3.04 – Lit Circles: Preparing for a Literature Circle (English Lesson)

This class will focus on preparation for the literature circle. There is a school of thought that states students should be prepared to complete these tasks for homework, and come to class ready to participate. And, while there is merit to that, it also fails to address the reality that a number of our students cannot complete homework. Some students have family responsibilities, others have jobs, and there are a whole host of other concerns that prevents the work from being done.

As a personal philosophy, I do not assign homework. That said, work that is not completed in class will need to be completed somewhere. Oftentimes this is at home, if not as part of a Learning Strategies class, or resource program. But, there is always time made available during class to do the work for those keen to take up the opportunity. Because that’s what we do as teachers: we present opportunities.

Students will prepare for the lit circle by completing the Preparing for a Literature Circle package, which has them demonstrate Summarizing, Determining Importance, Connecting, and Questioning.

English Course Pack: Unit Three – Literature Circles

This assignment is part of the The Full English Course Park. This piece is part of Unit Three: Literature Circles, which focuses on reading a selected text in small groups. Student engagement with the text will revolve around topic journals, roundtable discussions, and the application of literacy skills.

If you would like to say thanks, consider buying me a coffee. But that is neither required, nor expected.

3.04 – Lit Circles: Preparing for a Literature Circle

Step One: Introducing the Package

As a six-page package, this task can seem daunting, but when students realize that they have been provided a lot of in-class reading time to prepare for this task, and when they realize the annotations they have made along the way, and the completion of the Lines that Stand Out assignment lead perfectly into this, it should put them at ease.

You will want to start by explaining the four sections of the package, and highlighting the fact that there is both a Reading and Writing rubric attached to this piece, indicating that it will be submitted.

Students should be provided one period to work on this package, prior to the literature circle taking place.

Why the Change from Roles?

For those who have looked into literature circles in the past, you may be familiar with the type of lit circle, where each group member takes on a specific role:

  • Synopsis Summarizer
  • The Detail Detector
  • The Cunning Connector
  • The Quality Questioner

In the old model, each student would have one responsibility. They would carry that literacy skill. They would look deep into their role.

In the current model, each student is responsible for all roles, but to a lesser degree. Why is this helpful? Because, if one student is away, things carry on. When students need to host their discussion they’re prepared to discuss all sections, rather than just focusing on their own role.

I have found that by creating well rounded preparedness for literature circles, students can best prepare for shifting classrooms and needs. That isn’t to say that it’s the best way, or only way – just the way that I have found works best for me right now.

Step Two: Explaining Summarization

At this point students should have a good handle on writing paragraphs, and summarizing. The size of the text box indicated the expected length of response. Students should use that space to write the summary of the section they read. In theory, all students will be reading the same section of text, allowing them to discuss the pieces that stood out to them. In some cases, the summaries will be very similar, in others they may be very different based on the lense through which they approached their text.

Students should be encouraged to use their Lines that Stood Out sheet to help them narrow in on the key details from the section.

Step Three: Explaining Determining Importance

When students see the Determining Importance page, they will instantly recognize similarities between it and their Lines that Stand Out task. If they have been keeping on top of that task, this section will fill itself it. For those that have not been focusing on that task, it’s important to remind them that it’s not enough just to pick a random line and claim that it is important. They need to be able to support why that piece matters.

Does it move the plot forward? Does it deepen the themes of the text? Does it build relationships?

They will note that the explanation of how the line fulfills one of those requirements is key. This will allow students to build strong knowledge about their section of text, while engaging with a metacognitive experience to consider why they think they way they do. By sharing this information with others, they will gain a fuller understanding of a variety of aspects from their selected section.

Step Four: Explaining Connecting

Students will make two textual connections in this section, a Text-to-Self and a Text-to-World connection. This will prepare them to speak about something they know, and relate it to the text. This section is key, because it proves the value of their reading the text, whether they realize it or not.

By discussing both the connection, and the second piece that asks them to explain how making that connection provides them with a stronger understanding the text, they will be showing how reading allows them to understand both themselves, and the world around them better.

This is a topic that they may bring up, independently in their groups, or it might be one that you will highlight at a later date, or during a roundtable discussion.

Step Five: Explaining Questioning

The final section that students will be filling out relates to thematic questions. It’s important to take a moment to first talk to students about theme, and make sure they have a strong understanding of what theme is. Theme is not “Love” or “Power”. Those are topics. Good topics, important topics, powerful topics, but theme is more than that.

  • The impact of changing power dynamics
  • The use of one’s love to hurt others

These are examples of themes. They’re a little bit longer, a little bit deeper, a little bit more focuses.

Consider the theme “coming of age” that most people agree is a valid theme. There’s a reason that theme isn’t “Age”.

Once students understand theme, and have created themes for their text, they can create their two questions. A reminder that these questions should force a connection when answered can be helpful, as these discussion questions are likely to fill the bulk of the literature circle where the information on these sheets are presented and recorded.

Step Six: Exemplars and Rubrics

It’s important that students have access to strong exemplars, so they know what their own responses should look like. Summaries, determining important, and connections are all highlighted in this section.

For those wondering why thematic questions do not have an exemplar, fear not, that exemplar was just built into the thematic question page itself to ensure that the information is in the place it is likely most needed to complete this task.

When drawing attention to the rubrics, ensure that students have an understanding that there are both reading and writing marks assigned to this task. The writing marks focus on the quality of writing, the use of conventions, the completeness of the package, etc. Whereas, the reading marks are related to the specific details that connect everything to personal experiences, and the text, while also ensuring that quotations are used throughout the package as supporting evidence.

The Impact

All of the in-class reading in honoured in this task. Students will need to demonstrate that they have used their in-class reading time wisely to ensure that they can fully demonstrate the learning required by this package. Additionally, students will have no excuse for not being prepared for the literature circle itself, as they were given a full class to record their responses and prepare for that meeting, on top of the other opportunities they had throughout the course.

Next up? Running a Literature Circle Meeting.

English – Unit Three: Literature Circles

English Course Packs: Full Units

Unit One: Literacy Skills
Unit Two: Poetry
Unit Three: Literature Circles
Unit Four: Creative Writing & Choose Our Way Tales (In Progress)
Unit Five: Essay Writing (In Progress)
Unit Six: Culminating Tasks (In Progress)

Written by…

Michael Barltrop has been teaching since 2006, integrating comics, video games, and TTRPGs into his classroom. He has been the head of English, Literacy, Special Education, and Assessment & Evaluation and Universal Design. Feel free to reach out through Twitter @MrBarltrop!

Feel free to support the website hosting by buying him a coffee or sharing this post on facebook, twitter, or whatever social media is trending these days.

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