Tag Archives: reading

Eighth graders formed small reading groups on our in-house Elgg social network to discuss *To Kill a Mockingbird*

Eve Becker, 8th Grade English, is one of the most interesting people, gifted writers, and talented teachers I’ve had the pleasure to know. She actually gets kids to love reading and she inspires them to dig into the words, text, tenor of each piece like a surgeon. Every time I enter her classroom, I learn something new.

She (and I) are reading To Kill A Mockingbird with the 8th graders. This is the 50th Anniversary of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning classic. TKAM ranks as one of my favorite books ever, and while the last time I read it was over 10 years ago, I’m excited to read it along with the kids and participate in their online discussions.

After briefly discussing the best platform for the students to collaborate online (wiki, Google Site, Drupal, WordPress…), Eve chose to use our in-house Elgg social network. As a school, we try to reinforce how to use technology academically, respectfully, and responsibly, and we have a variety of tools at our disposal including The Social Network, where we show students how to behave in our protected spaces and hope that they continue to make good choices online when left to their own devices.

She divided the 8th graders into small reading groups of 3-4 people, and each member of the group helped populate their group’s space on The Social Network to include:

1. A bookmark from the full-class group to their small reading group

2. An avatar/icon to represent their group

3. A Group Discussion space where the students address teacher-led discussion questions like:

Chapter Nine: Why doesn’t Scout tell anyone but Uncle Jack the real reason she beat up Francis? What does this demonstrate about Scout?

4. A Group Blog section where students post their own questions/thoughts about the book and respond to each other’s posts.

Chapter 8: Do you think it was racists for Jem and Scout to build a black snowman?

5. A Page for Vocabulary terms where students follow a follow 5-step format.

NOTE: the page itself consists of the guidelines for adding vocabulary terms (see below), while students actually contribute to the page via the Comments section. Thus there exists a timestamp with their name each time they add a word to the page. This is great for individual accountability even as they working as a group.

1. Word

2. Make an educated guess (using context clues)

3. Look it up

4. Part of Speech

5. Make up your own sentence 

please specify the page/chapter where you located the word

6. A Page for Quotations where students write a quote, why they chose it, and page number.

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Muncie, Indiana (not Louisiana, Paris, France, New York or Rome)


I am heading to Indiana tomorrow to present at NALS (National Association of Lab Schools) with a colleague. We are unveiling our Independent Reading Site, a site created with Google Apps for Edu and shared with our school community. After students finish reading a book, they link a new book review to their reader profile. Students populate the site with an ever-increasing selection of these book reviews. They follow a clear protocol and list the title, author, genre, date begun, date completed, a rating from 1-5 (1 being poor, 5 being great), a brief synopsis of the story, and their recommendation. These reviews are in the form of text, video, powerpoint presentation, or drawing.

In the interest of full disclosure, at my school we have a 1:1 laptop program in Grades 2-8, teachers willing to integrate technology, three full-time dedicated technology integrators, and a differentiated progressive curriculum. It’s a little like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.


In previous years, students filled out book reviews and tracked their reading progress in a black&white composition book and 3″x5″ cards. The 2-dimensional nature of these paper objects did not generate conversation unless another student picked up that notebook or notecard and read the review. Still, there was no place to leave a comment or opinion or suggestion.

After hemming and hawing over which digital platform to use for this project (The wiki? A blog? Our social network? Edmodo?), we decided to create a shared Google Site because it is free, accessible from anywhere, allows commenting, user friends, and sustainable (I index the students by year of graduation). As our site is power by Google, students can quickly and easily search the site for book titles, genres, authors, and other classmates. Students are encouraged to comment on each others reviews and seek out new titles based on recommendations from their peers. In essence, our middle school students are social networking around literature.

Publishing the reviews publicly ensures that kids are accountable for their independent reading, practicing writing for an online audience, becoming better communicators, and learning how to post appropriate comments on each other’s reviews.

I love my job.

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