Book In An Hour: A Classroom Strategy

This past winter I had the opportunity to attend a workshop with Organization of American Historians distinguished lecturer, Dr. Lendol Calder.   This is the first place where I came across the strategy called Book In An Hour.  Since then I’ve tried to find additional internet resources on this strategy, but they appear to be few and far between.  I know other people would find it useful, so I decided to write up the strategy and post it here on the blog.  If you know of additional resources or ways to adapt this strategy, I would enjoy hearing from you.

What: The Book In An Hour strategy is a jigsaw activity for chapter books.  While the strategy can take more than an hour depending on the reading and presentation method you choose.

Why: While many teachers view this activity as a time saver, I view it as a way to expose students to more literary and historical materials than I might have been able to do otherwise.  There are many books that I would love my students to read, but I know that being able to do so is not always my reality.  This strategy gives me an avenue to expose them to additional literature and other important historical works without taking much time away from the other aspects of my courses.  It also provides opportunities for differentiation.  This strategy can be adapted to introduce a book that students will be reading in-depth.  Instead of jigsawing all of the chapters, use the same strategy with only a few selected chapters to create interest and engagement.


  1. Decide if you are going to divide students up into groups or jigsaw with individual students.  If you are using groups, I recommend making them heterogeneous or creating them in a way that subtly facilitates differentiation.  I also encourage you to give each student in the group a role (facilitator, recorder, reader, questioner, creative designer, whatever fits the needs of your adaptation of the strategy).
  2. Divide the book into sections.  You can either break it down so each group/individual has approximately the same reading load (these sections can be randomly assigned) or differentiate and assign sections based on reading skills. Be sure each student has their assignment written down somewhere.  You could write the chapter assignments for each group on large note cards or bookmarks, hand out a direction sheet that includes the assignments, have students write them down, etc .
  3. Hand out the reading sections to groups/individuals.  Some teachers choose to take apart the actual books, rebinding them so students only have the section they are assigned.
  4. Students then read their assigned sections.  If you are using groups, it seems to be better to allow them to read their section together in class.  There are several methods you can implement as students read to improve comprehension and to help them prepare to present their information to the rest of the class.  If they are in a group, they may read together and complete the set of tasks you give them while doing so.  They may also read individually, with set times to stop and complete the group tasks before reading more.  The tasks that you can have students complete as they read include asking questions (since they only have part of the story…this is also a great opportunity to work with students on asking higher level questions), identifying plot, setting, characters, chronology of events, significant events, cause/effect, compare/contrast, documented evidence (in historical scholarship and other research readings), items related to a theme or focus question, presentation ideas, and anything else that fits your purpose.  Students can record their findings on a teacher-created template, notebook paper, index cards, or anything that works for you.  Lendol suggested using big paper, 12″ x 18″ or larger.  The paper is placed in landscape position and the left side is folded in about ¼ of the of length of the paper.  Below is a diagram of how he set it up for his students.  Note: In the questions section, students can be directed to use a number of responses or prompts such as “I wonder if…”, make predictions, ask about missing prior events/knowledge, ask leveled questions (using a structure such as Bloom’s Taxonomy), etc.

    The paper is folded to create the sections, and the front becomes a flap that folds over.
    The paper is folded to create the sections, and the front becomes a flap that folds over.
  5. Have students create their presentation.  You can give them a specific format, or leave the choice up to them.  Options include (but certainly are not limited to): skits, posters, cartoons/comics, movies, Keynote or PowerPoint presentations (please not just slides to be read…students should present!), song playlist or soundtrack that highlights themes, events, characters, etc.  You can incorporate technology and have students create a webpage, wiki, blog, Glog, Wordle, podcast, and more.  The sky is the limit for ways the information can be brought together.  Do whatever best fits your class and your purpose.
  6. Have students present their information, using your selected method, to the other students in the class.  Be sure that there is a way for students to interact and get answers to their question.  They need to see the whole picture when everything is done.
  7. It is a good idea to have a whole class conversation on the themes or focus question for the book.  Direct the conversation to meet your needs and discuss how the book fits in to your overall unit plan.  It is good to be sure students understand why this book was important enough to study.  You can also have charts to be filled out as a class (poster style or on the white/chalkboard) that include topics such as historical events, themes, characters, plot, setting, timeline, cause/effect, compare/contrast, etc.
  8. You can let the final discussion or presentations be your method of assessment for the book, or you can have students complete a synthesis activity using numerous writing styles and prompts or other methods you find useful.

I suggest obtaining student feedback on Book In An Hour, especially the first few times you use it, so you may better tweak it to the learning needs of your students.  This is an interesting strategy that has the potential to motivate students to read the entire book on their own.  Again, if you have ideas for other adaptations, questions or other feedback, please feel free to comment.  I’d love to hear how this works in your classroom.

