Literature circle lessons

Literature Circles using Daniels' roles

Text: Two Summers
(John Heffernan & Freya Blackwood, Scholastic Press, 2004)

Teacher preamble: "This is a story set on a farm over a two-year period. There are big changes that take place over this time. These will be important to include in your discussion after you read it. Remember, when you offer opinions and interpretations of the book, the best way to be clear about these or justify them in providing evidence (or examples) from the book."

Literature circle conversations: If utilising Daniels' framework, a possible conversation might look (and sound) like this:

Discussion Director: Could I start off the conversation by saying that I didn't know what living on a farm during a drought was like. I learned a lot reading this book – like what it means for keeping the animals alive.

Investigator: I looked up some information about droughts in Australia. I found out that 2002 one of Australia's driest and warmest years on record.

Connector: That was the year before this book came out. Maybe the drought at the time was the reason they wrote the book.

Travel Tracer: And that drought was worst in south-eastern Australia … but it was pretty bad everywhere – Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia. I found some pictures online.

Vocabulary Enricher: There were lots of farm type words I found in this book that I'd never heard before. Like 'mustering' and 'poddies'. Were you guys able to work out those words from the story? … Poddies are animals that people raise and look after. So, if a mother cow died, the calves would need to be looked after by the farmers.

Literary Luminary: Actually, the part about the poddies was one passage I picked out to share. … I thought it might be one we needed to talk about.

Illustrator: Actually, the page before that one about the poddies was the one I wanted to share. I really liked the aerial shot of the boy feeding the sheep off the back of the ute.

Discussion Director: Why?

Illustrator: I liked the way they all looked so tiny and everything around them looked so yellow and dry. It made me feel what it must be like on a farm in a drought.

Literature Circles using Keene & Zimmerman's connections

Text: Herman and Rosie
(Gus Gordon, Penguin/Viking, 2012)

Teacher preamble: "I'm so pleased this group has chosen Herman and Louise. I love it and I hope you will too. It's actually one of those books I really wasn't sure how it was going to end right up to the last couple of pages. The story takes place in New York. Even if we haven't been there, we all know something about New York – what do you know about that place before reading this book?"

Literature circle conversations: If utilising Keene and Zimmerman's connections, the students might use them to sustain conversations along the lines of:

"Well, I don't know that I loved it as much as our teacher, but it was really good. I made a text-to-self connection because I've been to New York!"

"I have singing lessons just like Rosie does in the story."

"My family's flat is on the seventh floor just like Herman's."

"This book reminded me of the Tobhy Riddle one – Nobody Owns the Moon. That one is set in New York and kind of has lonely animal characters in it too." (Text-to-text connection)

"And it's a bit like that movie La La Land." (Text-to-text connection)

"That movie in in LA not New York."

"But it has jazz music in it."

"Something this book reminded me about living in the real world and how lots of people say you can be lonely even in a crowd. That's kind of how it was for Herman and Rosie." (Text-to-world connection).

Literature Circles using Mills & Jennings' sentence stems

Text: Australia A-Z
(Armin Greder, Allen & Unwin, 2016)

Teacher preamble: "I know you all learned your letters of the alphabet and the common sounds they make years ago. But I thought this Australia A-Z might be a really interesting book to talk about. As you read it, think about how it compares to other A-Z books you might remember. You know Armin Greder wrote The Island and we inferred a lot from that book about why he might have written it. This book is similar – you might want to think about what Armin Greder wants the reader to think about or feel after reading this one. Make sure you use the sentence stems we have here – you know how they can help you frame some interesting statements. This book might be book to talk about on literal, inferential and evaluative levels."

Literature circle conversations: If utilising Mills and Jennings' sentence stems, statements students might make could sound like this:

"I noticed… lots of things in there I would have expected, like "K for Kangaroo" but they were drawn differently to other Australian alphabet books."

"I wondered… who Rupert is?"

"I appreciated… the way he is trying to make us think about Australia – it has good things and bad things."

"I felt… a bit uncomfortable with some of the pictures. His books can be quite creepy."

"I made a connection… remember The Island is about a guy whose boat washes up on the island? Well, B is for Boat People here too."

"I learned… the second verse of Advance Australia Fair."

"I was surprised by… I for IKEA. What is Australian about that?".

