X: A Fabulous Child’s Story – Literacy Skills Review

Whether you’ve arrived here as part of the larger Gender Representation Unit, or while searching for a strong short story to use with your students, X: A Fabulous Child’s Story by Lois Gould is perfect for your classroom.  A copy of the story can be purchased online or downloaded from The Gender Centre (currently the fourth link from the top at the time of posting).

 

What’s the Story About?

This is the story of a baby named X.  The game is raised Gender Neutral; the parents refuse to tell anyone the sex of the child.  While this causes problems for X when X goes to school, other children soon see the benefit in being more like X.  As, is often the case, it is the parents who worry.

While this story is a work of fiction, it connects to many real-life examples, some of which were inspired by this piece.

 

A Focus on Literacy Skills

This story will refresh student’s knowledge when it comes to writing Point Evidence Evaluation paragraphs.  It will also focus on the following Literacy Skills:

Inferring

Students will be asked to make and support inferences about the parents in the story, as well as the other community members.  They will be challenged to use the information presented to them in the text, as well as their own person knowledge, to make a strong educated guess about motivation.

Questioning

Students will identify question types, focusing on both Literal and Evaluative.  They will then have to write a response in P.E.E. format, explaining if they would want to raise a baby X of their own.

Summarizing

Students are offered limited room to summarize a large amount of information.  This will help demonstrate the need to only add specific details while avoiding all unnecessary information.

Visualizing

Students are asked to recreate a part of the story, paying attention to how all five senses are activated during that moment.  Students will create a stronger understanding of the characters when considering what taste they might be experiencing, and what sounds would stand out to them.

Connecting

Students will be asked to make Text to Text, Text to World, and Text to Self-connections with the story.  By doing so, they will work to create meaning, and develop a strong foundation for future discussions.

 

 

Related Articles

Parent’s Keep Child’s Gender Secret – Toronto Star, May 21, 2011

Baby Storm Five Years Later – Toronto Star, July 11, 2016

 

 

Downloads

X – A Fabulous Child’s Story – Literacy Skills – 2018.pdf

X: A Fabulous Child’s Story (from The Gender Centre) – Direct Link

Alligator River: Point Evidence Explanation Paragraphs

Point Evidence Explanation paragraphs have all three requirements for supporting an opinion.  The point is what the writer believes, the evidence is what the writer is using to prove their belief is true, and the explanation is an explanation of how the evidence supports the point.

I use the following activity as a diagnostic to assess Reading and Writing knowledge.  It is also a great icebreaker to get students interacting with and challenging their peers.

 

Point Evidence Explanation Examples

For Example:

Point: Ivan is the worst person in “Alligator River”
Proof: He refuses to help Abigail even though they are friends.
Alternate Proof using Quotations: “Ivan did not want to be involved at all in the situation.”
Explanation: Friends are supposed to stand up for one another and help each other in times of trouble.  As Abigail’s friend, Ivan is the only person who should have supported her throughout the entire ordeal.  That he refused to help his friend shows that he is the worst person in the story.

PEE Paragraph (without embedded quotation):

Ivan is the worst person in “Alligator River” because he refuses to help Abigail even though they are friends.  Friends are supposed to stand up for one another and help each other in times of trouble.  As Abigail’s friend, Ivan is the only person who should have supported her throughout the entire ordeal.  That he refused to help his friend shows that he is the worst person in the story.

PEE Paragraph (with embedded quotation):

Ivan is the worst person in “Alligator River” because he refuses to help Abigail.   Even though they are friends, Ivan “did not want to be involved … in the situation” (Alligator River).  Friends are supposed to stand up for one another and help each other in times of trouble.  As Abigail’s friend, Ivan is the only person who should have supported her throughout the entire ordeal.  That he refused to help his friend shows that he is the worst person in the story.

 

Introducing Point Evidence Explanation Paragraphs

Note: I don’t normally include stories that I don’t have the license to here, but I have tried to discover the author of Alligator River for some time, coming up short with each attempt.  It appears on countless websites, each time unattributed.  If anyone knows the author please inform me in the comments.