Resources Consulted:


Thoughts on Collaboration and Developing Higher Level Questioning Skills

Whether you are an Instructional Coach, a peer coach, or a teacher, higher level questioning is something that we all think about in one form or another.  In the conversations I’ve heard about critical thinking, Bloom’s Taxonomy is almost always referenced.  As a quick background knowledge review, here is the recently revised version of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Searching for the attribution info. Any leads would be appreciated.
Searching for the attribution info. Any leads would be appreciated.

As teachers, we work to  to ask higher-level questions and help our students stretch their minds and develop higher-order thinking skills.  However, as a teacher this can sometimes sound a lot easier than it actually is.  I believe it takes time and practice to develop this teaching skill.  As Instructional Coaches, we need to have the tools to assist our teachers in their quest to continually develop and refine these important skills.  I would like to put forth some suggestions on how to coach teachers on this area, but they are by no means comprehensive.  I would appreciate any feedback or thoughts in the comments area.

Classroom Observations – This is one of the first places to start.  Coaches need to get a baseline of where their teachers currently are so they can differentiate the best approach for each individual.  Multiple observations are preferable, but any observation in which classroom discussion takes place will suffice.  Be sure that you are aware of the purpose of the discussion, so you can best gauge which levels of questioning are appropriate.

There are different types of data forms that can be used for observation.  One is p. 9 of Jim Knight and the Kansas Coaching Project’s Mini-Coaching Manual Effective Questioning: Empowering Teachers to Ask Powerful Questions version 2.0.  In this method, the coach dictates the questions that the teacher is asking.  The coach can then categorize those questions or, better yet, do so alongside the teacher.  Forms from Coaching Classroom Management can be modified to fit your needs.  You can, of course, also create your own forms.

Common Vocabulary – Before working with another teacher on specific skills, be sure that you both have a common vocabulary from which to draw.  I have found that educational jargon can vary depending on grade levels, content, and region.  This just keeps everyone on the same page.  Bloom’s Taxonomy is often a common starting point where I work.  However, I have found that it is easier to use a simplified system put forth by Knight and the Kansas Coaching Project (see Effective Questioning Manual above).

  1. Know: Questions that prompt students to demonstrate that they can remember information they have learned.
  2. Understand: Questions that prompt students to demonstrate that they comprehend the implications of the information they have learned.
  3. Apply:  Questions that prompt students to extend their knowledge and understanding to new situations or settings.

Elements of Higher-Level Questioning – Here is a list of elements to consider and discuss when collaborating with your teacher, a peer, or in your own self-study.

Opportunities to Respond – How often does the teacher ask questions or give students a chance to respond to the topic at hand?

Levels of Questions – Can the teacher match specific questions with the appropriate instructional level for that lesson?  Do teachers understand when certain levels of questioning are the most appropriate?  Lower level question are important.  They help teachers and students scaffold and prepare for other questions that require deeper thought.

Frequency – How often does the teacher ask each level of question?  Do they almost only ever ask Level 1 or Level 3 questions?  Do the questions they ask match goals of their curriculum?

Wait Time – How long does the teacher wait…….after asking their question?  This is absolutely crucial to eliciting better student answers.  Remember that students need time to process their answers, especially for higher level questions.  Strategies such as Think-Pair-Share can help students do this.  It is also important to “train” students to know that you expect an answer.  The silence may bother you as a teacher, but remember that it also bothers your students.  Use this to your advantage. 🙂

Wording of Questions – How does the wording of a question impact student answers?  Does the question elicit a one-word or yes/no answer?  Does the question have a definate right or wrong answer?  Are there a multitude of ways to answer a question “correctly?”  Does the question require students to provide evidence to support their opinion?  There is no one type of question students should be asked, but how does the wording impact the outcome?

Use of Background Knowledge – The concept of background knowledge and scaffolding is essential for students to connect to knew learning.  Strong neural pathways in the brain are created by connecting to pathways that already exist, much like a system of roads.  The more background knowledge students have to draw upon (content related or not) the better answers they can devise.  Consider structuring higher-level thinking activities so students can draw on that background knowledge to make stronger learning connections.

Student Responses – How students respond to the teacher’s questions can tell you a lot about the discussion norms in a classroom.  Are they respectful of other’s answers?  Do they intelligently contradict one another with evidence?  Do they answer at all?  Is there a broad spectrum of the class involved in the conversation or is it just 2 or 3 students?  How easily can the teacher recognize and redirect students when needed?

