Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Grand Discussion "How-To" Part One

Due to the response to my blog about the Grand Discussion of November 17, did I mention we had 85 people participate? I thought maybe I'd do a follow up post to answer some of the questions posted in our comment section, by the way, thanks to all who visited and commented, nothing warms the heart of a blogger like comments about a post. My thought is that I'll start with the pre-discussion steps and follow up with what happens on the night of the big event.

1. Book Selection: This is perhaps the most difficult part of the Grand Discussion. The book has to be something that kids will like to read and have enough depth for the parents to enjoy as well. It also has to have some hook or edge or theme that will spark discussion. Our most recent, Bystander by James Preller, had the bullying theme which for fifth graders who will move onto middle school next year is something they need to be aware of. We also choose something that may be a bit more advanced since we know that the students are reading with a parent. Some of our other choices:

The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place by E.L. Konigsburg (Pretentious Reader)
Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles
Tangerine by Edward Bloor
Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt
Greetings From Planet Earth by Barbara Kerley (Becky's Book Reviews)
Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
Savvy by Ingrid Law

2. Publicity: My friend and colleague Joyce and I have had some fun with this. We try to include a photo that represents the book in some way. For example for Al Capone Does My Shirts, we posed behind the bars of a playground toy. For The Unnameables by Ellen Booraem
we posed with Chipotle bags over our head which scored us free chips and dip from one of our favorite eating establishments and a mention on the author's blog, apparently we made her laugh...EXCELLENT! Possibly my favorite of all time was for Hattie Big Sky. We super imposed our faces over American Gothic with speech bubbles that said

"Look at that sky." "Sure is big." HAH! I Still laugh at that one!

Obviously, include the important information, date, time and place and a brief description of the rules, a parent AND child must read it together AND both must come to the discussion event.

3. Books: This has happened several ways. I've contacted bookstores and warned them about our event and the stock up. Other times students get them from the public library. This year I've worked with Selections Book Fairs and the students have the opportunity to pre-order the books and they are shipped to the school. I think the parents like the convenience of having the book brought to them. Another idea that I haven't tried is to use a book that the school already owns multiple copies of, the problem here is that you run the risk of choosing a book that many of the students have already read.

4. Discussion Questions: We usually come up with a set of questions to get the discussion started, these are only suggested questions, we always encourage our groups to go off the script if the discussion takes them there. Typically we are able to find some discussion questions on line, but if the book is new, like Bystander, we actually have to rack our brains to create our own.

In my next post I'll talk about the night of the event. The only other pre-discussion preparation is to bake cookies. Joyce takes care of this. The last discussion tested her abilities and patience, baking for 85. My guess is it also depleted her supply of parchment paper, keeps them from sticking you know.


  1. Just remember....NO burnt cookies when you bake them on parchment paper! And we had enough cookies for everyone to have TWO! This is an important pre-discussion duty!

  2. Perfect timing! I was going to call you and ask about these details of planning.Thanks!!

  3. You're in the perfect job for you-excellent post!
    I would add as the 5th grade teacher that it is a very BIG deal that it stays a 5th grade Grand Discussion. There appears to be a "right to passage." The students ask about it the minute they enter my classroom in Aug. Personally I love the connection with the parent piece which allows ALL students to have the opportunity to participate even if the book might be a little hard for them. I have had students read the book aloud with their parent. maria

  4. Wait! I missed the American Gothic photos. Where can those be found?

    And can I please enroll in your classes? I'll even learn off the capitals of every state or do fractions or something else very hard if you'll let me in.

  5. Kirby,

    You're welcome ANYTIME in my class and I won't even make you do fractions, or long division or any other hard math. Heck, I haven't even taught math in 3 years! I LOVE MY JOB!