also helping them use online resources and technologies as they are intended-to make sense of texts more deeply, effectively, and efficiently.

My Thoughts: When I read a professional text, I hope that it is a perfect mix of theory and practical practices so that not only do I understand the WHY and WHAT but also the HOW. This book does just that. Part One of the text deals with the foundations of reading workshop. Dr. Serafini shares a brief overview of what can be found in his initial book about workshop, The Reading Workshop: Creating Space for Readers, including the “Ten Theoretical Principles About Teaching Reading,” “Pedagogical Strands” of reading workshop, and “Instructional Components of the Reading Workshop.” As I haven’t read any other texts by Dr. Serafini, I loved this overview (this will be fixed soon though as I have now bought 4 others books by him!). Throughout this part of the book, I found myself thinking, “YES!” and wanting to go share what I was reading with every teacher I knew. He writes about much of what I stand for when it comes to teaching reading.

Part two jumps into the 2.0 part of the text. He breaks up this part into four processes that should be added to reading workshop to move it into the digital age: “Accessing and Navigating Digital Texts,” “Archiving and Sharing Our Reading Lives,” “Commenting on and Discussing Digital Texts,” and “Interpreting and Analyzing Digital Texts.” He stresses throughout that this isn’t instead of reading workshop, this is along with. Students must get familiar with digital texts, so our workshops really need to move to 2.0. Within each chapter on a process, he gives information, resources, and explicit lessons for teaching the process. So informative and practical.

Loved this expansion on the traditional reading workshop. Filled with theory, resources, and practical practices, this PD text was very beneficial!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Dr. Serafini has “Resources for Supporting Readers in the Digital Age” on his website that he will update regularly.

We Flagged: There is so much highlighting and underlining in my text that it is hard to choose what to share, but one of my favorite foundational things that was said was:

“Time is the second dimension of the opportunity strand–time to read, time to share ideas, time to wonder, and time to explore new texts. We cannot master something we don’t dedicate our time to, it’s that simple.”

Dr. Serafini joined #rwworkshop (reading/writing workshop) chat on August 5th, and really gave us great insight into his text and moving reading workshop to the digital era. Check out the archive at the #rwworkshop wiki

Read This If You Loved: Other texts by Dr. Frank Serafini, Nancie Atwell texts, The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, Book Love by Penny Kittle,


Civil Rights Text Set/Reading Ladder


Civil Rights Text Set Ladder

Over the last few months, I have found myself reading some phenomenal texts concerning the Civil Rights movement. I began thinking about how beneficial these texts would be in a classroom setting to help students develop a deeper understanding of the time. The Civil Rights Movement is not just a part of history, it is relevant to current events and pertinent to our students’ lives. Today, I wanted to share with you these connections I’ve made, and I hope that together, we can foster conversations about this important time period.

I picture these texts being used in a couple of different ways.

  • They can be used for a text set for a Civil Rights unit in a social studies or English language arts classroom. This is more of an informal route.
  • They could be used as literature circle texts or in a jig saw (see Ricki’s post on engaging discussions last week for more info on jig saw). Each group might have a different text to read, discuss, and analyze. This would make for a great sharing environment.
  • Teachers might intentionally introduce the texts by the age level they are marketed toward. Read-alouds would provide opportunities for rich discussions about the ways that audience plays a role in complex themes and background knowledge of these texts.

I have organized this list kind of as a reading ladder. (If you don’t know what a reading ladder is, I recommend that you start by reading this book by Teri Lesesne and then visit her collaborative resource database to join in the love of ladders. She also shares slides about reading ladders here). Reading ladders are fantastic because they respond to student reading level needs. As they challenge themselves with increasingly complex texts, they remain on a ladder that uses a common theme, format, or genre to connect the books. This idea is much more complex and is detailed in her book. The ladder I’m sharing is connected with the Civil Rights theme, and based on my evaluation of the texts, I tried to generate a ladder for teachers to use. The ultimate goal of reading ladders is to help students move up texts independently and based on their interests, so some of my whole-classroom ideas above do not fit the goal of ladders.