Read the story Alligator River aloud to your class.

Alligator River

Once upon a time there was a woman named Abigail who was in love with a man named Gregory. Gregory lived on the shore of a river. Abigail lived on the opposite shore of the river. The river that separated the two lovers was teeming with man-eating alligators. Abigail wanted to cross the river to be with Gregory. Unfortunately, the bridge had been washed away by a heavy storm the previous evening.

So she went to ask Sinbad, a riverboat captain, to take her across. He said he would be glad to if she would consent to go to bed with him before he takes her across. She promptly refused and went to a friend named Ivan to explain her plight. Ivan did not want to be involved at all in the situation.

Abigail felt her only alternative was to accept Sinbad’s terms. Sinbad fulfilled his promise to Abigail and delivered her into the arms of Gregory.

When she told Gregory about her amorous escapade in order to cross the river, Gregory cast her aside with disdain. Heartsick and dejected, Abigail turned to Slug with her tale of woe. Slug, feeling compassion for Abigail, sought out Gregory and beat him brutally. Abigail was happy to see Gregory getting his due. As the sun sets on the horizon, we hear Abigail laughing at Gregory.

Debriefing the Story

Students should be asked to consider the choices made by each of the five characters: AbigailIvanSinbadSlug, and Gregory.

Think

I structure this by first giving students five minutes to fill out a chart that ranks each of the characters from best to worst.  This is a purely subjective ranking but it helps get thing thinking about the events of the story.

Once I establish that they will be filling out this chart I read the story again so that they are listening with intent, seeking out main and supporting details.

It is important that students work on this chart independently.  They will have the opportunity to share with their peers in the next stage.

Once students have had time to fill out their chart, I break them into groups

Pair (and then some)

Students are split into four groups.  In these new groups, all members must agree on a new list.  Often times there are disagreements and strong opinions.  Students become passionate about their choices, as well as their reasons.

Once they have their lists, you can move onto the sharing step or combine two of these groups to make a larger group before sharing as a class.

Share

Each group will write their rankings on the board.  First they will silently compare them, or become angered by the differences.  After there has been an opportunity to read the lists, students will explain their rationale for the choices that they made.

I find that it can be helpful for teachers to write their own list on the board, after students have discussed their own.  At this point the teacher can mention that they have their own reason for the choices that they made, but they are no more correct or incorrect than any of the student lists.

Ultimately, the important thing is that everyone can support their reasons.  This leads us directly to an explanation of Point Evidence Explanation paragraphs.

Writing a P.E.E. Paragraph

Using the prior examples as exemplars students should be instructed to write  P.E.E. Paragraph explaining who they think the worst character in the story is.

Students should then swap paragraphs and highlight the Point in yellow, the Evidence in green and the Evaluation in blue.

If you do not have access to highlighters, underlining, circling, and starring the different sections is also effective.  However, I find that by highlight the entire paragraph it’s easy to visually identify problematic paragraphs.

Students should quickly see that the order of the three sections is consistent in each paragraph and that the Evaluation makes up the bulk of the writing.

Common Problems

Often times students will simply want to write their point assuming that everyone understands it.  Some might also often evidence to support their point, but without their explanation, the reader is left the infer and make the connection themselves.  Writing a P.E.E. Paragraph ensures that the writer fully communicates their ideas to the reader.

A Second Paragraph

Once students have peer edited each others’ work, and you have identified common problems, you can ask the students to write a second paragraph explaining who they think the best character in the story is.

At the end of this assignment, you will have strong evidence of their writing ability and their ability to support their opinion with textual references.

 

Next Steps

After discussing this story you can point out the various opinions students had about the characters and their actions.  By telling them that a large discussion occurred based on a story that is only half a page long, they will be prepared for the challenge of discussing longer texts in Literature Circles.

I also use this activity as a starting off point for encouraging students to write their own Choose Our Way tales.

Finally, I have included a handout that has questions relating to four of the ten key literacy skills: Connecting, Comparing, Predicting, Inferring.

