Tuesday Tips: Reading Bookmarks

As I’ve mentioned before, the primary means of formative assessment in my AP Literature class is classroom discussion.

My method of classroom discussion (Harkness) depends on students being responsible for writing their own questions and observations.  As much as possible, I do not participate in the discussions.

One tool I have added to make classroom discussion over a major work of literature more effective is a reading bookmark.  I give each student a bookmark (about the size of 1/3 of a piece of 8 ½ x 11 paper) that contains questions to think about, important terms to define, and significant patterns to look for as they read.

Reading Bookmark

The reading bookmark serves two main purposes:

  1. A Guide during Discussion. While it would be nice to think that students would notice most of the important patterns in a text, the truth is that sometimes they overlook aspects of the text that are significant.  I realized early in my pursuit of effective classroom discussion that I would need a way to direct students to these significant aspects of the text without interjecting myself into their conversations in class.
  2. A Review after Discussion. I do not provide a separate review sheet for exams or spend extra days in class reviewing material before exams.  In my mind, the discussions over the course of the work should serve as the review for the assessment over that work.  The reading bookmark tells students which aspects of the text they should be sure to discuss as they are working through the text.  If they do this well, by the last discussion, a review will be unnecessary.

Any time students are stuck in discussion and not able to think of topics or questions, they should refer to this bookmark to be sure they have adequately covered all my suggestions.

One of my self-assigned jobs as I observe their discussions is to make a note of any important patterns that students uncover and revise the bookmark accordingly for the next year.  This keeps the bookmark, exams, and my own thinking from becoming stale and static.

I also enjoy choosing a color for the bookmark that somewhat correlates with the work: blue for Life of Pi, red for Crime and Punishment.  I’m not sure that anyone cares about this except for me, but I can get quite wrapped up in my color choice.  And my font choice.  And my bullet point style choice.

But I digress into the rabbit hole of formatting.

What resources do you provide for students as you are guiding them through a major work? How do you give help without telling them what to think?


  1. Jennifer, would you share one of your bookmarks? I’d like to see the types of guiding questions you ask. I assume they change depending on the piece. I love this idea. I’ve done handouts with questions in the past. While they are somewhat effect for gathering student responses, they are not so effective for preparing students for discussion. Oh, and I still need to understand the difference between Harkness discussions and the old Socratic. (I know you told me, but I don’t “get” it.)


  2. I would also love to see a sample bookmark–I’m soon starting One Hundred Years of Solitude with my seniors, and planning to have “fishbowl” and Socratic style discussions–would love to have a tool like this to help them, or as a model for them to be making their own.


  3. I also would love to see your bookmarks and would appreciate it you would share them. I used inner/outer circle last year and saw that some of the kids did not get very deep into the discussion and often got stuck on what to talk about. I would like to see what you did to better prepare the students for discussion.


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