What to use for a Culminating Activity and Assessment

Now we are nearing the end of our look into Lit circles we need to talk about everybody’s favourite topic…Assessment. Before we get to that we are going to look at some culminating activities to conclude a lit circles unit. The majority of this information is from Faye Brownlie’s book Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses: A unique Approach to Literature Circles. Again I recommend this book to anyone that wants to do a lit circles unit in their classroom.

Culminating Activities

A culminating activity can be one of many assignments. The point of having this assignment is to have students think about what they have learned in this process. Brownlie suggests doing the culminating activity in a two part approach. She suggests that students do a poster on their favourite book, character comparison across books, a class vote/debate, inviting another class to come in and listen to the students talk about their books in pairs and the talk show (described in detail in my last post). I find the talk show as the most intriguing option here because it could also be linked in as a debate. I think the whole class could get behind the role play and take lots out of it. All suggested are great ways for the students to share their learning. The second component is to write the students a letter about the unit. Students are to reflect on their lit circle experience and write about where they are now compared to where they started. I do like this activity because if some students do struggle they can write about the experience.



Journals- Brownlie suggested students select one entry a week to be marked. This is nice because there is lots of practice with responding as well as students can be comfortable connecting to the book when they are at a part that jumps out at them. Students do not need to worry if they cannot connect to every part of the story, this is unrealistic. The back and fourth is nice because students can use the formative feedback and shape their future journal entries.

Discussions- Make sure to have clear criteria before discussions start happening. Criteria can include: behavior, ready to share, respectful to others, elaborate on other peoples sharing and try to make deeper connections. Brownlie also mentions having a group mark each time a group meets. I love this because it holds the students accountable for each other and engaged even when it is not their turn to speak. Students can also write a self-evaluation (or even a quick rating out of 5) on their behavior, preparedness, etc.

Comprehension Activities- Depending on how many weeks the unit is, you can choose to collect all of the assignments or have the student pick their 2-3 best ones. The assignments would be marked based on separate criteria that was established with the students. I would suggest creating multiple rubrics for the different activities (check back to the last post to see them all) and marking accordingly.

Number of books- This is an interesting concept which depends on the length of books, easiness of read and time. Brownlie suggests that to get a certain grade a student must read so many books. Example: A= 3 books, B= 2 books, and C= 1 book. Obviously this isn’t the only criteria as the students journals and assignments are where they earn their grades. I like the idea of this because it can motivate students to try and get a better grade.

Culminating Project- Similar to the comprehension activities this mark will depend on separate criteria that is clearly established. If I were to mark the student letters about their learning, I would focus on the takeaways the student connected with and how they were able to articulate them. I am not sure on how much emphasis to put on the assessment of the final assignment but I do think it should carry about 20-25% of the total mark for the lit circle unit.

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Assignments and Lit Circles

As I continue to dissect Faye Brownlie’s book Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses: A Unique Approach to Literature Circles, I have started to look at what assignments should people do when doing lit circles. If you are wondering how to set up lit circles, check out my earlier blogs.

Teachers try to have a journal component for lit circles. The amount of journal entries depend on the teacher, some teacher have students journal daily in class, others promote natural journal where students make notes/connections whenever there is a part of the book that resonates with the student. I am thinking of trying to do journals 3-4 times a week. My belief is that there is some flexibility where the teacher can try and bring in other comprehension strategies, assignments, and learning how to use multiple connections (text to self, text to text, text to world). Be sure to use scaffolding like in the table below



Types of journals (these names will change depend where you are reading)

  • Double Entry Journal- set up in t-chart with one heading being “What happened” (quotations for older grades) and the other heading being “My Thinking.” This style of journal is one of the most traditional set ups that people see. It is a nice graphic organizer to help students write clear connections to text samples.


  • Combination Journal- Students use sticky notes to mark points in the book that are significant. Students are to write down a direct reaction to the event/quote. This is more of a paragraph response compared to the split double entry journal.


  • Dialogue Journal- This journal method is where students reading the same book are paired together. Students then write responses to each other and have a back and fourth. Students connect to each others responses and elaborate further. This method can be tricky because some combinations of students just do not work together. I would personally try this as a one-of attempt to grow students’ writing but I would not use this as my main journal entry method.