 

Downloadable Resources

Alligator River – Story and Chart Handout

Alligator River – Literacy Skills Questions

 

Digital Tools – Further Reading

CommonSense.education

https://www.commonsense.org/education/

The various drop-down menus offer a wealth of Digital Literacy knowledge.  Under “Teaching Strategies” you can find helpful tips for bringing coding, multimedia digital storytelling, and more to your classroom.  It also has a section on how to deal with digital distractions in our modern classrooms.

Uses: This website offers a plethora of different articles, videos, and tips.  It is relevant for any classroom.  Though it may be directed, partially, to elementary classes the information is still relevant.

Best Websites for Teaching & Learning 2017

http://www.ala.org/aasl/standards/best/websites/2017

There are a wealth of digital tools listed here.  If you find yourself still wanting, having already looked at the Top 10 Digital Tools, and More Digital Tools, you need look no farther than the AASL: Best Websites for Teaching & Learning.

This website is updated each year, and the archives can be just as useful as the present collection.

The Challenge of Staying Current

Keeping up with the changing digital landscape can seem like an impossible task.  But you don’t need to be aware of everything, all the time.  Find two or three tools you really like, consider how they can be used to enhance and explore key literacy skills, and introduce them to your students.

If you add one or two new tools every year, you’ll not only stay engaged and interested in your teaching, but also find your toolbox filling in no time.

And, if you’re one of those people who spend their time researching the latest and greatest tools, remember:

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
-Ferris Bueller


Part 1: Digital Literacy Tools – Introduction

Part 2: Top Ten Digital Tools for Classrooms

Part 3: More Digitial Tools for Classrooms

Part 4: Digital Tools – Further Reading

More Digitial Tools for Classrooms

Limiting digital tools to a top ten list leaves many great tools overlooked.  There are always more useful tools that have a place in the classroom.  Add your favourites to the comment section below.

Inklewriter

DT-inklehttps://writer.inklestudios.com/

Learn More: Mr. Barltrop’s Tutorial

Inklewriter is the most straightforward Choose Your Own Adventure writer that currently exists.  From the moment students open up the site they are invited to view a streamlined site that is as usable on a computer as it is a smartphone.

Uses: Students can create new versions of texts studied in class, or map out alternate paths that history could have taken were one small difference made.

The changing course of our world can be expressed, and different branching hypotheses can be made based on the various choices or results that might be encountered.  There is no limit to the choices one can make.

Lexipedia

DT-lexipediahttp://www.lexipedia.com/english/taste

Lexipedia is a visual word web, where you can type in a word, and related words will pop out from it.  You can choose to view related Nouns, Verbs, Adverbs, Adjectives, Synonyms, Antonyms, and Fuzzynyms.

Users can click on any of the displayed words to make them the new centre of the web, which creates a new web for them to browse.

Uses: Aside from acting as a Thesaurus, this tool also allows students to understand and
forming relationships between different words and word types.

PowToon

DT-PowToonhttps://www.powtoon.com/

PowToon is an incredibly powerful piece of animation software that is entirely browser based.  At the basic level, users can choose from a selection of templates that are made available to them and simply add text and images through the integrated software.

However, those looking to unlock the full power of PowToon can change where and when images are added to an animation.  They can also select from a number of different animation styles.

Uses: Students familiar with audio and video editing software will have an easier time adapting to the PowToon suite.  However, due to the step-by-step process of creating a number of basic animations, this tool can be used to create professional looking animations for any subject area.

Tagxedo

DT-Tagxedohttp://www.tagxedo.com/app.html

This is the final Word Bubble website we will look at.  However, there are many more.  And each have their own uses.  The benefit of Tagxedo is that you can either enter text, or a website.  You can also choose a number of unique shapes to use in the display of your word bubble.

Uses: Before studying the battle of New Orleans it might be interesting to turn the Wikipedia page for said battle into a Tagxedo image.  You can also choose a relevant shape, like the United States of America to display your creation.

Wordle

DT-Wordlehttp://www.wordle.net/

Wordle allows you to create a word bubble created by any text you paste into the website.  The text will be sized according to use.  The more times a word is repeated, the larger the font size will be.