Literature Circles using Chambers' Three Sharings

Text: Phasmid: Saving the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect
(Rohan Cleave & Coral Tulloch, CSIRO Publishing, 2015)

Teacher preamble: "This looks like a made-up picture book but it is actually non-fiction. It's quite an amazing story of survival. I won't tell you anything more about it, except to help you locate where it takes place. It is in a remote part of the Pacific that even on our big classroom map is really hard to find. … One thing that might be good to reflect on as you read the book is who is telling the story – and why do you think the author has decided to write the book in that way?"

Literature circle conversations: If utilising Chambers' three sharings, statements students' conversations might take this form:

"I liked this book a lot. I think I prefer non-fiction to fiction anyway, but I had no idea about how people thought the stick insect was extinct."

"They didn't think all stick insects were extinct, just this one that lived on Lord Howe Island."

"I wasn't too sure about the book being written in the first person like the stick insect is telling the story. Stick insects can't talk!"

"Yeah – we know that! But the author might have done this to make the story more personal."

"I don't understand how they were able to survive on that rock – Balls Pyramid. They don't explain how that happened. What did they eat?"

"That book reminded me about something else I've read to do with extinct animals. The dodo became extinct because of other animals – just like the rats in this book."

"I'm not sure you're right there. I think people were the ones who hunted the dodo and that's why it became extinct."

Supporting EAL/D learners in literature circles

EAL/D students may prepare for literature circles during independent reading time. They complete an activity with instructions and scaffolding from the teacher and bring this to the literature circle. Students may:

  • record new, challenging or interesting vocabulary, with a definition and a translation if applicable.
    • The literature circle discussion focuses on understanding vocabulary, decoding and comprehension strategies.
  • record their knowledge about a character of their choice. This can include information about the character’s appearance, personality or experiences. Older students can compare the character to themselves using a Venn diagram. During the literature circle the discussion centres on characters, similarities and differences and how students see their own experiences represented in their books (making text-to-self connections)
  • choose a short phrase from their book and make a postcard. The postcard can include a phrase or a (quote), translation, an equivalent metaphor, or explanation in home language and an illustration. In their literature circles, students share their postcards and respond to the words and illustrations on each other's postcards Group discussion centres on sharing and responding to the words and illustrations on each other's postcards.

Strategies to scaffold EAL/D students’ participation in literature circles may depend on the purpose of the discussion in the literature circle. The teacher may:

  • select a text that connects with EAL/D students’ prior knowledge, experiences and identities. Familiar content allows students to focus their discussions on the language in the text. EAL/D students may be grouped with other EAL/D students reading a text based on their home country. However, the teacher should also be aware that some events in a text might trigger traumatic memories for their students. If students are grouped with same language peers it may also facilitate greater depth of thinking and discussion through the integrated use of the students’ home languages.
  • allow students to choose their own texts within a specific theme that relate to their interests and reading ability. This allows the EAL/D student to focus on developing higher level thinking skills by drawing parallels and comparisons across different texts. EAL/D students may be in a mixed-level literature circle with English first language students and discuss different picture books or short chaptered books based on the same theme. The common theme acts as the structure and focus of the discussion in the literature circle. The discussion may centre around summarising each text and making one or two connections across the different texts.

As with all students, clear group roles are important for EAL/D students to participate in literature circles. The teacher might need to scaffold each role separately before the students are able to assume different roles in the literature circle. Differentiated group facilitation roles that support EAL/D students are:

  • Encourager: to ensure each group member contributes
    • “What do you think?”
    • “Do you agree that…?”
  • Recorder: to take notes or keep records
    • the EAL/D student uses a graphic organiser to record what each student in the literature circle said, and provides a summary at the end of the literature circle
  • Observer: to give feedback on participation and group work
  • Linguist: to give feedback on how languages are used in the discussion. The Linguist might use a sentence starter such as:
    • “I noticed that we often used our language when ...and we use English when…”
    • “I noticed the different ways the authors described that their characters are afraid.”

Group discussion prompts could include:

  • Write down the quotes from each group member. If anyone translated their quote into another language, write this down too. Why are these quotes important? What do these quotes tell you about the character or the story?
  • What were the best parts of the illustrations in your text, and why?

Ideas for assessing EAL/D learners during literature circles:

  • The teacher:
    • observes and assesses oral language and participation, including how students fulfil group roles and how they respond to discussion questions
    • uses EAL/D learners’ prepared responses to inform further learning.
  • Students give feedback to each other on their participation in the literature circle.