About Julie Coiro

Connections That Count! 

Connecting Middle School Students With Real Literature and Real Life

4th Annual Future Teachers Convention:
Be the Apple of Someone's Eye - Teach!
March 17, 2001

Presenter: Julie Coiro, 
Literacy & Technology Specialist

This page can be accessed online at

Response activities we will explore today include... 
Anticipation Guide
Literature Dialogue Group
Reading Project Wheel
Technology Integration

ACTIVITY 1: Private Dialogue Warm-up Activity
  1. What's your favorite book that you've read in school and why?  Any teacher influences?
  2. What's your favorite thing to read outside of school and why? Any people influences?
  3. What do you like to do after you finish reading a book?

ACTIVITY 2: Brainstorming
(First silently, then with partner, finally as large group)
What are some issues that you think middle school teachers face today in terms of teaching literacy skills and strategies?

ACTIVITY 3: Student Scenarios

Imagine that these are your students...
Where do you begin? 
MAX, an eighth grader, has already told you that his intent is to do nothing during the year because "it doesn't count 'til ya get to high school".   Max is not a very strong reader and never volunteers to read a book out loud.  When he finally finds a book that he likes, he reads through it quickly, looking for the action of the story, and doesn't like to write what he thinks.  Max enters the room each day with "I'm only here 'cause you're reading that book to us.  You are reading that book today, aren't you?" 

How can you continue to entice Max while still making sure he completes the curricular requirements?

TREVOR, a sixth grader, has recently moved to your school from a large city quite different than the city your school is in. He is bored during reading and complains, "Why do I need to read this stuff? It doesn't have anything to do with me."  He is extremely quiet and withdrawn and does not participate in class discussions.   He sometimes argues with his peers and does not seem to fit in with the rest of the class.  When you ask Trevor if there's any way you can help, he shrugs and says "Nothin'…you wouldn’t understand anyway." 

What types of reading materials, strategies and topics of instruction do you feel will be most effective in connecting with Trevor?

ALLISON is a seventh grader who has been identified with a reading disability.  She currently reads at about a third grade reading level and has little confidence when reading out loud with her peers.  She is friendly and seems motivated to become a better reader, but lacks the family support and strategies to do so.  She comes from a family of poor readers and there are few opportunities for her to practice reading books at her level at home or at school. 

What opportunities can you provide for Allison that will enable her to become a confident and contributing member to the "literacy club" in your classroom?

ANDREW, a sixth grader, is a voracious reader who reads anything he can get his hands on.  He has seen almost every Discovery Channel television program offered and often comes to school with books on the suggested reading list for high school students.  He loves to talk about books and has an opinion on everything but is often teased by his peers for being too smart and "nerdy".  In the last month, you have noticed Andrew shying away from books when he is around his classmates. 

How will you proceed with Andrew?  What opportunities can you provide that will continue to challenge Andrew while keeping in mind the importance of building friendships in middle school?

The BIG Questions:

If you were to try to inspire middle school students to be more engaged in reading and responding, what would you do? Where would you begin? What is important to consider?

ACTIVITY 4: Demonstration Through Example

What are some examples of reading strategies and instructional techniques that effective teachers use to inspire middle school students?

A. Book Selection B. Anticipation Guide  (for more information, read my Suite101 Article)

C. Reading Aloud (see Lucy Calkins' article Let the Words Work Their Magic)

D. Literature Dialogue Group (structured differently than Literature Circles)

E. Reading Project Wheel: Thomas Armstrong's Seven Ways of Learning

F. Integrating Technology
  • Electronic Graphic Organizers (strategies for before, during and after reading); see my Suite101 article
  • Publishing and sharing work with others (see middle school examples)

B. Anticipation Guide for Baseball Saved Us, by Ken Mochizuki
Created by Julie Coiro

Directions: Show that you agree or disagree with each statement by marking an X in the correct column. Then write a comment about the statement in the blank space. Discuss your opinions with others in your group.  You may add questions and statements as the lesson progresses.

Anticipatory Statement
    Sporting activities provide a release for pent-up energy and frustration.

Supporting Statement: 

    Having someone around that does not believe in you can motivate you to try harder.

Supporting Statement: 

    People often make fun of other people or things that they do not understand.

Supporting Statement: 

    Friends and family are the most important resources to have when times get difficult and there's no where else to turn. 

Supporting Statement: 

    People should be grouped and judged by their physical characteristics or family background. 

Supporting Statement: 

    People of Jewish descent were the only group of individuals that were rounded up and treated cruelly during World War II.

Supporting Statement: 

Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki
Illustrated by Dom Lee

During World War II, the Japanese residents of the United States were herded into camps in remote parts of the country. Mochizuki describes life in the camp and notes the problems that developed when there is little focus in your life. His Dad decides that baseball might be the answer.  An excerpt Students completing a literature extension project developed Salisbury State University in Maryland responded to the book in this way.

"This beautifully written picture book depicts a human struggle in an uplifting and insightful manner. The detailed illustrations begin gray and bleak, changing as the story develops.  Dom Lee expresses each event with masterful artistry.  Ken Mochizuki creates characters that exist in all of us.  The universal appeal is moving and inspirational.

