We finished our literary nonfiction and memoirs on January 31; I wanted students to have a way to discuss their books and share their thinking across texts. While I really wanted to do a “Peeling the Fruit” or “Circle of Viewpoints” thinking activity, I didn’t feel like my 8th graders were quite ready for this more complex and time-intensive task. However, I knew that ConverSTATIONS would be a perfect fit: lots of talking, physical movement, and enough structure to keep learning flowing but not stifled.
Originally, I wanted to use the TQE method to let the students generate all of the questions for the ConverSTATIONS activity. However, after two classes last Thursday, I realized it was quite a challenge for my students to generate big questions and topics across multiple books even though they made a valiant effort in their book club groups. I switched gears for my final two classes and had students complete a hard copy questionnaire that included an opportunity to generate questions. For whatever reason, this individual approach seemed to nudge the thinking and ideas that could speak to multiple books. For about 60% of the discussion questions you’ll see below, the seed ideas came from student feedback on the individual questionnaires; the remaining 40% came from me.
- When students arrived this past Friday, I projected on the board the table/seating assignments to start off our converSTATIONS. Students were instructed to take out their book clubs and all reading notes/book club materials, including their Book/Head/Heart brochures.
- We started with Round 1 of our discussion (see below).
- I encouraged students to discuss as much as they could around the questions and thinking prompts. Each round last approximately 3-5 minutes depending on the complexity of the prompt.
- After the first round, I selected two “movers” to rotate to the next table group for each table area. The “anchor” was someone who stayed stationary and was an intentional choice as well.
- We repeated this process for six rounds.
- For my first period, students did an index card reflection on what they heard in the conversation that was most helpful and meaningful to them; I originally had planned for this class to do the literary argument paragraph the other classes did, but we ran short on time, so I had to modify their reflection task. These paragraphs were written on a giant Post-It (a student favorite, incidentally!) and then posted in the parking lot of each student’s respective book).
I love the converSTATION structure because it encourages deeper thinking but keeps the conversations fresh as students hear multiple voices and perspectives on different questions and topics. Students enjoyed another opportunity getting to hear about different books and to make connections across books. This structure is friendly to all ability levels and many instances, gives more voice to your students who may tend to be quiet in larger groups. I intentionally kept the table groups to 3 and am lucky my class sizes are small enough to permit this low number. It’s also easy to adapt to different subject areas and age groups! Kudos to Sarah Brown Wessling for this tried and true discussion strategy that is flexible and that encourages deeper thinking.