Uses: By showing students a wordle before they engage with a text, they are able to infer what they think it will be about.  It will also allow them to focus their reading on the relevant aspects.


Part 1: Digital Literacy Tools – Introduction

Part 2: Top Ten Digital Tools for Classrooms

Part 3: More Digitial Tools for Classrooms

Part 4: Digital Tools – Further Reading

Top Ten Digital Tools for Classrooms

Pixton

DT-Pixton

https://www.pixton.com/on

Learn More: Mr. Barltrop’s Tutorial

Pixton is a graphic novel creation tool that allows students to choose from a library of characters, backgrounds, props, expressions, and poses.

Students can create endless permutations on the characters, allowing them to express themselves as they see fit.

Uses: By exploring the wide variety of lesson plans in the program’s database, teachers can sort by subject area to find an assignment that’s right for them.  Teachers also have the ability to create unique lessons tailored to the needs of their students.

Lingro

DT-lingrohttp://lingro.com/

Lingro is a website that converts a website’s text.  The converted text can be clicked on.  This will open a pop up that defines the clicked word.  Students can open up as many pop ups as they need, or close them when no longer required.

Uses: Using the lingro link to assign a short story can allow students to double check the meaning of unfamiliar words.  This gives them ownership over their learning.  It is also useful for historical, geographical, and technical texts where some language may be unfamiliar.

Vibby

DT-Vibbyhttps://www.vibby.com/

Vibby allows you to import video clips from major online sites such as YouTube.  Using this tool you can extract specific clips from the video to highlight for your students.  Not only that, but you can also add annotations, similar to how you would with Thinglink.  The main difference being, this allows you to add annotations to specific timestamps in the video, rather than positions on the image.

Uses: This is great for selecting relevant information, as well as annotating inferences, and connections, while creating questions that link to specific – relevant – sections of the media text.

Thinglink

DT-ThingLink

https://www.thinglink.com

Thinglink does require creating an account – although free accounts can be created with your, and students, @tdsb.on.ca e-mail accounts by selecting “Sign in with Google.”

This website allows you to upload images, or import them from a weblink.  Students can then click on parts of the image and add annotations.

Their final piece can be used as an interactive part of a presentation, or shared and submitted to the teacher as a weblink that can be assessed.

Uses: Students can annotate advertisements, or other visual texts.  History and geography students can use this site to annotate maps.  Various annotation icons can be used to specify a variety of different annotation types.

WordSift

DT-WordSifthttps://wordsift.org/

Similar to Wordle, WordSift will create a word bubble based on word use.  Students will have to paste the text in themselves, however.  Unlike Wordle, Wordsift creates an interactive bubble allowing students to hover over words and see how many times they are used.  They can also view what sentences the words are used in.  There is also an integrated word web thesaurus.

Uses: This website is incredibly useful, especially when searching for specific information.  However, it can be overwhelming, offering too many tools, rather than one useful one.

Newsela

DT-Newsellahttps://newsela.com/

Newsela is a news aggregator that hosts a number of modern news articles.  While they often have an American focus, many are still applicable for our classrooms.  By clicking on the various numbers (1140L600L) you can change the Lexile score (the reading level) of the text.

Uses: When looking to address a text, students can choose a version that is appropriate for them.  While the reading level changes, most of the content remains the same.  By selecting from various categories, such as Geography, Science & Math, and World History you can quickly access relevant texts for your lessons.

Tween Tribune

DT-TweenTribunehttp://tweentribune.com/

Similar to Newsela TweenTribune offers a variety of high interest texts, which are presented in a variety of Lexile scores.  These texts are sorted by grade level, and subject area.  In only a few minutes teachers and students can find high interest, on topic texts in a reading level that suits their needs.

Uses: Aside from the uses listed above, TweenTribune is run by the Smithsonian.  They have provided a number of lesson plans that can be used to target a variety of grade levels using the presented resources.

Piktochart

DT-Piktocharthttps://piktochart.com/

Piktochart is an online resource for creating infographics, similar to those students would find on the OSSLT in the Graphic Text section.

