Handout

Lit Circles

Adam Bakular

Why?

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Literacy circles allow the students to work together and understand text in non traditional ways.  Most of the time students read, it is silent and by themselves.  Unless they have the need to share with someone what they are reading the story usually remains inside.  Lit circles allow a safe place for the students to talk about their feelings and opinions on their readings.  Lit circles also promote independence, responsibility and ownership within the students.  They have people relying on them and a group that need them to do their part.

 

What?

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Literacy Circles are about choice and freedom.  Literacy circles are small groups that all read the same book, essentially the same as a book club.  In order for lit circles to be successful there needs to be choice in what books the students can read.  A lit circle is not putting students with the same reading levels into groups and giving them an appropriate leveled book.   There needs to be a variance in genre of books as well as difficulty.  However, the students get to choose the book that interests them.  After students have decided on their books they will be split up into their groups.  Once in groups The students will assign themselves into different jobs/roles.  The teacher informs the students how often and frequent the meetings will be and the students figure out how much they will need to read to finish their book on time.  More importantly at future meet ups the students will begin to have conversations and discussions to unlock deeper meaning from their books.

 

How?

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The bulk of the work from the teacher will be done before the students begin their book.  The teacher needs to be knowledgeable on the books that they are presenting.  The teacher also needs to have hand outs ready ahead of time so that students will be able to see what they need to do.  A very important part of lit circles is keeping deadlines.  If the teacher tell the students that they are meeting every Monday after lunch then the teacher needs to make sure that this time is available.  You have asked for independence and self-reliance from your students so you need to make sure that you keep as consistent as you can.  A teacher will know their class and have some idea about how much scaffolding they will need to do before they start.  Generally the groups will have different roles/jobs that will need to be filled in order to make sure everyone is pulling their weight.  If there are jobs, they need to be switched each time the students meet. By switching jobs it makes sure that everyone gets to try every role out and has to be looking for something different in their reading each time.

 

 

hwAssessment

Some teachers may struggle with assessment of lit circles because often times there are no hard concrete right or wrong answers.  A teachers role during lit circles is to facilitate the conversations and observe.  A teachers job is not to tell the students the direction their conversations should go.  It is important for students to either keep a reading journal and self assess as well as group assess.  Having the students reflect on where their conversation went can be very beneficial.  Having the students think about the thoughts of others while they read builds meta cognition.  Students will begin to learn that other people may read things much differently than they have.  A few things that teachers can mark the students on are their enrollment in the group discussions and their role fulfillment.  Role fulfillment can have a number of areas such as keeping up with the reading, sharing and following directions.  Having the groups fill out a group assessment will also give the teacher an idea if each person is pulling their weight or not.  Some students may find it hard to talk in group discussions.  A talking stick may be useful if you know there are quieter students in your class.

 

 

My Inquiry

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I remember doing lit circles in my classes and always loved them.  I loved getting the chance to find new books that I would not have known about.  There are always so many choices that often your friends will sell you on the book that they’re reading.  Part of the reason that these are so memorable is how much work and enthusiasm the teacher puts in.  Lit circles can be a lot of work at the beginning but once the students figure it out the classroom can run autonomous.  I set out to learn more about lit circles in hoping that I would be able to replicate the experiences that I had.  Throughout my inquiry I have just become more excited about getting the opportunity to share it with my students.  There are so many different ways to do lit circles that I can even do them a number of times throughout the years and it would still be new to the students.  I hope that my excitement of lit circles passes to the students and that they will develop a wanting to read more!

 

Resources

Bonnie Campbell Hill

  • Awesome starting place
  • Has strategies and “how-to” for all grade levels
  • FAQ section

Handouts

  • Tons of free handouts relating to lit circles

Package

  • Awesome package to get you started
  • Contains how to prepare and suggestions

Book List

  • Good list of books
  • Lots are the beginning to a series
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Assessing Lit circles

Since lit circles are generally conversation and discussion based it can be hard to assess the learning of your students.  Since there are many small groups and each group will be reading a different book there will need to be a variety of formal and informal assessment.  Something to look for would be the quality of the discussions and the comprehension of the book.

As stated in a previous post the teacher needs to be a part of the groups.  The teacher needs to circulate and listen in on the conversations.  It can be easy to find which groups are not doing the tasks properly and can be fixed on the spot.  Assessment can be on the depth of conversation and making sure that everyone is contributing.

Having the students fill out a self and group assessment can really help the teacher.  After each discussion have the students fill something out that requires them to self assess.  Also, having each member of the group assess the group can help keep students on task and accountable.  The assessment can include things such as what was discussed and was everyone prepared for their roles.

If you are a teacher who needs a more concrete grading scale then quizzes and tests can always be used.  If you are using small groups with different books then this may be more time consuming to make personalized tests for each group.  One could create a generic test with non book specific questions in order to gauge the comprehension of the groups.

Often times the students have worksheets that they need to fill out.  Generally these are filled out as they are reading and helps them guide their discussion.  Worksheets are directed towards bring out deeper thinking from your students and helping them with their role.  The teacher can collect these worksheets to see their students thinking.

At the end having the students come up with a creative way to present their book to the class can be a final assessment.  Having the students present their book to the class by a way of skit or presentation.  The way this is assessed depends on what the teacher would like to know.  Having the students come up with a way to try and get their classmates to want to read it or replaying the story are some ideas that would be up to the teacher.

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Benefits of Literacy Circles

There are many reading comprehension strategies that help with students understanding and ability to read.  All strategies can be taught and are essential for students to become proficient readers.  Below are the main strategies.

