Students dive deep and discuss a universal theme
It’s finally spring! For most, this means a welcome break from the cold, dark days of winter. But for teachers, spring also means something else.
These days, testing season often involves day after day of boring test prep, test anxiety, and seemingly endless test sessions that are almost as painful for teachers as they are for students.
But it doesn’t have to be that way! We’ve put together lessons that will make the dreaded testing season not only a time for valuable literacy instruction, but also fun!
For our first test-prep post of the season, I’m going to share an activity that will also work well year-round. In a single class period, your students will read closely in small groups and use text evidence to support their work. They will also get to collaborate as a whole class as they explore multiple texts that share a theme.
I present to you…
The Jigsaw Game
A “jigsaw” reading activity is a great opportunity to assign different texts to groups of students who can then all come together and share what they have learned. It’s wonderful to see students become experts on a text (a piece of the puzzle) and then share their unique perspectives with the whole class. It’s easy to create a jigsaw lesson using our CommonLit Theme Library. I recommend identifying a topical theme for your class and then selecting an essential question you want to ask students for this lesson.
First, make sure you’ve created groups of 4–6 students with varying levels of reading ability. If you’ve never done groups before, I highly recommend it! It’s crucial for this exercise because it promotes discussion and collaboration. Especially during test-prep season, it can help break up the monotony of doing lonely drills.
Next, after browsing the CommonLit Theme Library, pick a theme and an essential question that is relevant to what you’re doing in class, or choose one you think students will love discussing.
For example, I might chose the CommonLit theme Man vs. Nature and the essential question “Who’s in control: man or nature?” for 8th grade students. If I had a class of 25 students, I would assign a different text to each group of 5 students. With the help of the theme library I can assign each of the following texts at the 8th grade level:
- “From Blossoms,” a poem by Li-Young Lee
- “World Below the Brine,” a poem by Walt Whitman
- NASA’s informational text “What is an Orbit?”
- National Geographic’s informational text “Plate Tectonics: Moving and Shaking”
- Anne Sewell’s “Excerpt from Black Beauty: An Autobiography of a Horse”
As you select texts, assign them to your small student groups in CommonLit.
Get students in their groups and assign them each a role; this gives each student responsibility over their learning. Assign roles like “Group Leader,” “Materials Manager,” “Timekeeper,” “Scribe,” or, my favorite, “Positive Vibes Technician” (a student in charge of encouraging and giving positive reinforcement to their peers for participating).
Now have each group read through their unique text together as you circulate and provide feedback. Once students are done reading, have them work as a group to answer the standards-aligned questions. Encourage them to come to a consensus on each answer, which compels them to discuss as a group. Have the Scribe record the team’s final answers.
Here’s how to infuse the fun: Tell students that the group with the highest average is the winner. You can give out prizes, but I find bragging rights to be sufficient in most cases. Caution: This lesson may result in students getting really passionate and using evidence to support their claims!
Once all groups have finished the competition, begin the class-wide discussion centered around the essential question. Group Leaders should share out a summary of their text and how it relates to the essential question. Allow students to agree and disagree with one another’s statements, using evidence from their texts to support their arguments.
Depending on how much class time you have or whether you can spare two class periods on the lesson, you could run a Socratic discussion around the essential question. See our tips for running a Socratic discussion here.
This lesson is a great way to prepare students for a test that goes beyond silent drills. Students in a single class can read many different texts and bring their unique perspectives to create a class-wide discussion.
Want another fun test prep game? Check out my other lesson Multiple Choice Relay Races!