There are a number of templates that allow students to jump right in and create their own resources.  However, should students be dealing with statistics, this site becomes even more useful through its integrated graphing.

Uses: Students can create visual “about me” infographics, or use the powerful embedded spreadsheet option to create beautiful representations of their collected data.

Adobe Spark

DT-AdobeSparkhttps://spark.adobe.com/

Spark is an interactive presentation tool.  Students can create simple graphical and text presentations that take advantage of the online infinite canvas.  Rather than being limited to one slide at a time, this program allows students to create a never-ending downward scrolling presentation.

Uses: Replacing Prezi and Power Point, this is a unique way to create engaging texts that interact with web browsers in a way students are accustomed to.  They can integrate images, text, video, and weblinks into their piece.

Today’s Meet

DT-TodaysMeethttps://todaysmeet.com/

Today’s Meet is a back channel chat program.  You can create “rooms” that will be open for a set amount of time, from one hour to one month.  Students can join the room through the code you give them, and then participate in the discussion.

Uses: Using their personal devices students can ask a number of questions about the lesson you are teaching.  If you have a projector set to display the “chat messages” only, an ongoing dialogue can be observed.

This is useful as students can ask questions, which you can answer at an appropriate time.  The flow of the class will not be disrupted.

You can also “export” the chat log at the end of the class.


Part 1: Digital Literacy Tools – Introduction

Part 2: Top Ten Digital Tools for Classrooms

Part 3: More Digitial Tools for Classrooms

Part 4: Digital Tools – Further Reading

Digital Literacy Tools – Introduction

Teaching takes time.  Planning lessons takes time.  And now it’s expected that teachers integrate digital literacy into their classroom.  But what does that mean?  What does it look like?  And more importantly, what resources can be used to integrate those skills?

Digital Literacy skills are required to make effective use of digital devices like laptops, smartphones, tablets, or desktop computers.  These skills will allow students to engage, express, collaborate, and communicate with their peers in a quickly changing world.

There are a wealth of tools out there to help teachers, but the nearly endless expanse of resources can feel overwhelming.  In the face of endless choices, it becomes difficult to make any choice at all.

A Short Introduction

This guide will introduce you to a number of useful tools that can be immediately integrated into your current lesson plans.  The only requirement is that students have access to a computer lab, a chrome book station, or their own personal devices.

In a world that is rapidly incorporating digital devices into everyday experiences it is integral we ensure our students have the skills for success, lest they find themselves left behind.

Note: Due to the limitations of school computers, you may find some of these tools do not work with specific web browsers.  Try using Chrome, Firefox, or even Internet Explorer before abandoning hope.

Looking Forward

There are a number of great tools to choose from.  Browse the curated top ten digital tools for classrooms list to increase the digital tools in your toolbox.


Part 1: Digital Literacy Tools – Introduction

Part 2: Top Ten Digital Tools for Classrooms

Part 3: More Digitial Tools for Classrooms

Part 4: Digital Tools – Further Reading

Overview of the Ten Key Literacy Skills

These ten key literacy skills are used in every classroom, regardless of subject or grade area.  Using these, or slightly modified, headers on your assignment sheets will help students understand that the skills exist from one subject area to the next.  It will also help you chunking your assignments so they are easier for students to process.

Summarizing

When you summarize an article, you are selecting only the most important pieces of information that are needed to fully communicate the author’s ideas. By looking at the highlighted passages you and your group have constructed, you may find you have already identified Main and Supporting details, required for a successful summary.

Determining Importance

An article can have more than one Main Idea.  The Main Idea is the focus of the article.  It is supported by Supporting Details that answer “how”, “what”, “when”, or “where”.  The Main Idea is often stated in the topic sentence of a paragraph, or group of paragraphs.  The more specific details that follow are the Supporting Details.

Inferring

When you infer, you are reaching a conclusion on the basis of evidence and reasoning.  An inference is an “educated guess” that is supported by your own personal knowledge as well as specific details from the text.  You are making an assumption based on the facts you have in front of you, as well as your prior experience.  An inference can be about something that has happened, or that will happen in the future.