A young Japanese American boy experiences the insecurities, embarrassments, and pain of childhood in a very unusual setting.  The innocent child and his family are torn from their home, along with many others, and imprisoned on a bleak American desert.  Read to discover how the human spirit and the great game of baseball blend to develop the self confidence of this impressionable child."

A wealth of information is available for teachers eager to read this book with students.

C. Literature Dialogue Groups for Baseball Saved Us, by Ken Mochizuki

Debbie West, a reading consultant who works in Groton, Connecticut, explains that "a dialogue model is the best system to use in text interpretation.  It is a natural way for people to learn and construct meaning. The participants initiate responses, share interpretations, and construct meaning.  They practice making meaning as they  make personal connections to the text and benefit form the insights of others."  Ms. West further describes literature dialog groups as experiences that "allow participants numerous opportunities to practice entering author's story worlds and sharing their their interpretations with others.  They also help participants perceive themselves as having worthwhile experiences and ideas to contribute."  If books and guiding questions are chosen carefully, student discussion "can help to foster the appreciation of similarities and differences and provide opportunities for students to show compassion and respect for the cultural diversity of all people".

The process can be modified, but basically it involves these four steps:

  1. Students are broken into small groups of four or five and each member is given a copy of the same book.  Each member of the group will silently read throught the books/text selection once.  (sometimes for a certain purpose)
  2. After silently reading the book / text selection, each participant will buddy read with a partner, discussing any difficult vocabulary / confusing text, etc. (The buddy reading is optional, if needed).  Each participant will then choose four pages in the text that they want to discuss and mark each with a post-it note; the teacher may set a focus or this may be based upon the students needs.  (eg. What is the mood the illustrator or author is trying to convey and how did they do it? or What reminds them of something in their own lives?)
  3. Each participant will share a post-it note page and after sharing will ask the other participants "Any comments or questions?" This continues until each participant has shared their four post-it note pages.  Groups should be able to self facilitate and keep time.
  4. Each participant will complete a literature dialogue discussion sheet (written or reflective) and share their comments in their group.  The sharing of the sheets could also be done as a whole group activity focusing on one of the questions.
Directions for Literature Dialogue Group Activity:

Picture of kids reading in group

Since the first half of this book was read aloud to you, you are asked to read the second half silently in your dialogue groups.  For the sake of time, you will be asked to place two post-it notes, one on each section of the text that will guide your dialog about the following two questions: 

  1. What do you notice about the illustrator's work that enhances the mood or theme of the book?
  2. Mark an illustration or section of text that reminds you of an experience in your own life. 
Choose one of the two questions to discuss with your group.  If time permits, you can share your responses to the second question as well. 

C. Activity Wheel Responses for Baseball Saved Us, by Ken Mochizuki
This wheel is divided into Armstrong's "Seven Ways of Learning".  Students are asked to select a response choice (or make up their own) that fits into one of the seven ways.  Each time a student reads a book and completes a project in a specified learning category, he/she is asked to write the title of the book and the date the project was completed and then color in the appropropriate section.  When all of the spokes are colored in, the student will have pursued literature responses in all seven ways of learning. Students will probably be able to then identify their favorite and least favorite ways of responding to literature.  They are now given a voice and see themselves as valuable contributors to the "literacy club". 

Reading Project Wheel Image

Listed below are some examples of ways that students could respond to Baseball Saved Us.  Which one would you most enjoy? What other examples can you think of as response choices?

    Logical/Mathematical Responses: (logic smart)
    • create a time sequence charts of events that took place in the story
    • complete a scale drawing of the internment camp, including the baseball field
    • give examples of cause and effect relationships in the story
    Verbal/Linguistic Responses: (word smart)
    • write a poem about a character or setting of the book
    • create a diary that one of the characters might have written
    • design a crossword puzzle using 20 selected nouns and verbs from the book
    Interpersonal Responses: (people smart)
    • describe the theme or the message of the book
    • make a mind map showing different aspects of a character
    • interview a person from the culture or time period of the story
    Intrapersonal Responses: (self smart)
    • keep a reflection journal and describe feelings about what you read
    • choose a historial figure from the time period of the book; write or give an oral presentation telling who you would be and why
    • analyze how you would have done things different or similarly if you had been a leader back in World War II
    Visual/Spatial Responses: (picture smart)
    • build a three dimensional model of the setting of the story
    • design a brochure that spotlights this time in history (WW2 Japanese internment camps)
    • retell the story using a mind map
    Body/Kinesthetic: (body smart)
    • demonstrate for the class how exercise and/or sports can relieve tension
    • re-enact a scene from the book
    Musical/Rhymthmic: (music smart)
    • convert the events of the story into a recorded ballad or song
    • perform a radio show; choose a section of the book to interpret using appropriate sound effects
    • create or locate a musical pattern that communicates the emotion or mood of the story

D. Using Technology to Respond to Literature E. Wrap It Up!
Now that you've had time to explore some effective reading strategies and instructional techniques for middle school students, let's meet back once more to brainstorm how to best meet the needs of our four friends:  Max, Trevor, Allison, and Andrew.  Their success in the "literacy club" lies in your hands!  Use the sentence strips to identify three instructional recommendations for one of the students.  Post your ideas on the wall for all of the participants to review as they leave.

Thank you!

Return to Literacy Menu