Teacher’s Response – The answers a teacher gets can depend a great deal on how the teacher responds to student answers.  I’ve seen many different approaches to this, but which is the right one for the teacher you are collaborating with?  The teacher’s responses can cause students to keep their mouths closed or inspire them to deeper and more creative ways of thinking.

Possible Collaboration & Development Ideas: Here is a list of things you can do with your collaborating teacher to consider the use of higher-level questions in the classroom.

  • Sit down with an example list of questions or a list of questions that a teacher has asked in class.  Collaborate with the teacher to identify the level of each question.  You can have a conversation on any of the observable points above and how student answers would change as the questioning method changes.
  • Write out possible discussion questions ahead of time.  This doesn’t mean that the teacher needs to stick to the exact list, though some may find that method useful.  The point is to consider what you want students to think about before entering into the discussion.  What is the purpose of the discussion?  This helps the teacher to guide the conversation more artfully and elicit better responses from students.
  • Strengthen the teacher’s ability to “go with the flow.”  Discuss and/or reflect on the teacher’s ability to direct the conversation and coax better answers out of students.  How does this work for each of you?  (It can be different)  How do you adapt your questions to get to the purpose of the conversation?
  • Develop classroom activities with other teachers in which students identify and develop higher level questions.  Afterall, we learn best by teaching!
  • Wordle Reference Tool – This Wordle was created using a list of verbs related to the top three levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  The purpose of the Wordle is to help teachers brainstorm class discussion questions or activities.  While the focus of this post is on classroom discussion, these verbs can be used to create a myriad of classroom activities and assessment options for students.


A note about community: Classroom community is paramount to the willingness of students to take academic risks.  How comfortable are students with trying out new ideas and making mistakes in a classroom?  If students have differing opinions, how does the teacher facilitate respectful conversation?  I believe that this can have a large impact on the types of classroom discussions teachers are able to have.

I am continually looking for ways to help my teachers and myself grow in this important area of teaching.  If you have any suggestions, resources or ideas, please feel free to leave comments.  I would apprecaite hearing from you.

Additional Resources:

Video Games & Sound Educational Practice: What Gaming Reminds Us About the Classroom

The following is a link to an interesting talk by David Perry, a video game developer.  In it, he discusses several very interesting ideas about video games and how they are developed.  If gaming is a topic that interests you or you want to understand its massive appeal and hold on some of our students, this talk is a worthy 21 minutes of your time.  Note: This presentation was given in 2006, so the statistics are much more dramatic now.  For example, World of Warcraft no longer has 5.5 million players.  As of October 2008, it had 11 million!

David Perry’s TED Talk:  Will Video Games Become Better Than Life?

I find the idea intriguing that video game developers are focusing on emotion, purpose, meaning, understanding, and feeling.  The emphasis is not on the graphics and technology, but rather how you get players emotionally involved and connected to the content.  Video games can be challenging, long, complex, and require a great deal of new learning to reach accomplishments.  And people pay for this.  Game developers are focused on how to get players to want more.  Isn’t this how we want students to view our content?  So what educational notions have game developers been using to engage their “learners” in new content?  What can we take away from this as educators and re-emphasize in the classroom?

I’ve been researching this topic for a little over a year.  Almost all of what I’ve found comes directly from or is influenced by James Paul Gee, University of Wisconsin – Madison.  If you have any other resources, I would greatly appreciate it if you would send them my way.  After reading several papers and parts of his book, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, these are some of the ideas I’d love to discuss more with people and be sure I’m including in my own teaching:

Fact Fetish vs. Ways of Thinking – Games deeply immerse players in their world so they think like the character/profession they are playing.  Educators can immerse students in their content fields so they can begin to think like scientists, historians, mathematicians, chefs, writers, etc.  The focus is not on a list of facts, but rather the context in which decisions are made.

Set a Purpose – Games have very specific goals.  Players know exactly what they need to accomplish to be successful and when that happens.  We should tell our students exactly what they need to accomplish to be successful in our school.  This doesn’t mean we have to give them a formula on how to be successful (this can dampen creative thinking) but we do need to tell them what direction the bulls eye is in and what it looks like.  They will much closer to the target that way.

“Real World” Relevance –  Players take on an identity, immersing themselves in the attitudes, values and actions of that identity (Worried about blood gushing violence? Remember that 83% of games have NO mature content – see Ted Talk above).  Each skill taught in a video game has a specific purpose and application.  Learning out of context is difficult and has poor retention.  Instruction manuals, while still included, are not the main way to learn your way around a new game.  Directions are built directly into the game and appear as they are needed.  They are learned in context.  As teachers, we should “maximize the context” so students can better retain what we want them to learn.

Problem Solving – Playing video games means you are problem solving.  We should value the problem solving mind-set gaming develops in our students and use it to our advantage in the classroom.