Predicting

Predicting allows you to form expectations about what is to come.  Predicting requires that you use prior knowledge and information from the text to form an opinion about a text’s meaning, content, or intended audience.

Connecting

There are three main types of connections: Text to Text, Text to World, and Text to Self. Remember, a text can be – but is not limited to – a book, an article, a song, a video game, a painting, etc.  A Text to Text connection requires you to draw specific links between the assigned text, and another text of which you are familiar. A Text to World connection requires you to draw specific links between the assigned text, and events occurring in the world around you. A Text to Self connection requires you to draw specific links between the text, and your own personal life.  Specific examples must be used from both sources when creating a textual connection.

Visualizing

Visualizing is the act of creating an image in a readers mind.  The image should stimulate as many of the five senses as possible: Taste, Touch, Sight, Sound, and Smell.  By visualizing a reader can enhance their connection to a text, or create stronger inferences.

Comparing

When you compare like, or unlike, things you are identifying details in each of them.  Those details allow for a better understanding of the compared things.  By knowing what the thing is like or what it is not like you will be able to better focus your thoughts.

Questioning

There are three main types of questions – Literal, Inferential, and Evaluative. Inferential questions require you to use personal knowledge, combined with knowledge from the text to answer them. Evaluative questions ask your personal opinion, which must still be backed up with specific examples from your life. Literal questions require you to restate, in full sentences, information that is directly stated in the text.

Annotating

You may annotate by writing directly on a text, or using sticky notes to arrange and re-arrange your thoughts.  Annotations force you to identify details and consider the text as an artefact.  They also allow you to return to a familiar text at a later date, with your notes already collected.

Synthesizing

By combining ideas from your text, with ideas from additional texts, as well as your own prior knowledge you can come to a new, fuller, understanding of a topic.  Synthesizing allows you to combine knowledge from multiple sources allowing for new insights into a topic.

Stop and Think

Rank each of the key literacy skills in order of importance, from 1 to 10.  Write a brief sentence explaining why #1 is the most important, and #10 is the least important.

Consider how students use these skills in your classroom, then consider how they use them in their daily lives outside of the classroom.

Finally, question if you explicitly teach these skills, or if you assume that students should already be aware of them.  Recognizing that students need to have these skills explicitly refreshed each year, determine how you could modify existing assignments to allow for literacy skill chunking.


PART 1: LITERACY SKILLS – AN INTRODUCTION

PART 2: OVERVIEW OF THE TEN KEY LITERACY SKILLS

PART 3: LESSONS FOR TEACHING LITERACY SKILLS

Literacy Skills – An Introduction

Literacy Skills are transferable skills that permeate cross-curricular lessons from kindergarten to post-secondary classrooms.

Students use these skills to process each text they encounter, be it a map, a math problem, a song, a blue print, a short story, a painting, or any number of other things.

Many students fail to recognize that they use the same skills to understand a tutorial for replacing a dishwasher as they do for identifying the author’s message in a short story.  By specifically naming the skills, students will realize the transferable nature of literacy skills and activate the same techniques when applying them.

The Ten Key Literacy Skills

The following literacy skills are those most often called upon in a classroom setting:

  1. Summarizing
  2. Determining Importance
  3. Inferring
  4. Predicting
  5. Connecting
    • Text to Self
    • Text to Text
    • Text to World
  6. Visualizing
  7. Comparing
  8. Questioning
    • Literal
    • Inferential
    • Evaluative
  9. Annotating
  10. Synthesizing

Stop and Think

Consider how you use three of those skills and how they are used in your classroom.

If you are not sure what the skills are, jot down an idea of what you think the skill means, and how you use it in your classroom.  Once you have a brief idea of how the skills work, and how they are presented in your classroom, feel free to delve a little deeper in Part 2.


PART 1: Literacy Skills – An Introduction

PART 2: Overview of the Ten Key Literacy Skills

PART 3: Lessons for Teaching Literacy Skills

 

Literature Circles – An Introduction

In traditional classrooms the entire class reads one novel, as the teacher guides their students through the text.  This is not the case with Literature Circles.  Literature Circles allow students to choose texts that resonate with them; choice allows for ownership, which heights student engagement with their text.

