After reading Buffy Hamilton's post detailing children having written conversations around a selected text, I knew I had to try it. However, Buffy's students are in high school and I only have a thirty minute time frame so I knew I needed to tweak the idea.
Currently, our 4th grade is working on a Body Systems unit and our 5th grade is researching the American Colonies. I was looking for something to spark interest in these units before the formal research began. This seemed like the time to try this strategy. For the Body Systems unit, I found an article about exercise benefits from Time for Kids, a diagram with an explanation about the new My Plate, and two short chapters from our library books about the digestive system and how the brain sends nerve signals throughout the body. With the American Colony unit, I found a political cartoon that shows the Native American view point, an article about the lost colony of Roanoke, an article of how a colonial kitchen was set up and run, an article describing African Americans being sold as slaves and a time line from Jamestown to the Revolutionary War. I pasted each text on large bulletin board paper that span our library tables.
The children in 4th and 5th grade needed more guidance with their discussion than Buffy's high school students. I am in love with the Fountas and Pinell prompting guides and use them to help create open ended discussion questions for my book clubs and my lessons. I selected four discussion questions and displayed them on the Promethean board. The questions focused on author's message, text features, prior knowledge and any new questions the text may have raised.
The directions were simply...
1. Read the text at your table as a group.
2. Write about one of the discussion question prompts.
3. Read and respond to any table's article or any comment that a classmate wrote.
Each class was different. Some needed more guidance with which question to respond to while other classes jumped right in. Some groups chose to have one person read while other groups wanted to break up the articles so everyone would get a chance to read. The discussion questions did seem to focus the student's responses.
I will definitely use this strategy again. My goal of sparking interest in a topic was obtained. The children also seem to dig deeper in the text and enjoyed commenting on classmates answers.