We have kicked off the new year in 8th and 9th ELA with memoir book studies!  Students got to vote on a book of choice prior to our winter break in December, and here are the options for each of my classes:

  • Period 8-1 ELA:  The Distance Between Us, Young Reader’s Edition (everyone is reading this book in this class)
  • Period 8-4 ELA:  Becoming Kareem, Someone Like Me, or Bad Boy
  • Period 8-5 ELA:  Somewhere There Is Still a Sun or March Forward, Girl
  • Period 8-6 9th Honors ELA:  Farewell to Manzanar (everyone is reading this book)

For some book titles, I own a small set from past years of teaching either through purchasing on my own, a Donors Choose project, or parent donations through an Amazon wish list.  For all titles, I am able to supplement the number of copies I have through school-purchased mini-sets available to us through our 8th grade “bookroom.”

Our unit essential questions include:

  • How do our confrontations with justice and injustice help to shape our identity?
  • How do those confrontations influence the things we say and do?
  • How do people grow from facing obstacles and overcoming them?
  • How do authors use literary devices, themes, and motifs to create a memoir?
  • How and why is reflection through writing a memoir powerful for coming to know your identity?

All of our resources and weekly modules are housed in Canvas as I’ve done all year; this is especially important now as I have so many students out sick with Covid.  We started our unit last week with some first day back stations that we worked on Tuesday and Wednesday (January 4-5):

For station 2, I helped students craft their personalized reading schedule by walking them through the planning template and showing them a complete example.

We then did some memoir exploration stations; this is a free resource that is a great introduction to the genre.  However, it is a bit of a pain to dig through the owner’s Instagram account to get the handouts that go with the station activities.  In addition, the questions for exploring the six books include one related to audio, but the audio is no longer available in the stations, so be sure to have your students cross out station 2.   Students worked on this Wednesday and Thursday, but could turn in late this week for full credit if they needed more time.

Friday was our first reading day, and we reviewed the guidelines for the reading journals.  I was inspired to create the journals by a fellow teacher on TPT, and I customized mine for each book.  In addition, we looked at a completed example and discussed a suggested schedule for completing journals to correspond to our three discussion days (January 20, 27, and February 3).

Students then had the remainder of the period to read.

This week every day is a reading day; students can also work on their reading journals as they reading.  I try to have some kind of formal warm-up each day; some days this is a very quick activity or something to start and complete as they read and work.  They then have the “work period” time to read and/or work on reading journals as well as get help as needed.

Each day I do some sort of exit ticket in which they share what they’ve done, how they feel about their progress, where they are with their reading plan, and space to submit questions or requests for help.  On Monday, we did an “in-progress” KWL; they completed the K and W at the beginning of class, and then finished the L as they read to share what they were learning during reading time that day.  Yesterday we did not have a formal mini-lesson as I needed to do a mini-lesson on their informational one pager assignment due on January 28; you can learn more about the assignment here and how it relates to our book study.

Today we are doing a walk and talk discussion as our warm-up plus an opportunity for students to chat informally and quickly about their books.  We started with a 3 statement “anticipation in progress” guide:

We then reviewed the procedures for the walk and talk; we did three laps of discussion, and this gave students a chance to talk to three different people about their book.

When we returned to the room, students took about 2 minutes to choose the statement they felt most strongly about and that they wanted to share with the class.  We then did “Everyone Up” where students shared out their statement and thinking to the class.  These activities gave students opportunities to chat about the book plus practice their speaking and listening skills.  They could then read and/or work on journals for the remainder of the period.


For my two classes with mixed books and not doing whole class book study, I still did the walk and talk (4th period did it outside due to hallway movement with other grades), but when we came back in, I broke them into small “birds of feather” groups to decide which of the three statements was most meaningful to their book at this point and to justify their choice.  This activity was a struggle for some groups as a few had trouble coming to a consensus and/or citing specific evidence.  However, this created a teachable moment about how to come to a consensus and respect the group choice even if our opinion is not the majority one as well as remembering the RACE strategy for making sure we have relevant evidence to support a claim and that we can explain it in our own words as well as connect it back to the claim/main idea.


Moving forward, we will be reading and working on journals the rest of the week and T/W of next week before our first discussion.  I’ll talk more in upcoming posts about book discussion structures since I’m not doing formal book clubs this year (students in every class expressed they did NOT LIKE book clubs–I think they got sick of them from doing so many in 6th grade), but we will have discussion around our books.  In future posts I will also continue to share warm-up activities as well as mini-discussion activities that will help break up our days but not turn into a huge time suck that detracts from reading/thinking/working time.

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