Literature Circles

Waaaaay back when I was a baby language teacher, I attended a writing workshop for world language teachers here in Anchorage. Dr. Amy Wright, then-professor at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks walked us through an awesome application of Literature Circles in the World Language classroom. We used an excerpt from La casa en la calle Mango (The House on Mango Street) by Sandra Cisneros, and it was easy to see that students would be very comfortable and profoundly familiar with the text by the time that they had completed the series of tasks. Recently, I have explored how to modify the plan as presented in order to center it on Comprehensible Input (as-is, it is very output-heavy) and how to use it with Novice language learners through the use of Embedded Reading (see El hombre feliz unit for Spanish II for an example of CI/ER Literature circles in action). Today, I’m going to post the basic plan. My goal is to publish a new post with CI transformations and tips for using it with novices over the Thanksgiving holiday. For now, you can read this and ponder it on your own!

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  1. Select a passage from a text that you would like students to explore in-depth. It should be fairly evocative.
  2. Write two or three writing prompts that would allow students to explore the themes of the passage. Give students two minutes to do a focused free write for each prompt.
  3. In groups, have each students choose one of their prompt responses to read aloud to the others. (Or, you could assign the students to read a particular one.)
  4. Ask students to read the text aloud (do a read-around). This can be done with each person reading a sentence or each person reading a line (even if the thought or sentence is not completed on that line–it has a cool feel to it).
  5. Ask one student to read the text aloud, or have the teacher read the text aloud to all students. While the other students listen, they should underline any word, phrase, or sentence that stands out to them.
  6. If students underlined more than two things, have them choose their two favorites. Do another read-around, but this time students should read one of the phrases that they underlined. Go around the circle twice so that both phrases are read. Emphasize that they should not change the phrases that they selected if someone else reads it first; the repetition is important! The result will be an oral poem of sorts, created by and unique to the group.
  7. Then, ask students to do another focused free write. Have them choose one of the two phrases or words that they just chose and expand on it for two minutes. They should write anything that comes into their heads when they think about that phrase. The result is a stream of consciousness poem.
  8. Finally, do another read-around. One student will read the passage, but the other students in the group will interrupt him or her immediately after the reader reads the phrase about which they wrote. If multiple students wrote from the same phrase, there will be a chain of tangents. After the interruption is over, the reader continues until he or she is interrupted again.

Dr. Amy Wright, a former professor at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, modeled this strategy at a free writing workshop for world language teachers in Anchorage as a tool to explore literary texts in 2009 or 2010. It is a fantastic way to personalize and break down a complex text. 

7 comments

  1. Martina, thank you for this adaptation of Lit circles. Among the teachers that I work with, there is an increase of requests for things to do with upper level students in CI programs, and I think this fits the bill perfectly (not that it cannot be used in lower levels). Teachers know their students, and will know where/when to make use of this. I am excited to try it out! I’ve just shared it with my department, some district teachers, and on Latin Best Practices with over 1200 teachers. Hope you get some new followers, too!

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    • I taught 6-8 grade, and it is very easy to adapt literature circles for Novices! The key is to establish meaning of the text and discuss it in large group and let students do the different kinds of read-alouds in their circles. You will be switching back and forth from large group to literature circles.

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      • Great! Thanks! Any ideas for texts to use? I am a new teacher and I don’t have much in the way of literature for novice learners, and my textbook isn’t much help.

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      • Short stories work best! For Novices, you could take authentic short stories and make them more comprehensible by shortening and simplifying. I used a series of Embedded Readings in combination with the Literature Circles idea to adapt a very challenging text for Spanish 2 to use (search ‘el hombre feliz’ on the blog to find it). I’ll try to think of some ready to go ones!

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