Changing Charts—A Reading/Writing/Discussion Activity

Discussing readings can sometimes feel boring to students. A class discussion can easily become a conversation between the instructor and the few students who read and/or who are willing to contribute. However, creating community around readings and turning discussions into activities can not only engage those who normally do not like to contribute to a large class discussion, but it can encourage students to become accountable for their learning (that reading comprehension often involves discussion). A reading activity is also a great way to involve the whole class, inspiring students to discuss their ideas together as a way to understand, and they get to write on big paper (note: students love writing on giant post-its).


Large Self-Stick Easel Pad, 20” x 30”

Flip Chart Markers

Prep Time

As long as it take you to come up with 6–10 discussion questions

The Activity

30 minutes–45 minutes

Students need to be in groups of 3–5, and they should have been assigned a reading prior to class or completed a reading prior to this exercise. Each group will receive one giant post-it pad and one flip marker (it’s best if each group gets a designated color). Each group will also receive a number; that number will go on the top of the chart.

The instructor will number and write a series of questions on the board. Each number corresponds to the group with that number.

Round 1

So group one will answer question one.

Here’s what a chart might look like initially:

Group 2 Chart

If you prefer, you can have the question written on the chart, but I find that students will run out of room to respond. So I prefer having the numbers correspond to the question.

Students need to be instructed that this is a discussion. Their group will need to deliberate their answers and then synthesize their ideas into a 1–2 sentence answer on the chart.

Round 2

When all groups are done, students need to switch charts. They can go in order or switch with another group—just as long as they haven’t completed that chart yet.

The groups will now read the question on the board that corresponds to their new chart. They will also read the answer from the previous group. They must decide if they agree (J), disagree (L) or a little of both (a neutral face). The group will draw their face next to the previous group’s answer. Then they will write their own answer. If the group agreed with the previous group, then they must state why and elaborate on their answer. If they disagree, they must state why and then provide their own answer. If they agree to disagree, they will explain what parts they agree/disagree with and provide their own answer to the question.

Round 3. . . Round n

Then the groups will switch charts again. This time, responding to two previous answers and so on.

Depending on how much time you allow for this activity, and how many groups you have, you can rotate charts until all the groups have answered all the questions. However, I have found that in the interest of time (and class discussion) it’s better to rotate the charts 3–4 times.


Hang the charts up (I like to stick them all around the room or at the back of the room, you know, to turn up, as the kids like to say) and discuss what students found. Point out which groups had disagreements and ask groups to elaborate on their answers. Allow for groups who didn’t answer on the chart to respond if they have something different to contribute.

What I have found is that this activity emboldens students to speak about the reading. Once the whole class is discussing the questions as a large group, half of the students have generally already had this conversation and are more likely to speak up or feel like they have been heard by their peers. I’ve also noticed students who did not complete the reading initially are more likely the next time around to complete the reading because they do not want to let their group down.

Here’s what some series of questions might look like:

Composition—General questions

  1. What is the thesis of this reading? How do you know it’s the thesis?
  2. What is the author’s purpose and where does she say it best?
  3. How is this reading organized? Is there a specific strategy?
  4. What is the strongest example/evidence the writer uses to prove her point?
  5. What does the writer mean when she says, (insert specific quote from the reading)?
  6. How does the writer conclude the essay? Is it effective? Why or why not?

Literature—“Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros

  1. What is the tone and how do we know that?
  2. In paragraph #22, Rachel says “it’s too late.” Too late for what?
  3. Why repeat the numbers? What is the point?
  4. Why does Rachel wish to be 102?
  5. Why would Ms. Price assume the sweater is Rachel’s? What does that say about Ms. Price?
  6. Why is Rachel bothered by the mistaken identity so much?
  7. In paragraph #19, Rachel says all the years are inside her, pushing back. What does she mean by this?

Creative Writing: Fiction—“Medium Tough” by Craig Davidson

  1. What is the significance of the settings (hospital, bar (arm-wrestling venue), hotel)?
  2. Diagram the dramatic arc. Label each part with a specific moment in the story (Inciting Incident, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, Resolution)
  3. What makes Dr. Railsback’s voice so authentic?
  4. What is Penny’s function as a secondary character? What does she show about Dr. Railsback? How does she advance the story (if at all)?
  5. What would the reader lose if the story were to happen in a limited third-person POV? What would the reader gain? Which is more effective?
  6. What happens with the baby at the end of the story? How should we interpret “O my son my boy my son my baby baby boy—”?


This activity is incredibly versatile; I’ve even used it in a faculty workshop a few times. The key is to get the groups talking to each other and then committing those ideas to paper.