Literature Circles/Book Clubs: Historical Fiction

On 6/11/11 I wrote:
With just a week and three days to go, should I even attempt one last lit circle?   Well…why not?!  Especially if it’s a genre that we have not studied yet, and one that is guaranteed to hold my students’ interest in these waning days of the school year.  With that in mind, last week we plunged into our final genre study of the year: Historical Fiction.  We will meet tomorrow for our first discussions, and I am hoping that all the work we’ve done with non-fiction AND fiction will anchor this particular round of book talk.
I kicked off this lit circle with a read aloud to call attention to genre features – we read:

This wonderful picture book is set in a Japanese internment camp during World War Two.  I think this particular book works so well to launch a historical fiction genre study because (as my kids discovered) some of the historical information was familiar and some was brand new.  For the most part, this is exactly how most of us experience historical fiction – this genre is such an excellent combination of elements of both fiction and non-fiction.
After our read aloud and discussion, we analyzed elements of historical fiction and compared these to elements of fiction in general.  All the work we have done in reading workshop was evident in this conversation, and we were soon ready to divide up by groups and decide how to create our reading and meeting plans.  I asked my kids to use a lit circle template similar to the ones they used for fiction, and soon everyone was off in a reading spot beginning their reading/note taking.

For our first meeting, I posted the following chart to call attention to discussion “must-haves”:
I was already beginning to notice that the end of the year issues were getting in the way of meaningful reading/note taking/discussion.  Would this experiment work? Was it too late in the year, after all??
Well..the answer to the above was…YES! The concentration required for reading and analyzing historical fiction was simply not there.  Most of my kids were willing participants in the first meeting, but after that (even for my most conscientious students) it was tough going.  For some of the more challenging titles, “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” for instance, I think that my kids got very little out of the reading.  So, lesson learned.  Next year, we will finish off with something else.  My take away from this experience is two fold: do not save ambitious projects for the last two weeks of school, and use “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” as a read aloud in and of itself. – perhaps in place of a picture book to begin the genre study.   


2 thoughts on “Literature Circles/Book Clubs: Historical Fiction

  1. I thought I'd read your previous post, too, & am glad I did. I liked all the parts, but agree that the final two weeks are so filled with other ideas that it's difficult for the kids to concentrate on quite new concepts. The Boy In The Striped Pajamas is quite tragic, isn't it? It would make good discussions for you as a read aloud, and then helping others find an equally good historical fiction book to read personally and compare. Thanks for sharing your ideas!

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