Anne is a teacher and freelancer interested in helping others improve their writing skills.
The Value of Discussion
When it comes to literature, it is often difficult for high school English teachers to facilitate meaningful discussions with students. Oftentimes, we find ourselves struggling to get basic comprehension skills from the students. However, there are ways for students to make deeper connections with the text that will help them analyze and critically evaluate what they read. Here are some tips on how to engage the students in what they are reading.
The Value of Literature Circles
Literature Circles are a great way to facilitate these types of discussions within the classroom. Whether you are thinking about having students read and discuss in literature circles, or you are deciding to read as a class and then break into small groups for discussions, this type of group setting in the classroom is invaluable to your needs.
1. Real Life Connections
In this assignment, the student delves deeply in the text to find common themes and ideas, and connects them with real life situations. These could be anything from something they have seen on TV or read about, or a situation that they have actually observed in real life. Oftentimes, including this type of activity in the classroom helps students understand the theme and overall message of the story by making personal connections to what they read.
2. Author's Craft
Another way for students to connect with the text is for them to examine how the author uses language to convey meaning. A great way of doing this is by having students pick out descriptive or interesting sentences from the text. You might just want to tell them to pick one sentence that surprised them from the story and have them explain why in their discussion. This is also an opportunity for students to examine and look at tone, literary devices, and imagery that authors use to add description and depth to their writing. Similar to the last assignment, students can ask the question, “What was the purpose of the author describing this scene/event in this way? How does it make us feel as readers?”
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3. Open-Ended Questions
Creating questions is also a great way to see where students are with the comprehension and analysis of literature. You can teach a mini-lesson to students about open ended questions and how to create one. You can even have students create sample questions and post them on a board or wall. Then, other students can respond to questions on the board. As students develop the skill of writing questions, they will also enhance their own critical thinking skills. When students begin to write valuable questions about what they read, they will be thinking on a deeper level. In addition, you can have students keep a log of questions they have as they read. They can make a list of things that confused them, things they didn’t understand and need clarification on, and things that they would like to know more about.
4. The Power of Images
Sometimes, having students draw pictures of what they read will help aid in their comprehension of a text. This is also a great way to teach symbolism. You can have students pick an important scene from the story and draw that image, or maybe have them create a movie poster for the book, or just have them draw important symbols from the story. Once completed, you can post the pictures on the wall and have students do a gallery walk in which they can examine other students’ work, ask questions, and discuss what they have learned or gained insight from based on the pictures they see. Many students that are visual learners will truly benefit from this method of discussion.
5. Word Master
Oftentimes, students become frustrated with what they are reading because they don’t understand the words. Having students keep a running list of vocabulary words will help develop these skills. In the discussion format, students can come together and talk about why specific words are important in understanding the text. To have a deeper analytical discussion, ask students why it was important for the author to use that specific word in the text. Students can even be assigned words to be responsible for and be expected to share their findings with the class.
A Few Tips
With all of these activities, it is important to facilitate discussion by opening it up to the whole class or small groups. Once students have completed each assignment, they should share their ideas and insights into what they have done. Open up the floor for other students to ask questions or comment on something that another student said. Before having classroom discussions, it is always best to model what good discussions look like, and what not to do during the discussion. This will outline your expectations and help students understand what is appropriate and not appropriate in the discussions. Whatever you decide to do in your classroom, I urge you to think about engaging students further with the text; have them explore the text on their own; give them the opportunity to show what they know. More often than not, you will find that students will take something from the literature that they wouldn’t have otherwise gotten out of it. Self-exploration in literature is the key to creating successful discussions in the classroom environment, so remember to give students the freedom of choice. This will make learning more engaging and positive for everyone in the classroom.