Comprehension Activities: These are bigger assignments that are to happen every 2 weeks (according to Brownlie). These activities are to explore story structures further, story structures include: setting, characters, plot, and conflict. Students that are not reading the same book can do the same activity which leads to collaboration among students. It is important for students to know the purpose of each activity because this can help the students understand what to do. As anything with lit circles, it is important to model with the class to get the best results.

Here of some of the Activities from Brownlie’s book that I want to try:

Working with setting– this assignment looks into how settings affects the plot. Depending on the grade level the expectations will change for this assignment. As the grades get higher the more details needed for the answers. Questions to ask: Where? When? Why? Students are to pick scenes and write how the setting plays an element in the story.


Character Chart- this is an in depth focus on one character. 1-make a T-chart 2-Pick a character 3- Pick three key characteristics about the character 4-Find two pieces of evidence for each characteristics.


Speaking in Role: Talk Show Hot Seat- This is method is one I want to try the most in my class but it is the most challenging. First you will need to put students into teams (each team member has read the same book). This will be tricky because it is a group assignment and not all students might be keen to participate because there is some role play. Students in these teams will simulate a talk show where a “host” interviews key character from the book. Questions will need to be in depth and not yes or no answers. For assessment of this strategy students can write in role of the character to a prompt, this is open for the teacher to play around with.


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“Say Something”

Say Something is a method that Faye Brownlie talks about in her book “Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses: A Unique Approach to Literature Circles.” It is a method where each group (4-7 people) come together. Each person has a passage that they wish to share. The first person will share and after they share the passage the next person will make a comment/connection/thought on the passage that was read. Everyone else in the group listens to the one speaker. After the thought is shared the next person shares their comment/connection/thought and so on. After everyone in the group shares there is time for free ranging discussion to go further. The next person then shares their passage and the process repeats. Over time it will go quicker and flow easily.

This method is inclusive to everyone because nobody can dominate the discussion and everyone can have their viewpoints shared. Also, for the students that read slower it is a method where they can still contribute to the discussions without worrying that they are behind the other readers. It is also important to stress to students not to select passages that are spoilers and could ruin the rest of the book for the other group members. Brownlie also says that the students that are ahead could provide motivation to the other students to catch up and get to the juicy parts of the book. Using the Say Something strategy gets rid of roles which is supposed to allow for more authentic discussions about the book.

As a teacher it is important to explain what types of passages students should look for when choosing one to bring to the discussion. According to Brownlie students should look for funny, well written, confusing or exciting passages. By emphasizing what passages fit under the criteria it can help create dynamic discussions. The discussions are meant for students to garner a further understanding. It is important for the teacher to sit in on the lit circles to hear what insights the students are making. Be sure to look for text to self, text to text, and text to world connections. This partnered with the students journals and assignments will be a big part of where their marks will come from.

I was fortunate enough to see the Vice Principal at my practicum school do an introductory lesson for the Say Something strategy. She told me to model this strategy with a text/article that is relevant to the students this then makes for an easy example for all students to follow. She had all the students read an article on social media and how it is affecting happiness in kids. She also made sure to have the students use highlighters to mark sentences or facts that resonated with the students. Next she made a group (3 teachers 1 student) to scaffold how to do the Say Something strategy. We each shared our thoughts on a passage and then had the class comment on the things that the group shared. The group then did another example of the strategy to really scaffold how to do it properly. Then the students broke into their lit circle groups and first tried the say something about the article, second about their books. At the end of the lesson the teacher did a recap and asked the students, “Why did we do this strategy?”

After seeing how to implement the strategy I would also recommend using a class wide text/article do demonstrate how to do the Say Something strategy. It makes it very clear and easy to follow. It is critical to select a text that is relevant to the students so they can easily make connections. Discussions are the foundations of lit circles so being able to scaffold and get the students on the right path to engage in the discussions is the first step in getting lit circles going in your classroom.

