Standard Lesson

Give Them a Hand: Promoting Positive Interaction in Literature Circles

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Five 30-minute sessions
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Students observe the characteristics of effective small-group discussions through video examples or a "fishbowl" technique. In subsequent discussions, they are encouraged to interact with one another in a productive and respectful manner, with a focus on the value of exchanging meaningful compliments. Through targeted self-reflection, students set goals for improving their participation in productive discussions and take responsibility for monitoring their progress. Although this lesson is recommended for middle school students, it could also be used effectively with both younger and older students.

From Theory to Practice

  • Teachers cannot just trust that successful peer-led student discussion will emerge naturally on its own. Students need to be taught skills for engaging in productive discussions.

  • Minilessons for literature circles can promote positive classroom discussion.
  • Teachers can use minilessons to confront a variety of difficulties and implement more effective literature circle discussions.

  • A "friendliness and support" T-chart can help students define what a good discussion sounds like and looks like.

  • Reflection on the quality of group discussion can be used to celebrate positive contributions, designate goals for improvement, and plan for meeting these goals.

  • There is a good discussion of the qualities of a successful literature circle in this book on pages 48–54. Other valuable resources in the book include the chapter "Eye in the Sky Videotaping"(pages 234–238), which describes how to use videotaping effectively, and the video self-reflection sheet (appendix).

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 9. Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Computer with Internet access and projection capability, or video player and monitor

  • Large chart paper and colored construction paper




1. To prepare yourself for this lesson and others that incorporate literature circles, see the Websites for Teacher Preparation in the Resources section and the publications cited in the Theory to Practice section.

2. Make a copy for each student of Indicators of a Good Book Discussion Group, the Warm/Cool Compliment T-Chart, and the Reflection Worksheet.

3. Trace an outline of your hand and copy onto colored construction paper. Cut out two copies for each student.

4. Decide what model of a good book discussion you will present to students. Suggestions include:


  • Video Clips for Looking into Literature Circles by Harvey Daniels. Links are provided for downloads in Windows Media or QuickTime format, under the heading Video Clips.

  • A video recording of yourself engaging in a book club discussion with colleagues

  • A "fishbowl" demonstration using a selected group of students

    Note: These students would discuss a previously read text while the rest of the class observed. Be sure to choose students who can demonstrate the qualities of a good discussion group.
Arrange for any necessary computer or video equipment to show your chosen example.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Recognize the qualities of an effective book discussion group

  • Learn that an effective compliment is positive and specific

  • Recognize the difference between "warm" and "cool" compliments

  • Practice giving effective compliments to other group members

  • Recognize the value of self-reflection for goal setting

  • Evaluate their participation in group discussions based on the quality, as well as the quantity, of their contributions

Session 1: Qualities of a Good Literature Circle Discussion

1. Distribute copies of the Indicators of a Good Book Discussion Group. Make sure students understand the headings on the chart. Go over each of the categories and the examples, and clearly define the terms verbal behavior, nonverbal behavior, and skill.

2. Present your chosen model of a successful literature circle (see Preparation, Step 4). If you are using a video, show a short segment and then stop. Model how to fill in the Indicators of a Good Book Discussion Group chart, talking through your thinking process to explain why you put your example in a given category.

3. Continue with the video and have students use their copies of the sheet to take notes and to comment on behaviors that they observe.

4. Have students meet with partners to discuss their observations.

5. After students have shared with their partners, conduct a class discussion to create a list on chart paper of the Characteristics of a Good Literature Circle Discussion. Display the list in the classroom as a reference for later sessions.

Session 2: What Makes an Effective Compliment?

1. Review the chart of Characteristics of a Good Literature Circle Discussion created during the previous session. Using an example from the discussion in Session 1, show a hand cutout to visually emphasize a positive and specific compliment. Tell students that the expression to give someone a hand can mean to give a compliment.

2. Model how to construct an effective compliment. Explain that in order for a compliment to have an impact it needs to be both positive and specific. Use the sentence starter, "I give _______ a hand because _______." Refer to behaviors and skills listed on the chart of Characteristics of a Good Literature Circle Discussion.

3. Distribute a hand cutout to each student (see Preparation, Step 3).

4. Show one of the sample discussion videos (see Preparation, Step 4). Note: This should not be a video of classmates as it is easier to practice giving compliments to unknown parties.

5. Instruct students to choose a participant in the video discussion group to whom they can give a compliment, and write on their hand cutouts, "I give _______ a hand because _______." Each student should write at least one compliment in this format to a participant in the video group.

