I’m not a huge fan of chapter questions, for a number of reasons. The main one is that they usually direct students too much, telling them what to look for, what’s important to note. I much prefer an approach that puts more of the responsibility for thinking about the text in the students’ hands.
My Pre-IB’s have just stared reading A Separate Peace. We did six weeks of Reader’s Workshop, but now, because of the nature of the course, I need to get them focused on a full class novel. They need to do a close read, and take notes as they read and after each chunk of the book is finished, they will meet in groups to share their notes and decide on the important elements of the section.
However, when I’ve done this before, students come to class with pages and pages of notes and books heavy with post-it notes hanging off the pages. Over-doing it when taking notes is almost as useless as taking none at all, because the student just becomes overwhelmed. So the first thing I did was photocopy some sections from the first chapter, and we worked through the close reading process together. With the first page, I told them to highlight what they thought was significant and after that, to choose two of the four paragraphs that really aren’t that important, other than for pushing the story along. They, as I suspected, over-highlighted. But after our discussion, they did a second page, and this time, they were able to focus more on the important parts of the section. It worked so well, I will do it again later in the book, just to remind them. Once is rarely enough.
I also tried something else new to try to get them focused and looking for good detail. Instead of having them read three or four chapters and then meeting in groups to discuss their notes, I assigned one chapter a night for two nights. Then, when they came to class, I passed out post-it notes and had them write down one or two things they noted about the two main characters, any themes they see “lurking” and any interesting use of technique by the author. Next, they put the post-its on the appropriate chart paper that was hanging on the walls.
THE SECOND DAY:
We repeated this the second day, and then I put them in groups to start organizing the post-its. Similar ideas were put together, and headings were created. We did a quick gallery walk so everyone could get a good look at the other groups’ work.
Yesterday they arrived in class having done a close reading of two more chapters. They met for the first time in groups to discuss the whole picture. They were encouraged to get up and add more post-its to our chart paper on the walls. I over-heard rich discussion and several added to our collections on the walls. They still need a little more direction, and I’ll try to get them a little more focused next week.
However, for now, I’m liking the open-ended nature of this approach. It puts the responsibility for close reading and studying the novel in their hands in a way that a more teacher-directed approach does not.If you want to give you students some help with close reading, you may want to check out my close reading bookmarks. They are free in my TpT store, and the product includes a short slide show to introduce close reading to your students. You might also want to check out Active Reading with Post-It Notes.