I had a rough time structuring my ELA curriculum last year. I knew I would be teaching The Lightning Thief, and I knew I had to teach writing using The Write Tools, but otherwise, things were pretty open for me. That proved to be pretty overwhelming, especially since I was (and still am) the only one teaching my subjects at my grade level. Because the Social Studies curriculum is made up of different civilizations, it kind of structured itself, and I had a much easier time with that.
So this summer, I’ve been spending a lot of time planning ELA: the class novels, what I’m giving as homework, the weekly schedule, the structure of a class period. One new thing that I’m trying next year is using literature circles to discuss class novels, and Moving Forward with Literature Circles has been tremendously helpful.
Using how literature circles works in one specific 5th grade class as a model, the book gives an overview of what it looks like in a class period, and then breaks it down. How to structure it; how to teach it to students; how to assess it; it’s all there. There are even written out lessons, rubrics, examples of student work, and forms to photocopy and use. I honestly have zero memory as to where I got this book (or even when), but I’m so, so grateful that I ended up with it.
There are a number of different ways to do literature circles, but here’s how it’s used in the book:
- Teach gives a quick mini-lesson on a skill or literary element
- Students move into their small groups and use their journal entries as a starting point for discussion
- Students write a post-discussion journal entry and fill out a form to record how the discussion went; they also pick the prompt to write about for next time, and decide how much to read for next time
- The whole class comes together for a debriefing (what went well today, what problems groups had, etc)
In this model, the teacher had each group of students read a different book (that they selected as a group), and the groups picked their own writing prompts and decided as a group how much to read each week (literature circles in this class happened once a week for an hour). If I have time at the end of the year, I would like to try it with different groups reading different books, but I would like to use literature circles to discuss our class novels for most of the year. I think the structure of this model would be a really good way for students to share their journal responses to the prompt, and I love the idea of having students write post-discussion entries. Because everyone will be reading the same book, the whole class debriefing can open the discussion up, so students can build on what other groups have talked about. I’m also picturing doing literature circles twice a week, with two grammar days a week and Friday being kind of a flexible day to work more on specific skills, essay writing, and grammar quizzes/tests.
One challenge I’m having is how to balance literature circles (and the reading and journal entries as homework) with having students read their AR book and write reading logs. If I assign 6-8 pages to read and a journal entry response to the prompt twice a week, and grammar homework the other two nights (no homework on Fridays is school policy), I worry that reading their AR books for 45 minutes and doing their reading logs will be too much. Although I guess it’s not that bad? Reading logs don’t take too long to do. They only regularly have math homework, anyway–the only social studies and science homework they tend to have is project stuff, so it shouldn’t be too bad. Anyway, they won’t have lit circles homework right at the start of the year, so they can ease into it.
I’m also a little nervous about assessment, but the book has a whole chapter on that, as well as rubrics to use. I might need to practice filling out discussion observation rubrics a few times to get the hang of it (and to do it quickly).
Overall, I’m really excited about literature circles, and anyone who is curious about implementing them should look through this book.