Picture Books (for grades 3-12)

martin's big sit-in boycott blues SeparateisNever freedom summer seeds of freedom henry aaron

Middle Grade

watsons go to one crazy the lions of little rock brown girl revolution

Young Adult

silence of our friends call me x lieswetell

Click on the book title of any book to view one of our reviews or the Goodreads summary.

You can’t go wrong with these incredible texts, and I recommend all of them for both you and your students!

I know there are many other great books about this topic that I haven’t read. What other titles would you include in a Civil Rights Text Set/Reading Ladder? 


Engaging Classroom Discussion Techniques


Engaging Classroom Discussion Techniques-page-001

My favorite part about teaching is that teachers love to share resources. We are a community. The more I teach methods courses at the university level, the more frequently I find myself sharing some ways I’ve hosted classroom discussions. I did not create any of these ideas below, and sadly, I cannot even share the source of the methods. I credit my advisor, Wendy Glenn, for introducing me to many of them. After I graduated and started teaching, I found other great books along the way which taught me others. While some of these ideas may be old news for you, I hope you are able to learn at least one new, useful method below.

1. The good ol’ fashioned circle (with a twist)

I never get tired of the circle, but my students often get tired of it. In my last year of teaching, I vowed that I would never create the discussion questions because I was working toward a student-centered classroom. After each reading, I required students to generate quality conversation starters. They submitted their questions on slips of paper, and whenever the conversation slowed down, we grabbed a new question.

2. Fishbowl

Every time I use the fishbowl in my college courses, the students are blown away at how fun it is. I remember feeling the same way as an undergraduate. This is a bit tricky to explain. There is an inner and an outer circle. Three to five kids are in the inner circle, and they are the only students allowed to speak. We draw questions (usually student-submitted questions), and those students have a conversation as if they are the only people in the room. When someone in the outer circle wants to make a comment, s/he taps the shoulder of a person in the inner circle, and they swap seats. I remind my students that they all must enter the inner circle twice, and they shouldn’t tap someone’s should unless they have made two comments. When the conversation gets dry, we pull a new question. This method takes some getting used to, but the kids find it to be quite fun. If the outer circle isn’t paying attention, I require them to take notes on the discussion.

3. Socratic Seminar

This method is similar to the fishbowl. I always use an inner and outer circle. Instead, the inner circle is closely examining a text and asking a lot of questions about it: Where did the idea come from? What is the purpose of this line?

I have an even number of inner students as outer students. Each inner student is paired with an outer student as his/her coach. At several points, I take a break and give that pair time to talk about how the inner student is doing. They can offer ideas and support to help the inner circle person contribute to the discussion. I find this video to be particularly helpful, and the website offers rubrics and ideas about helping students set goals for this discussion.

4. Jigsaw

For this technique, we ask four groups of students to read four different articles or research four different topics that have a common theme. Usually, they do this for homework. If I have 24 students in my class, six students will be reading Article 1, six students will be reading Article 2, six students will be reading Article 3, and six students will be reading Article 4.  When the students come to class, I group them by their article. This is their “home” group. They spend time discussing the article and outlining how they will present it to their peers. This gives them the confidence to share its content. Within each group, I assign each student a different letter. So for Article 1, if I have six students, I assign them A, B, C, D, E, and F. I go to each group and assign those same letters to each group. (I’ve also seen people line up students based on their articles, but both methods work fine). Then, all of the students regroup based on their letter. So out of the A students, I will now have four students in the group, one from each of the original four articles. The students’ job is to listen to each other and take notes (often in a graphic organizer I’ve created).

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this method, it might sound like a lot of work, but it really is quite easy to organize. The benefit is the students learn about four related articles without having to read them all. I used to do this when we talked about modern genocide as it related to the Holocaust text I was teaching. Instead of asking the students to research many countries, I assigned four countries to four groups. In the end, the students were responsible for sharing about the country they researched, and as a group, connecting that knowledge to the text.

