September 13, 2011

Group Discussion Activity: Save the Last Word For Me

Today I tried an activity with my students called Save the Last Word For Me. This activity can be used in any subject, by most grade levels (I'm thinking first grade - college). It facilitates listening, verbalizing, critical thinking, and probably lots of other skills. Here's how I used it today:

My fifth graders have been reading a short 3-chapter version of the Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black. Today they read the final chapter with a partner, pausing frequently to discuss the text (this is "Read to Others" for you Daily 5 fans).

Each student had 2 index cards. During reading, the students looked for one sentence in the text that stood out to them for any reason. They copied this sentence directly onto the index card. On the back of the card they wrote an explanation, "I chose this sentence because..."

After completing the reading, each student wrote a "Lingering Question" on their second card. On the back of the card they wrote a "Maybe Answer" - a reasonable guess at what the answer might be.

Now, here's where the AWESOME discussion activity comes in!

Students got into groups of 3 or 4. They used the following protocol to share the sentences cards:
1. One person reads aloud their chosen sentence
2. The other group members discuss ideas about why that sentence might have been chosen while the initial student listens to their thinking
3. After a few minutes, the initial student reveals the actual reason for choosing the sentence (therefore they "have the last word").
4. The process begins again with a different student sharing the chosen sentence

Once all the sentence cards were discussed, the students used the same process for sharing their question cards. This allowed them to discuss the many possible answers to powerful questions about the text.

When I first planned to use this discussion activity I knew it would help my students focus their discussions. However, I didn't anticipate just how engaging and meaningful it would be. As I circulated and listened in on their conversations I noticed that my students were much more animated than usual. The sentence discussions even got them talking about author's craft and why the author might use certain words and descriptions.

Some of the things I heard today:
"Maybe she picked the sentence because it answers a question about the characters."
"Maybe he picked that because it was really suspenseful."
"I picked it because the words helped me visualize the action."
"An answer to his question could be that..."
"Wow! That's a really good question!"
"Isn't there some evidence of that question in Chapter 1?"

Today, my students engaged in real conversations about books. They argued with one another. They supported their reasoning with evidence from the text. They explained their thinking so others could understand. They thought about what others might be thinking. They listened.

I'm looking forward to trying this activity with other prompts besides reading/sentence/question. Maybe a historical event, piece of art, poem, photograph...? Instead of writing a sentence and a question they could sketch a scene (Why that scene?), write a connection (How does the text connect?), or describe a feeling (What caused you to feel this way?) The possibilities are endless!

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