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Faye Brownlie and Setting up Lit Circles

I have been reading up on lit circles by reading Faye Brownlie’s book “Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses. A Unique Approach to Literature Circles.” It is a book that is essentially a set up guide on how to run literature circles effectively in a classroom. I was also able to interview the vice principal at my practicum school who highly recommends this book as she has relied on it for many years when doing lit circles. 26696254_1965114880415412_1323040451_n

Brownlie’s set up for lit circles is slightly different. She does not use designated roles for discussions as it can take away from the authenticity of the discussions. She also does not have set deadlines for students to finish books or read chapters. Everyone is going at their own pace and are mindful of giving away spoilers. Groups meet about once a week (one group at a time), and students are to fill out their journal 2-3 times a week. Every two weeks there is a comprehension activity. Similar to other lit circle strategies, the success of lit circles comes from student choice and their interests. After students finish a book then they select another and join that discussion group.

When I was talking with my VP she finds that she needs between 4-8 weeks to operate a successful lit circles unit. It depends on the other activities that the students are doing in their other classes. She has done it with grades 7-12 and finds that it works better the older that the students are, however, with the correct scaffolding and instruction the younger grades will be able to grow and gain an affinity for reading. She also tries to keep groups between 4-7 people, and will help students that struggle by offering 1-2 books that are easier to read and connect to. When she selects her books she will try to find books with similar themes or have books with different themes. She uses her class novel study to determine the level of books and what themes to look for. This year for her grade 7 class she did a book talk on each book to introduce the class to each book that is an option for lit circles. She shows the cover, text, back cover and will read a passage from it.With students grades 8 and up she will let students have a “dating” period with a book. The different books will be spread out and in small groups students will come up to look at the cover, read the first few pages, read the back cover, and physically feel the book. If needed students will have about two days to read the book and see if they are interested in it.

I have seen multiple resources say that to introduce lit circles often times teachers will do a class novel study to get the students understanding how to make different types of connections, respond to passages, find strong quotes, etc. Depending on the novel selected and if the teacher chooses to do lit circles after a novel study the two could take up approximately 12 weeks which is close to a whole term. It is a big commitment but it can be a rewarding experience for the students.

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Lit Circles: The Beginning Steps of my Inquiry

For my inquiry I am going to look at Literature Circles and how to implement them effectively in the classroom. I was watching some videos on Youtube and these two are good intro videos for getting an idea of how to start approaching lit circles.  Most Literature circle groups have 4-6 members.


The teacher in the first video stresses the importance of setting up the structure for the lit circles. She does this with lots of modelling for the students on how to conduct the roles within the groups. I really think the critical component of this teachers model is that on day 2 and 3 of lit circles, she meets with all the students of a particular role and helps them prepare them for that role. She appeared to give them a sheet with prompts to help keep the discussions going when it was time to meet in groups. Without the students fully understanding their roles and being able to contribute the application of lit circles would not be successful.


The whole class is reading the same book which is easier when introducing Lit Circles to a class for the first time. It allows for the teacher to  make sure that all the students are able to refine their skills so they can contribute the key points of the book. The goal is to work towards having the students capable enough where each group can do a different book.



This video defined 5 roles that people can use for Lit circles. Each person has two mins to talk about their component of the story and engage the other members in the group.

Summarizer: This person summarizes the key points in the chapter and reminds the group of some information that could have been missed.

Visualizer: This person picks the best setting from the chapter and recreates it for the group. The visualizer is encouraged to pick lines from the text that support their visualization.

Inferencer: One of the tougher roles, the inferencer is trying to decipher the characters and determine who they are as people. This role focuses on the relationships and interactions between characters in the text.

Symbolizer: This role looks at the big idea or theme of the chapter and tries to make connections from within the story. Also, the symbolizer can make real-world connections to the book.

Word Detective: This person’s role is to find uncommon/tricky words within the chapter. Then they are to try and create their own definition using clues from within the book as well as outside sources.


The teacher in this video suggests changing the roles between chapters so each student can try and use a different perspective when reading the novel/text. He also acknowledged that it can be a slow initially. If there is a commitment by both the students and the teacher, lit circles can grow into a valuable strategy where the students growth is empowering.


These two videos were a good start for my inquiry project. I now have an idea of what lit circles look like in a classroom. Working this method into the routine is critical as well as modeled and well defined roles. Over time lit circles can help students lead their own learning and they can grow their confidence and enjoyment of reading. I look forward to my next steps in my learning.

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