6. Explain the features of a warm compliment versus a cool compliment. A warm compliment designates a specific behavior and refers to the positive skill demonstrated by that behavior. An example would be "I give Quinn a hand because he did a nice job nodding his head (specific behavior) and actively listening (positive skill) to other group members." A cool compliment does not indicate either a specific behavior or a positive group skill. An example could be something like, "I give Lilly a hand because she did a good job."

7. Distribute copies of the Warm/Cool Compliment T-Chart and explain that students will be using the chart to evaluate compliments, with warm on one side and cool on the other. Provide a model of each type of compliment to get students started.

8. Have students work in small groups using the T-chart to categorize the compliments they wrote while watching the video. Each student should read his or her compliment aloud, and the group will decide whether it is a warm or cool compliment. The group should also suggest ways to improve upon the compliment. When all compliments have been sorted and discussed, each group should present their T-chart and suggestions to the class.

Session 3: Practicing Compliments

It is important to monitor students during this activity to be sure everyone is included. You may wish to assign each student another group member before the group meets to avoid having everyone pick the same person to compliment or having someone left out entirely. Also, be on the lookout for students who give backhanded compliments (e.g., "I give Jazzire a hand because she was behind in the story and never prepared, but today she was prepared") or who turn the activity into a chance to pick on another student. Be very specific about how this strategy contributes to the idea of building a positive learning community.

1. Explain that students will be meeting in their literature circles to discuss the text they have been reading and that they will also be practicing the skill of giving effective compliments. Display the list of Characteristics of a Good Literature Circle Discussion that the class created in Session 1 and suggest that students refer to it to guide their practice.

2. Distribute a blank hand cutout to each student. Remind students that their compliments should be both positive and specific.

3. Explain that following their literature circle discussion, each student will write one compliment to another group member based on the models presented in Session 2.

4. After students write their compliments, give them an opportunity to celebrate and share the compliments. Remind them to use these compliments to guide their future group discussions.

Session 4: Self-Reflection

Prior to Session 4, make a video (or audio) recording of at least one meeting of each of the class literature circles.

1. Show students a sample video recording of one of their literature circles. Using the Reflection Worksheet as a guide, demonstrate for students how to write an effective reflection. Explain to students that in order for a goal to be measurable, it has to be observable. For example, "I will think more" would not be measurable-how can we see "thinking"? But a goal such as "I will add one more comment" is measurable.

2. Discuss with students the difference between quantity and quality in group discussions. Just talking a lot does not signify that someone is an effective group member. Students should also reflect on the quality of their contributions. Are the comments relevant to the text being discussed? Do they make text-to-world or text-to-text connections? Are they responsive to the comments of other group members?

3. Have students watch the videos of their own discussion groups. Explain that as they are watching, they should complete the Reflection Worksheet and establish at least one goal for a future group discussion.

Session 5: Setting Meaningful Goals

Prior to Session 5, meet with students individually to help them engage in higher-level reflection. Review their individual Reflection Worksheets using the following criteria checklist:

  • The student has identified one specific area in which he or she did well.

  • The student has identified one specific area that he or she needs to work on.

  • The student has created at least one measurable goal based on this reflection for the next meeting.

  • The student is focusing on the quality of his or her interactions, not the quantity.
1. Have students meet in their literature circles for discussion and refer to their Reflection Worksheets to track the desired behaviors.

2. After the literature circle discussions, have students reflect on whether they met their stated goals.

3. Following their reflection, have students formulate new goals. Stress to students that self-reflection and goal setting is a never-ending process, and that engaging in this process will help them become better learners, better group members, and more articulate members of the community.


Student Assessment / Reflections

Formative Assessment

  • Collect the Indicators of a Good Book Discussion Group to see if students have identified appropriate characteristics.

  • Collect a written compliment from each student during Session 2 to determine that they can produce a compliment that is both positive and specific.

  • Collect the Warm/Cool Compliment T-Chart to assess whether students understand the difference between warm and cool compliments.

  • As students practice giving positive and specific comments to other group members during Session 3, collect a sample compliment from each student.

Summative Assessment

  • After Session 3, have students write a reflection in response to the following prompt: What makes an effective compliment and why is this important to a group discussion?

  • Observe the discussion groups during Session 3 and subsequent discussions, and keep anecdotal records of how students compliment one other.

  • Collect the Reflection Worksheets and use them to evaluate each student’s growth as a positive group member.

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