In literature circles, small groups of students read a book and guide each other through the text.  They take turns performing a variety of roles which focus on the key literacy skills.  Rather than feeling as if they are forced to read a book they feel no connection to, at a pace that doesn’t suit their needs, students are able to flip the classroom and chart their own course through the text, as the teacher observes and moderates their progress.

What are the benefits of Literature Circles?

As stated, the main benefit of Literature Circles is that students have choice in what they want to read.  While each school’s book room will be different, there is no reason there can not be a variety of texts to choose from.  Ordering 30 copies of one book requires the same budget as order 6 copies of 5 different books, so why not purchase five different titles that students can choose from?

We know that when students see themselves represented in a text they are better able to connect to it.  When students are engaged, they can read beyond their assessed reading level.

Through the use of Literature Circles students take on leadership roles, and are answerable to their peers, rather than their teacher, when they are ill prepared.  By shifting the structure of the classroom, students rise to the challenges before them.

Where do I start?

  1. The first step in running literature circles is transforming the culture of your English Department.  While some teachers and administrators may be instantly receptive to the idea, others may need convincing.  Luckily, there is a wealth of research pointing to the effects of Literature Circles on student success.
  2. Start purchasing small sets of novels.  Feel free to use these book lists as a starting point:
  3. Familiarize yourself with How to Run Literature Circles 
  4. Create Literature Circle Resources for your students to use

Part 1: Literature Circles – Introduction

Part 2: How to Run Literature Circles

Part 3: Literature Circle – Resources


More information can be found at…

Literature Circle Resources – http://www.litcircles.org/index.html

How to Run Literature Circles

To run a literature circle you first need to determine what sort of assessments you’re looking for.  Next, you will need to block off enough time for students to complete their readings, as well as their projects.

Planning the Assessments

I use four role sheets that students complete as they read their text, followed up with a larger project-based activity.

The Ontario English Curriculum breaks the subject area into four main strands: Reading, Writing, Media, and Oral.

It is important that all strands are represented in your literature circles.  This can be done by ensuring that each of the role sheets connects to one of the strands, and that the project-based activity is broken into four parts as well.

Blocking off the Time

Regardless of student grade or level, I have found that running a complete literature circle requires four weeks.  While my plans always call for 18 days it’s rare to get through a month without losing a class here or there to a long weekend, P.D. day, or assembly.  Giving yourself a full month will allow enough overflow days to ensure you have the time to run your activity.

Student Led Learning

One thing that can be alarming for teachers is that there is very little standing at the front of the room time during literature circles.  Teachers need to be comfortable with sitting back and allowing students to progress on their own.

Obviously no semester should start with a literature circle.  They should only be attempted when teachers are ready to release responsibility to the students.  Running teacher-led instruction that focuses on the various role sheets and literature circle responsibilities using short stories can be a great way to prepare students for literature circles later on in the year.

Class Breakdowns

During the one month Literature Circle there are four main types of classes: Reading Days, Discussion Days, Project-Based Activity Days, and Presentation Days.

Reading Days

During the reading days students can have the entire period for sustained reading of their text.  There is nothing wrong with allowing students the opportunity to read.  You may also want to use this time to lead by example, refreshing yourself with their texts, or reading potential candidates for future literature circles.

Depending on your class, you may also wish to break these days into two halves.  During one half students can read their texts, while the other half can be dedicated to teacher-led instruction.  Perhaps you can use this time to teach how the media triangle relates to their text’s cover art, or discuss essay writing skills that will aid them in their upcoming assignments.

The reading day prior to a discussion day should also be used for students to work on the completion of their current role sheet.

Finally, each of these days should end with a quick ten minute journal writing activity where students can further process what they have read, while practicing key literacy skills.

Discussion Days

During discussion days groups that are reading the same text will come together and talk about the latest section of their text, presenting their latest role sheet. There are two schools of though on how students should read through the text.

One school states that students should have read one quarter of their text for each discussion, ensuring that all group members have reached the same place in the text prior to the discussion.

