Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Teaching Multicultural Literature : A Workshop for the Middle Grades
Workshop 1 Workshop 2 Workshop 3 Workshop 4 Workshop 5 Workshop 6 Workshop 7 Workshop 8
Workshop 5: Historical and Cultural Context
Authors and Literary Works
Video Summary
Teaching Strategies
Frozen Tableau
Radio Play
Literature Circles
Student Work
Interactive Workbook -- Explore two poems using strategies from these workshops. Go.
Channel-Talk -- Share your views on the discussion board. Go.

Teaching Strategies
Literature Circles


Literature circles engage students in rich conversations about shared readings. Students can express their opinions, predictions, and questions about a text in a productive, structured way. The teacher may ask students to take on specific group roles, such as summarizer or director, which are designed to develop reading, speaking, and thinking abilities. As the students become more skilled in literature circle conversations, they can move beyond specific role assignments.

Literature Circles in Laina Jones's Classroom

Laina Jones uses literature circles each time her class studies a novel, so that the students can experience different roles several times over the course of the year. In the exploration of The Watsons Go to Birmingham -- 1963, the students change roles each time the groups meet. Jones circulates, listening and eliciting connections to the novel's social and historical context.

Literature Circle Roles

The narrator and discussion director develops questions about the text's "big ideas." For example, the director might ask, "How did you feel while you were reading this part of the book?" or "What do you think the most important parts were?" Laina Jones tells her students to remember that a discussion director should ask "open-ended" rather than simple "yes/no" questions.

The investigator and literary luminary locates sections in the text to read aloud. This helps the group remember the most interesting, funny, powerful, or even puzzling parts of the text.

The summarizer writes a short précis of that day's reading. It should contain the main ideas and/or the most important moments.

The connector helps the group connect what they're reading and the world outside by sharing his or her own connections.

The vocabulary enricher finds words that are puzzling, unfamiliar, or special, then looks up the definitions and reports them to the group. In Laina Jones's class, for example, a student asks the group what they think "linoleum" might mean.

The illustrator draws something related to the reading -- a sketch, cartoon, diagram, flow chart, or even a stick figure scene. In Laina Jones's class, a student draws a scene from The Watsons Go to Birmingham -- 1963 where the father punishes his son by shaving the boy's head.

Though the literature circle process begins with assigning students specific roles to follow, most of the students will internalize the roles after practice. Eventually, small groups can meet and engage in literature discussions without the roles (though the teacher may still want to have the groups follow some protocol, such as taking notes or keeping time in each session).

Assessment of Literature Circles

As the students discuss the reading selection in the literature circle, the teacher listens, takes notes, and monitors the students' abilities to contribute to the discussion through their assigned roles. After all the literature circles have completed their discussions, the students can present their insights and questions to the rest of the class. The teacher can also lead the class in an assessment of the literature circles by asking the following questions:

  • Based on our literature circles, what are the most important ideas you learned about your reading selection today?

  • How well did each member of your literature circle contribute in his or her assigned role?

  • What went well in your literature circle?

  • What would you do to improve our literature circles?

Benefits of Literature Circles

  • In literature circles, every student can participate in conversation. They are often less intimidated than they might be in a class discussion. The students are also actively constructing their own meanings of a text, rather than waiting for a teacher to "give" them an official meaning.

  • By practicing the analytic strategies of each group role, students become cannier, more resourceful readers.

  • The different roles in a literature circle show students that historical texts may embrace multiple perspectives, depending on who is telling the story of history. As the students bring these perspectives to the entire group, everyone benefits and learns from one another.

  • As students try out various roles and learn ways to talk about a text, they begin to internalize these habits and perspectives; eventually, they can discuss literature productively while guiding the conversation themselves.

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