Performance BEFORE Competence -Schools sometimes stress competence before performance.  An example of this would be a student reading a textbook and then maybe being allowed to DO the chemistry.  In the gaming world, this concept is often is reversed on its head.  Players get to be immersed in the new learning, freely making mistakes (aka learning!) until they get things to work.  Inquiry Science is the school example that comes to mind when I consider this idea.

Cycles of Expertise – This involves a student learning a skill, practicing it until it becomes automatic, and then circumstances shifting so the student has to adapt the skill to succeed in the new situation.  This is a very important real world ability that games constantly employ.

Fishtanks & Sandboxes – Gee uses the terms “Fishtanks” and “Sandboxes” to describe safe and effective learning situations.  In gaming, these two tools are often used as tutorials or in the first few levels of a game, allowing the players to grasp new ideas in a non-overwhelming environment.   A “Fishtank” is a simplified version of a complex system, such as studying the ecosystem of a real life fish tank before progressing on to an actual pond, lake, or ocean.  The major variables are contained in this learning experience, but in a simplified way so students (or players) don’t become overwhelmed.

A “Sandbox” is an experience that is much like the real part of the game, only the risks are mitigated.  This allowed the players to learn in an environment where the consequences of mistakes don’t prevent them from wanting to continue with the game.  Gee says “You can’t expect newcomers to learn if they feel too much pressure, understand too little, and feel like failures.” (Learning by Design).

In gaming, players can save at certain points to avoid having to start all over from the beginning.  Our larger educational system is often lacking these safeguards to motivation.  If a student fails a math class, they have to retake the entire class, rather then specifically focusing on their skill deficiencies.  As I’m sure we’ve all seen, this can kill motivation and desire to learn in our students.  This is one reason Mastery Learning can be such an effective and powerful method.  The question for me is, how to best implement Mastery Learning on a classroom scale?

One of Gee’s most thought provoking quoes for me is “They [players/students] need always to see failure as informative and part of the game, not as a final judgement or as a device to forstall creativity, risk taking, and hypothesizing.” (Learning By Design)

Choice & Differentiation – Video games used to be very rigid in the choices they gave to players.  The levels in old games consisted of the same screen and the game just got harder and faster.  Later you could progress through the levels going in a straight line, wherever the game led (think original Super Mario Brothers).  Today, we have “non-linear” games in which players can choose when, where, and how to accomplish their goals in worlds that can take literally hours to walk your character across.  There are even Google Map pages dedicated to the terrain of games such as World of Warcraft.  I could write a great deal just on the topic of choices presented to players, but for now I will merely present you with the thought that games are now being developed and played that no longer have an “end.”  Choice is a large part of the massive success of these games.  I’m not saying that teachers need to give students infinite choices, but how much choice we are offering is something to ponder.

Pleasantly Frustrating – Known to educators by the jargonish phrase, “Zone of Proximal Development.”  This is the idea that what is being learned is not so challenging it cannot be accomplished, but is not so easy that it is boring.  Some call it “learning on the edge.”  Video games use this concept very well, manipulating the feelings of players so they just can’t turn off the game.  They are ALMOST to the next level, boss, goal, etc. and they want to keep going.  The player gets immediate feedback and can see how they are progressing towards their goal, especially when they fail.  They learn what they did wrong and try a different approach or work on perfecting their new skill until they get it right.  I think teachers can make interesting gains with their students when this idea is consciously incorporated into lessons.

Group Work – Games have come a long way from 2-player pong.  MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games such as World of Warcraft) can have upwards of 25 people (sometimes hundreds) working on the same objective, in the same place, at the same time.  Coordination and teamwork, anyone?  In these types of games, students are building skills that include organization, time management, teamwork, and more.  Many teachers try to emphasize these things in the classroom.

The traditional view of gaming is far from the active society of the classroom.  We picture a teenage boy sitting alone in the basement, not talking to anyone.  The reality of gaming is that it has been extensively developed through product testing, marketing, etc. into a community experience that uses some of the best aspects of effective educational practice.  Video games can be useful to us beyond the games themselves.  The ideas and theories behind them re-emphasize what we know to be good teaching.  We want to hook our students into our content and keep them wanting more.  Video games are a good example of how to accomplish this.

Works Consulted:

I am currently developing an optional presentation on this topic for my staff.  I decided to blog about the various points to help solidify my thoughts (that’s why this is so long! 🙂 The presentation, at only about 15 minutes, won’t be).  If you have any comments or questions on the relevence of gaming in the classroom, please feel free to comment.  I’d love feedback on how to make sure the information in this presentation is relevent to the classroom.  I previously did another presentation on Modern Gaming Culture, which focused on how students interact with the now very social world of video games.  Thank you!!