Coming full circle on literacy circles

IMG_4630I feel like a bit of a fraud.

I have long been a proponent of Donalyn Miller’s approach to reading. In both the Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild – she cites the importance of developing children as readers through exposure to child-selected books and less time on response type activities.

I also love Daily 5 as a way for children to manage themselves during the classroom literacy block.

As I moved down into Year 4 this year I had a group of high-achieving and motivated readers in need of a challenge.  They were confident in choosing their own books and enjoyed reading in their own time. What the children craved was higher-level discussion. I realised that they needed more of a challenge so I decided to try literacy circle.

A literacy circle is a group where children construct meaning of the text through in-depth discussion of a shared text. The discussion is guided by the responses that children make to the text depending on the role they have taken; a word wizard is interested in vocabulary, an illustrator will sketch a key scene from a book while the discussion director asks general questions and guides the group. It was very different to the approach I had taken in the past where children were grouped in strategy stages and had far more ‘response’ type activities that I would like to give.

The children chose a book from a selection and assigned themselves different roles each week in response to reading. Learning could be shown in a variety of different ways all the kids needed to do was drop their artefact in a shared google folder and was one of the children’s ‘must dos’ for the week.

The book the kids selected was Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper. A book I enjoyed as a read aloud last year and one that was challenging yet still friendly enough for my young readers.

The children enjoyed taking on different roles and reading the book from different perspectives. They organised their own technology needs and my role as a teacher was largely to monitor contributions using the harkness circle, redirecting conversation and offering feedback.

Things that worked for this particular group was:

  • A great text. Out of My Mind is a phenomenal book. Nuanced characters, beautiful vocabulary and a plot that enables children to emphasise and relate with their own experience of school.
  • A text that linked to a read aloud. I had previously read Wonder to the class and found that Out of My Mind enabled the children to make rich text to text connections.
  • A text that had links to a Unit of Inquiry. When the children started this book we were exploring how actions people take can impact on other people’s lives.

Literacy circle didn’t work for every learner in that group. There one or two who, despite scaffolds, struggled with the format either because they were quick to finish the book and wanted to move on or weren’t ready to have critical literacy conversations. I also should have included a few children who showed interest in the book and being part of the circle.

What I was unprepared for was that book club actually became a source of anxiety for a couple of children if they felt what their contribution wouldn’t be up to standard. While the children in group were very warm, giving praise for contributions, they were also very critical. Particularly if they felt that a member of the group wasn’t giving their best. The process did make me question how I was giving feedback to the class and make me more mindful of modelling how to give critical feedback.

These structured discussions were a great success for this particular cohort of students, there was still plenty of student voice and choice but I still left the process wondering.

Am I killing some kids love of reading?

8 thoughts on “Coming full circle on literacy circles

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  1. Literature Circles add a new dimension to a reading life. From my point of view they allow the students use all the reading strategies, make their thinking visible and grow their understanding through discussion. We have mixed grade level groups and include parents and specialist teachers,to the groups. I don’t use the roles, but expect notes on any kind of thinking. Making literature circles work takes time and practice. Kids learn how to choose books for a group, how to evaluatwvwhich notes would add best to conversation, how to have great discussions, and how to reflect on the success/drawbacks of the groups. For some students this may take more than a year. I had a girl in third grade who did’t open her mouth during the first year. In fifth grade she ran a group and her deep comments were amazing. There will always be some students and groups that won’t function during some meetings, but they can learn from the experience. Focus on what went well. You had a good start. Keep going.


    1. Terje
      Thank you so much for your comment. I think for me, part of it is knowing when to add scaffold and structures to support learning and when those interventions might be having unintended consequences. Reading is something I want the children in my class to be passionate about and enjoy first and foremost.



      1. You keep sharing your passion for reading, you have read aloud, the students have choice, there is ongoing book sharing – the joy of reading is presnent in your class. The scaffolding and structures are tricky indeed: some students need more, some less. From your words it seems you have a good sense of your students and you are aware how your own words shape the culture in the class. Trust what you think is right. With literature circles you have flexibility. Wishing you luck. I hope you will find literature circles adding the joy of reading.


  2. When doing some further academic study I learnt about the Four Resources Model, which is known in the classroom as Cooperative Reading. The concept is the same as Literature Circles, however students take one of four rotating reading roles, which are groups of reading comprehension skills. They respond from the perspective of their role and share that within their group. Peer assessment helps keep students on track.
    Here are some introductory links:
    I use it in middle primary/elementary. I think the empowering of conversation in independent groups is huge for students who are still working out that books provide an amazing world of encountering the world.


    1. Hi Leigh
      Thanks so much for stopping by and for your links so thoughtful links. My post is mainly thinking about striking that balance between developing children as readers and reading skills. For me first and foremost, the classroom should be a room that promotes a love of reading.



  3. I love the Daily 5 but the real gem is the CAFE that is run alongside. It allows for all children to be reading and coming together to work on different strategies as they need them. Just awesome!


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