The other school states that students should read at their pace, and that it doesn’t matter if they are on the same page or not, as they can demonstrate their key literacy skills regardless of how much, or little, they have read.

Each teacher must determine how they want to set up literature circles in their own classroom

Project Based Activity Days

These days are to be used for students to work on their project based activity.  While the bulk of these days should be placed after the final discussion day, when students have completed their novel, there is no reason why one or two of them can’t be peppered throughout the other portion of the month.

Presentation Days

Presentation days are when students will show the results of their project-based activities to the class.  It can be helpful to have students take notes on each of the presentations for a short debriefing of ideas at the end of each presentation day.  This will keep students engaged while watching their peers’ presentations.

Roles

As mentioned, there are four main roles that each student will rotate through.  Each of them focuses on a different strand of the Ontario English Curriculum, while also highlighting different Key Literacy Skills.

Analytical Artist

Strand: Media
Literacy Skills: Connecting, Visualizing, Determining Importance

The Analytical Artist must make a Self-to-Text connection with their selected reading.

The Analytical Artist will then create a visual depiction (poster, sculpture, drawing, etc.) of the connection.  The piece should highlight both the Self, and the Text portions of the connection.  The piece must be at least 8.5 x 11 inches in size.

Next, the Analytical Artist must create a write up that fully explains the connection, being sure to use specific details from their own life, and the text as evidence.

Discussion Director

Strand: Oral
Literacy Skills: Questioning, Connecting, Determining Importance

The Discussion Director will create evaluative questions based on the themes raised in their current section of text.   The questions should force a text-to-self connection when answered.

The Discussion Director is also responsible for answering the questions in one fully detailed paragraph for each question.

Note:   The questions are based on the themes and not the plot.  For example, if you read a text where John steals milk from the corner store your question should be, “what do you think causes someone to justify theft to themselves?” That question relates to the theme of the text.  It should not be, “why do you think Johnny stole the milk?”  That question relates to the plot.

Passage Picker

Strand: Reading
Literacy Skills: Determining Importance, Summarizing, Comparing, Synthesizing

The Passage Picker must choose sections of text that are important in their current reading section.

Next, the passage picker must explain the importance of each selected passage in a full and complete paragraph.  Specific details such as character development, foreshadowing, or key plot points may be used to prove importance.

Synopsis Synthesizer

Strand: Writing
Literacy Skills: Summarizing, Predicting, Inferring, Synthesizing

The Synopsis Synthesizer needs to write a summary of their text selection.  All key details should be included in this write up.  This page should also link to specific themes and developments that are present throughout the text.

Finally, the Synopsis Synthesizer must write multiple paragraphs inferring what will happen next.  They must back up their inference with specific details from the text.  Simply stating, “I know this happens, because I read the next part,” will not garner any marks for inferring what is to come.

Project-Based Activity

There are a number of different ways that students can explore their texts in a project based activity.  I attempt to ensure each of the curricular strands are demonstrated in the project-based activity.

There are two main ways that I run this final activity.  One is a teacher-focused, traditional option, while the other allows much more freedom, but requires higher levels of engagement from the students.

Option One: Traditional, Teacher Directed 

    • A strong visual representation of the text – Focusing on Reading Skills
    • A class discussion based on the text’s themes – Focusing on Oral Skills
    • A movie showing what happens after the text – Focusing on Media and Writing Skills
    • A movie poster with key details from the text – Focusing on Media and Writing Skills

Option Two: Free Form, Student Directed

    • Students self-select something they would like to create that focusing on the themes of the text.  It can include, but is not limited to:
      • A comic book
      • A song
      • A mixed-media art piece
      • A video game
      • A Choose Our Way Tale (multiple paths story)
    • A class discussion that links their creation to the textual themes
    • A written report that explains why their creation was the best way to highlight their text’s themes

I have since expanded on this idea, creating a full fledged project dedicated to it.  More information can be found by reading about Operation: Publication.


Part 1: Literature Circles – Introduction

Part 2: How to Run Literature Circles

Part 3: Literature Circle – Resources