Students in different middle schools read the novel Holes, by Louis Sachar, and meet in virtual literature circles (or e-circles) to discuss their interpretations of the novel. Comprehension questions and a modified Socratic discussion method promote deep thinking about characterization, plot, style, author intent, and personal interpretation. Students meet face-to-face to create technology-supported projects that demonstrate their understanding and appreciation of the text. An online survey marks changes in attitudes about reading and the ethical questions the novel presents.
View how a variety of student-centered assessments are used in the Literature e-Circles Unit Plan. These assessments help students and teachers set goals; monitor student progress; provide feedback; assess thinking, processes, performances, and products; and reflect on learning throughout the learning cycle.
Prior to instruction, collaborate with local teachers. Arrange to read the book together, and plan your literature e-circle themes. Set up online virtual literature circles for cross-school discussions using a free bulletin board, such as Boards2Go* or Quicktopics*.
Prepare bookmarks with a reading schedule on one side and reader response strategies on the other (as described in Phase I). Plan a time in which classes from the different schools can meet for group presentations and a reading celebration.
Phase I: Getting Ready to Read, 1 or 2 periods
This phase includes introducing the topic and text, assessing initial thinking, introducing online discussion, and preparing to read.
Conduct a Think-Pair-Share activity. Ask students to do a quickwrite on one of the following topics, and then share what they’ve written with a partner:
Follow up with a whole-class discussion. Take anecdotal notes regarding individual student discussion points and use to differentiate instruction if necessary.
Ask students if they have ever been blamed for something they did not do. Conduct a discussion about how they had responded to the accusation and what they now think of their response.
Distribute copies of Louis Sachar's Holes. Have the class look at the cover, and ask students to discuss what the cover art evokes in the reader and why the publisher may have chosen that imagery. Read the text on the back of the book, the note about the author, and the list of other books by Louis Sachar. Many students will remember reading the Wayside School series of books and will enjoy comparing the style and themes of Holes to the author’s earlier books. Ask students if they ever use any of these strategies before starting a book and discuss why they are useful actions to take.
Have students complete a survey* to assess their attitudes about reading. After students complete the survey, discuss class (but not individual) results. Ask, How do we think alike? How are we different? How can we account for our similarities and differences? Build a climate of trust and acceptance for the varying points of view and interpretations of the book that will arise as students read Holes.
Teach students to respond actively to the text by recording their thoughts on sticky notes as they read. Print the following list of response strategies on bookmarks:
Introduce students to the online message board you have set up, and explain processes for online discussion. Student discussions should focus on answering the following Curriculum-Framing Questions:
As the unit progresses, small groups create projects related to the book. Assign students to small groups of 3 to 5 members. Try to make groups diverse so students share a variety of opinions and reading experiences. Assign roles to individuals so everyone in the group contributes. Roles might include team recorder, materials manager, art director, and technology expert. Distribute the collaboration rubric and review with students before they start working in their small groups.
Pass out response strategy/schedule bookmarks and help students record the number of pages they should read each night. (If students read during class and at home, most can finish the book in one week.)
Phase II: Reading and Reflection, 5 or 6 periods
During this phase, students engage in the following actions every day:
First Half of Each Period
Students engage in independent reading, response journal writing, and e-circle discussions. During independent reading, students write responses to the text on yellow sticky notes. After reading a scheduled number of pages, they record and expand their notes in their journal and write a response to the prompt for that day’s e-circle. This entry serves as the “ticket” into the ongoing e-circle discussion. Use the independent reading-responding time to meet with individuals or small groups who need extra support. To encourage steady reading effort, record the number of pages the class has read at the end of each period. Seeing the number of pages grow on a "Class Reading Progress" chart can be motivating.
Every three days, ask students to select their three best notes, write a reflection about the strategies they used, and turn the notes and reflection in for assessment.
Have students complete their daily reading response before engaging in the e-circle. As students join an e-circle discussion, they either respond to teacher prompts or, depending on their maturity, carry on a student-driven discussion. You may want to print and post samples of online dialogue to remind students of the discussion parameters.
Second Half of Each Period
Focus on direct instruction on a literary theme, reading strategy, or technology tool that you need to teach or is dedicated to a Socratic seminar. Teach students about Socratic seminars methods* and provide them with the seminar rubric. Walk through a sample Socratic seminar question process, explaining important points. If this is a new activity, you might want to introduce the activity and conduct a mock seminar before you focus on discussing the text. Post prompts online in the e-circle space in advance, so students can begin thinking about the upcoming discussion.
Focus the discussion on the following core questions in order to promote the transfer of thinking skills and reading strategies to other literature:
Phase III: Creating a Project, 3 or 4 periods
Introduce the project by showing the sample presentation and sharing the project rubric. Ask for input and make revisions as necessary. Guide students through a project-planning process, such as the following:
Ask students to complete the checklist as they work to help keep them on track.
As students are working on projects, conduct whole-class or small-group instruction on the following skills as appropriate:
Ask students to self-assess their group work using the collaboration rubric.
Plan a celebration for sharing the projects with the online groups.
Phase IV: Conclusion and Reflection
In Phase IV, place students in new small groups to reflect on the unit. Ask them to discuss the following questions:
Student should have familiarity with:
English Language Learner
Johnny Walters participated in the Intel® Teach Program, which resulted in this idea for a classroom project. A team of teachers expanded the plan into the example you see here.
Background: Odyssey Story from North Carolina, United States
This unit is aligned to Common Core State Standards for Language Arts.