Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Utilizing Literature Circles

As a history teacher, I’m always concerned about how to most effectively guide students through a book.  Years ago, when I assigned All But My Life by Gerda Weissmann Klein, students “completed” reading guides that followed the book.  It became increasingly clear that students were treating this assignment as busy work- filling in random comments and copying reading guides.  This trivialized Gerda’s story so I was eager to try something new.  Several years ago, English Language Arts colleagues modeled a literature circle with MCHE's Isak Federman Holocaust Teaching Cadre.  This completely changed the way I approached All But My Life.  Students are naturally interested in Gerda’s story and her writing is easily understandable and engaging for high school students.  Their interest, coupled with the reading quizzes I gave, kept the students reading and allowed the students to have meaningful conversations during class time.

To further acquaint yourself with literature circles, Facing Historyprovides some excellent tips for literature circles, especially covering the sensitive subject of genocide.  They also include valuable assessment and extension activities. 

The literature circles allowed my honors sophomores to develop a deeper understanding of the complex history and an appreciation for Gerda’s compelling story.  My literature circle discussion questions were adapted from the teaching materials provided by the Gerda and Kurt Klein Foundation.  I taught this book to honors World History students for roughly ten years and highly recommend it for teenagers (15+) and adults. 

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