I just found a new book title that I can’t wait to read. It’s called Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy. It’s the story of a girl with a cleft palate growing up in Afghanistan. I’m thinking this has great potential to go with some other titles that I have for book clubs namely, Wanting Mor and Homeless Bird. (I’ve even been thinking about resurrecting Julie of the Wolves, a personal favorite of mine from childhood.) Many times I organize my book clubs by genre but I’m finding that it’s limiting and I’ve been trying to build more sets of books that are linked by theme instead. I almost always try to link my read aloud novel with the theme or genre so that we have a shared text to discuss and use during lessons.
As I was reading the reviews of this new book I was struck by how similar it seems to those other two titles. Wouldn’t a reader get so much more from these books if they could read all of them instead of reading and discussing them in isolation? What if instead of students choosing books to read they sometimes chose themes to study as a group?
The teacher could provide a set of study themes that centered on a big idea or question and a few book titles that represented the types of books they would read if they chose that theme. (Is theme even the right word?) So, instead of everyone reading different books about bullying, one group might be reading different texts about bullying while another group would be reading about alienation, and another about survival stories.
Essentially the teacher would then build a set of resources for each theme. It could include several titles that the students could read as a group, additional books for independent reading, picture books, non-fiction books, poetry, articles, and even websites for further study. Within the given time frame students would read a variety of texts on the same subject, be better prepared to go in-depth on their topic, and have meaningful inquiry opportunities as a small group. The end result could be a share out with the class like a presentation or project, teaching a lesson based on a short text such as a poem or article, or writing reviews of books to be made available for independent reading. Group members would be on hand to discuss these books with anyone who chose to read them and act as peer coaches.
After the groups shared their experiences the class would work together to find commonalities among what they learned. So in the examples I gave above the students might talk about how characters overcome challenges and connect that to how we overcome challenges in our daily lives. You could even focus themes on plot elements like books with amazing settings or characters we love to hate if you wanted students to focus on author’s craft.
I think it could be challenging to build the resources at first but it sounds interesting, right? What do you think?