INTRODUCTION: In a recent semester, my students in College Prep Reading wanted to incorporate a novel into their course work, so I had each of them turn in titles of three novels s/he had not read but would enjoy reading. The most requested title was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I decided to have three 50-minute Book Club Circle meetings during the semester, and at each meeting we would dive a bit deeper into the themes in the book. One of the main themes of this book is the value of friendships or interdependence (one of the eight On Course Principles for success). I saw a great opportunity through the Book Club Circles to help students understand that building mutually supportive relationships can help them achieve personal and academic goals that might otherwise be difficult or even impossible.
- To build awareness of the value of interdependence
- To develop strategies for building mutually supportive relationships in college
- Book: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
- Handout #1: Instructions for Writing Discussion Questions (appended below)
- Handout #2: Rules for Our Book Club Circle (appended below)
1. BOOK CLUB CIRCLE #1: “Assignment—Read and study chapters 1-6 of *Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone* and type two discussion questions with answers. Note relevant page numbers so you can go back to the novel and support your answers.” Provide students with the two handouts: Instructions for Writing Discussion Questions and Rules for Our Book Club Circle. What follows are directions for facilitating the first Book Club Circle:
1-1. Use a “round robin” to summarize the actions in chapters 1-6. The first student tells one incident at the beginning of the story and passes the story on to the next student until all major incidents in the plot have been recalled. Since students who have not read their assignment can not participate, I assign them an essay to write. After our first session, all students completed their reading assignments.
1-2. Ask an opening question to start the discussion (e.g., Is Harry a believable character? Explain), and then have students ask their questions to keep the discussion going. For example, my students asked, “Why is Harry living with his awful aunt and uncle? How does Harry feel getting ready to go to a new school? How did you feel when you had to attend a new school: our college?”
1-3. At an appropriate point in the discussion, steer the conversation to how difficult life is for Harry and why this is so. My questions: “Why is life so harsh for Harry? What are some situations that you would change to make Harry’s life easier?” Students agreed that one reason Harry’s life is so harsh is because he has no friends or family. We continued discussing this issue and other student questions for 50 minutes.
2. BOOK CLUB CIRCLE #2: Assignment—Read and study chapters 7-11, and type two discussion questions with answers for those chapters. Note relevant page numbers so you can support your answers during the 50-minute book discussion.
2-1 Ask students to vote on which skill was more important in helping Harry adjust to Hogwarts School: making friendships or building courage. For the initial vote in my class, making friendships received 65% of the votes while building courage received 35%.
2-2 Discuss Chapters 7-11. I started the discussion with “Why is making friends so important in helping Harry adjust to his new school? Has it been important for you to make new friends at our college? Why?” Some of the subsequent student questions included “Why is Quidditch so important to the students at Hogwarts? How does Quidditch compare with American football? Does Hagrid’s dog Fang live up to his name? Do you or any of your friends have pets with ironic names?” Continue discussing student questions for the remainder of time available.
2-3 At the end of the discussion, vote again on which skill is more important in helping Harry adjust to Hogwarts School. My students once again chose “making friendships.” This time the percentage increased to 90% for friendship and decreased to10% for courage.
3. BOOK CLUB CIRCLE #3: Assignment—Read and study chapters 12-17, and type two discussion questions with answers on these chapters. Note page numbers for reference during the discussion.
3-1 My initial questions included, “Why is the title of the novel appropriate? What could be another title for this novel?” For the next 20 minutes or so, facilitate a discussion of student questions. My students asked questions such as “What is the most interesting part of the novel? Who is your favorite character, besides Harry Potter? Explain why.”
3-2 Divide students into three groups. Assign each group of students one of Harry’s three friends: Hagrid, Ron, or Hermione. Provide the following four questions on a handout or transparency and ask groups to discuss/record their answers:
- What qualities does your assigned character bring to the group consisting of Harry and his other new friends?
- What does his/her acceptance into the group of friends tell you about the nature of friendship?
- What are some of the ways that the experiences of giving and receiving assistance help the group of friends achieve personal and academic goals?
- What is the life lesson you learned about the importance of making friends?
Allow about 10 minutes for this discussion.
3-3 Write the names of the three friends on the board. Under each character’s name, have a student from each group list the qualities they selected for that character. (5 minutes)
3-4 Have a speaker from each group provide answers to the other three questions on the handout. (5 minutes)
3-5 Ask the entire class: How can friendships in college help students achieve personal and academic goals that might otherwise be difficult or impossible? Elicit specific examples from the students’ past experiences. (5 minutes)
3-6. Ask the entire class: What ways have you found effective for developing friendships in new situations such as college? (5 minutes)
The Book Club Circle was a great way to explore our reading of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. At the final Book Club Circle, students brought refreshments to add to our celebration. As the students chatted among themselves, I was astounded by how much they drew from the story. When one student mentioned an example of friendship, another would take the example a step further. Each group came up with numerous ideas and qualities for Harry’s friends such as:
Ron: encouraging, adventurous, sharing (his past), reliable, considerate
Hermione: caring, honest, protective, academically ambitious, intelligent, logical, thoughtful, magical
Hagrid: humorous, brave, loyal, giving, helpful, mentoring
Another interesting outcome of the activity was the fact that the groups picked the shy people as group speakers. This gave the students who do not talk much in class an important responsibility to the group.
Some answers to the life lessons learned included:
- “Regardless of your background, true friendship will prevail.”
- “Friendship is an essential element in one’s life.”
- “Obstacles or hardships that come along in this life are easier to conquer with loyal friends at your side.”
- “Friendship means working together, trusting each other, and having determination for all.”
- “Good friends are willing to do almost anything for you.”
As I looked around the room, I saw the new friendships students had made in our class and the interdependence they had developed by working together.
Listening to the students work together, sharing ideas, correcting each other, and adding information, I learned that even college prep readers can think deeply about a novel they read and can incorporate the book’s themes into their own lives. It was a delightful way to see how important developing skills of interdependence is for students.
Handout#1: Instructions for Writing Group Discussion Questions
You must have two typed discussion questions with insightful answers for each assigned part of the novel (1, 2, and 3). These questions are due on the day of our Book Club Circle.
*Guidelines for Creating Questions
- Ask questions that do not have a right or wrong answer.
- Ask questions that begin with discuss, examine, describe, explain, or compare.
- Ask follow-up questions.
- Ask questions that have several possible answers.
- Do not ask narrow, focused questions.
- Do not ask questions that have a fact for an answer.
- Is this part of the book about _____ or_______? Explain.
- What would be a good title for this assigned part (1, 2, or 3) of the novel?
- Which character is the most/least __________ and why?
- Compare and contrast ______________.
- Is this passage about ________ or _______? Explain.
- What is meant by _____ ? Explain.
- What is most important __________ or _________? Explain.
- What did you like/dislike about _______ in the novel? Why?
- Where else in the text do you find evidence of _________? Explain.
- Discuss how ________ is supported in the text?
- Explain the implications of ______?
- How is _________ relative to modern day?
- If you could change something, what would it be?
- If you could write a new ending, what would you write?
Handout#2: Rules for Book Club Circle
- We are prepared, having studied the material.
- We are courteous.
- We focus on the common text.
- We listen to one another.
- We refer to the text.
- We share our point of view.
- We speak when no one else is speaking.
- We avoid sarcasm or put downs.
- We learn together.
–Joanne Metzler Wenz, Faculty, English/College Prep Reading II, Brevard Community College, FL