5. Concentric Circles

We have an equal number of students in an inner circle and in an outer circle. The students in the inner circle face the students in the outer circle, and each student is paired with another student. I ask a discussion question (e.g. What did you think about the decision of the trial?) and only the inner circle person can speak. The outer circle person can only listen. Then, I ask the same question to the outer circle person, and his or her job is to listen. This teaches listening skills, and it also teaches the speaker to elaborate. After about thirty seconds, I ask the inner circle to rotate clockwise three people to swap partners (or however many times I feel like). I ask a different question (or sometimes, the same question!). The same process continues (either the inner or outer circle person is in charge of speaking and then it swaps). Then, I have the outer circle rotate counter-clockwise two people to swap partners. The students have fun discussing the questions with different people each time, and they find the turning of the circles to be wildly fun.

6. Give One, Get One

I ask the students to fold a piece of paper lengthwise so they have two columns. Then, I ask them to write everything they learned from the text in the right hand column. I tell them the more they write down, the better. When they are finished, I ask them to write numbers 1 through 10 in the right-hand column. Their job is to go around the room and to collect (from ten different peers) ten ideas that they don’t have on the left-hand side of their papers. This requires them to spend time with each peer, reviewing the information they learned and wrote down, and find something they missed or didn’t consider. They groan when you tell them what they have to do, but while they discuss the text, they are always laughing at the obscure or specific facts their peers come up with.

7. Post-It Walk

I post four to six major discussion questions in different areas of the room. I put small groups of students at each question and give them post-it notes. Their job is to discuss the question in front of them and write one idea/topic they discussed on the post-it note. Then, the entire class rotates clockwise. They read the question, read the post-it(s) from a previous group or groups. Their job is to discuss the question and come up with something different to put on their post-it note. After groups have rotated and put post-it notes on every discussion question, the groups stay at the last question on the wall. They are required to share out to the entire class one or two great ideas from the post-its on the question in front of them.

8. Pass the Butcher Paper

Students sit in groups. In front of each group is a different character (or topic). I ask them a question about that character (e.g. What do we know about him/her based on his/her actions in the book thus far?). They write notes on the butcher paper. Then, they pass the butcher papers clockwise, and they receive a new character. Their job is to read the notes of the previous group. Then I ask a different question (e.g. How do you predict the character will act in the rest of the novel?). They write notes, and we keep passing. This allows the students to see the ideas of many of their peers about different questions, and they feel like they are working as a whole class to create a complex understanding of each character. We post the butcher paper in the room.

9. Four Corners

This works best as a pre-reading activity for a book, but it could be modified for any subject area. I did it in my Methods class as an undergraduate student and loved it. My students enjoyed it, too. I provide a handout with major themes from a novel (e.g. Revenge is justifiable.), and ask students to circle “Strongly Agree,” “Agree,” “Disagree,” or “Strongly Disagree” for each statement. Then I read the questions aloud and ask students to walk to the corner of the room that has the sign (“Strongly Agree,” “Agree,” “Disagree,” “Strongly Disagree”) that matches their opinions. I ask a volunteer from each corner to share his/her opinion. This often leads to heated debates, and it gets the students thinking about the novel.

 10. Facts of Five

Ask students to write down the five main ideas they got from a text. (This can be adjusted in a variety of ways, but it is good to require students to write five ______. For instance, they might write down five ways to connect the text to the real world.) Then, ask students to get into groups of three. Their job is to talk through each of their lists and pair the fifteen ideas down to five ideas. Then, their group of three joins another group of three. The six group members talk through their ideas and reach a consensus of the top five ideas. Then, all of the groups share out, and we have a class discussion to agree on the five, main points. This discussion technique requires groups to talk through ideas and determine essential, important concepts from a text. It also allows students to spend time considering how their ideas fit in with the ideas of their peers.

11. The Pinwheel

I just came across this neat technique by Sarah Brown Wessling. I recommend you watch the 7-minute video to see how it is organized. Students are arranged into a pinwheel shape. Three groups are each assigned to a different author, and a fourth group serves as “provocateurs” who ask probing questions. This would be a great way to synthesize multiple texts that you have read in class.

Please, please post a comment explaining any methods that I’ve missed, and I will incorporate your ideas into the post! Want more ideas? Check out this page more closely related to novels!