  • Summarizing
  • Sequencing
  • Inferencing
  • Comparing and contrasting
  • Drawing conclusions
  • Self-questioning
  • Problem-solving
  • Relating background knowledge
  • Distinguishing between fact and opinion
  • Finding the main idea, important facts, and supporting details

A lot of teachers try to teach these through lessons and worksheets.  It is hard for a students to use these naturally when they are set up like every other lesson.  Throughout lit circles students have a chance to use and develop all of these skills strategies without even knowing it!  By having discussions and various roles each students will have a deeper understanding of their reading  and strengthen their comprehension strategies.  If a student is weaker in certain areas they will benefit from having other students discuss them and get to see other points of view.

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What are Lit Circles?

If you are reading this and unaware of what a lit circle is then this post should help answer your questions.  A lit circle, or literacy circle is the equivalent to a book club.  The point of a lit circle is for students to have discussions on the reading and encourage the love for reading.  Usually, there are a variety of books in the classroom and students would be structured into small groups by book.  What this means is that students will be put into small groups where everyone is reading the same book.   Lit circles promote student independence, responsibility and ownership.  Groups have to move at a certain pace and it is different from everyone else because they will be reading different books.  Since there are many different books being read throughout the class at the same time the teacher will not be able to facilitate everything at once.  Having a variety puts the ownership back on the students to make sure they are keeping up with their group.

There are a few key components to lit circles and every class will be different and have variances.  The first and best part of literacy circles is variety.  The teacher needs to have a number of books that range in genre and level of difficulty.  This allows the students to choose a book that is best suited to them.  Students may also learn more about themselves and their classmates because they would be choosing material that they are interested in and not who is in their group.

The next important component is to have a regular and predictable schedule.  Every student reads at different paces and not all of the books are the same.  Students need a concrete schedule that they can plan for and work around.  An example would be to meet every Monday for eight weeks so the students would need to divide their book into eight parts.  The students would know exactly how much they need to read by when and they can dictate their time appropriately.

Throughout the group meetings it is important for the teacher to be a facilitator and not an instructor.  The teacher may help guide conversations and ask questions but it is up to the students in their groups to have the discussions.  The main role of the teacher would to have everything planned and organized ahead of time.  The teacher should have read the books already so approaching the groups as a fellow reader can often spark discussion.  In other words the teacher works alongside with the groups. The teacher should have scaffold how conversations should look and what is expected of the students.  The teacher may also need to model various jobs so the students understand what is expected (more on jobs below)

To keep the group work and discussions moving appropriate and smooth, it is often important for the groups to assign different roles or jobs to the members of their groups.  The teacher needs to make is clear how each of the jobs works and what is expected.  By assigning each student a different task it will make sure that all students are active and participating without the need to check in.  Usually each meet up will have the students switching roles so that students will have an opportunity at each of them or wont be stuck with one role the entire time.  Again, every class is different and no lit circle is perfect so one may have a class that is fluid in discussion and assigning roles would hinder the learning.

Roles:

Discussion facilitator: The role of this student is to keep the conversation rolling and bring the group back on task when conversation wanders.  The person with this role often has a number of open ended questions about the reading to keep the group guided.

Commentator: The role of this person is to find parts of the text that are thought provoking or would generate conversation.  This person would generally bring quotes from the text that can be read aloud to begin discussion.

Illustrator: This role is to come up with some sort of image of the reading.  This can be a collage or drawing or painting or some other method that shows a depiction of the section of the story.

Connector or Reflector:  The function of the role is to make the book more personal.  This person finds passages and make real world connection to them.  Whether it be school or friend related or celebrity or media related.

SummarizerThis role is exactly what the title is, their job is to summarize the readings.  It is often the person in this role that tries to make the group see the bigger picture of the reading.

Word Master: The role of this students is to find vocabulary or important words from the reading.  Words chosen should be unusual, unknown, or stand out in some way.  It is usually required to have the page number and definition ready.

Traveler: This role is to keep track of important shifts in action or location.  This role is to give the group a description of time and place with detail.

Investigator: The role of this person is to find any background knowledge that may be useful to the group from the reading.  The information may be historical, geographical, cultural or any other information that helps connect the students to their reading.

Figurative language Learner: This students role is to find language such as similes, metaphors or hyperbole’s throughout the book.  This helps connect to the author and discussions on why they were used and if they were effective

Again, not all these roles are needed and every class is different.  You may find it easier to combine a couple roles or get rid of some all together depending on the size of your groups.  These are just general roles to help start lit circles in your classroom!

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Why Lit Circles

Throughout my time at Valley View Elementary I will be given the opportunity to run lit circles with my students.  I feel that when lit circles are done properly they can actively encourage students reading.  I feel that there are many benefits to lit circles and throughout this blog I plan to help guide a people through them.

Lit circles were something that I had the opportunity to learn as a student.  Many years later I still remember the books that I read and the experience that it gave me.  I feel that reading is something that every person will deal with in their lives and therefor is a very important skill to have mastered.  There is so much more to reading than just saying the words that are on the page and I hope to open the minds of my students and allow them to begin their own reading adventures.

Often times when reading students just read because they are forced to.  There is silent reading throughout the school year and they grab a random book and read it until the time is up.  There are never any discussions about what they are reading and often do not even enjoy what they are reading.  Through lit circles I hope to allow my students the ability to try new things.  Lit circles require students to discuss what they have been reading and give their opinions and thoughts on certain aspects of the story.  An awesome part of lit circles is that there is no “best” way to do them.  Classes and learning needs are always changeling so picking appropriate books and planning an appropriate structure is very important.

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