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Engaging grades 7-8: Integrated study unit, Cupertino (Ca.) Middle School

In some ways, this exceptional unit stands for all the creative, classroom-based reading-and-discussion projects that I encountered last year. In this one, designed and led by teacher Susan Stanaway-Maisel at Cupertino Middle School in the Silicon Valley, the class broke into student "lit groups" that set their own pace as they met, several times each week, to move through reading and discussing the book.

In each group, students played all the key roles: discussion leader, summarizer, passage picker, connector (to other literature and to real life), illustrator, and vocabulary finder. Each week's vocabulary list was generated by students from their reading. Students also watched and discussed a real-life video on bullying, and played inclusion-focused games developed by the Anti-Defamation League. They each completed a take-home exam that centered on Internet research; and they developed questions for a conversation with me, which took place over the phone but was similar to many other Q&A-based discussions I had on visits to schools. Follow-up activities included a dramatic reading of "The Diary of Anne Frank," the play version, and a discussion of bullying in school and society.

"I can honestly say that these eighth graders rated this unit as one of the best they did all year," reports Stanaway-Maisel, who now teaches at the Discovery Charter School in San Jose. "It was in-depth and opened many of their eyes to a spectrum of issues."

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