Thursday, March 16, 2017

Tap into the Power of Literature Circles!

Have you ever thought:
I can't do literature circles! They eat up too much time!
Literature circles are just too loud!
I wouldn't know where to start!

Yes, literature circles do take time, and it isn't a quiet classroom activity. That said, everything about literature circles taps into how people (especially kids) learn.  Here are just a few things literature circle do to help students comprehend text better. 

How Do Literature Circles Help Students tap Into Skills?

1.  Literature circles put the fun into reading. Humans are social beings, and the opportunity to talk comes naturally (a little too naturally for most!).  Literature circles takes this human need, and uses it to promote learning. If it's fun, kids will do it gladly!!

2. Literature circles give a framework for student centered inquiry.  Students take turns doing one of five jobs (tasks) in the group. This group of tasks model the strategies students need to learn and internalize as they read material on their own. 

3.  Through cooperative learning, literature circles help students make sense of the text. Students can begin to rely on each other for finding ideas in the text that they may have otherwise missed. Literature circles help kids learn how to use each other as a resource, and ultimately become independent learners.  Students in a literature circle have an opportunity to participate in the conversation. Because it is a small group, and not the entire class, some of the stress of speaking out is taken away for shy students. 

4.  Students can make their own choices about their learning. Groups can choose their own book to read within a group of two to three books selected by the teacher. As students become more proficient in the process, many teachers may want to allow groups to choose their own book from all available. Students also choose the questions that will be discussed by the group after reading. This helps guide students' reading as they go through the text.  At the beginning of the Literature Circle process, brainstorm with the class a list of questions that are appropriate for each genre of book. Copy this list and provide to students. Be sure to advise students that ALL questions cannot be asked, so choose the ones they feel are most important for the particular book.
      Choices are important! If students have some choice in the matter, it leads to greater engagement and higher motivation. This is particularly important for struggling or reluctant readers. 

Where Do I Start?

(Note-putting students into groups: At the beginning of the process I suggest teachers group students, however as time goes on, and students are more proficient at the process, teachers will find that students love the process even more when they can choose their own group. I have to say that many teachers just jump right in, and allow students to make all of the choices right away. I'm reluctant to do that, as I feel gradual release leads to greater success.)

a.  Introduce students to the concept of literature circles by explaining that literature circles are groups of people who read the same book, then meet to discuss what they have read. Explain that each group decides upon their own book (I strongly suggest teachers choose two different titles for each group to vote on. If given too many choices at the start, it's a bit overwhelming). They then decide upon a group of questions that will be discussed about the text when they meet. Make sure each student has a list of these questions. 

b. Introduce the rolls (or tasks) used in literature circles. This is the key. By using the rolls in Literature Circles, students begin to internalize the steps readers use to make sense of the text. You may call them different names, but the job should be the same. Allowing students to choose their task is helpful. I don't allow student to choose the same task twice in a row. If there is a conflict over tasks (they tend to like the drawing task) just do "rock, paper, scissors" as the deciding factor.

1.  Discussion Leader: This person asks questions about the text that was read. If he or she decides to throw in questions not previously decided upon, that is fine.

2.  Investigator: This person selects sections in the text that support answers. It is a good idea to stress to students that not every answer must be supported, but most should be. This is a big job.

3.  Summarizer: This person writes a short summary of the day's reading after the discussion is completed.

4.  The connector helps the group connect the ideas they have read about to the outside world, and to other books that have been read.

5.  The Word Wizard looks up unfamiliar or important words in the text. He or she find the definitions to the words and reports back to the group. Only one or two words need to be looked up, or the word wizard will miss the entire discussion.

6. The Illustrator: This student can do a sketch, diagram, flow chart or a cartoon to show somethingfrom the day's reading.

What Do Teachers Do During Literature Circles?

1. Go from group to group listening, taking notes and monitoring the ability of students to contribute to the discussion. This can be part of a daily assessment.

2. Help students monitor their own learning by giving them a premade form (or discuss) the following questions:  What are the most important ideas you learned about in today's reading? How well did each member contribute to the group within their assigned roll? What did you think was the best part of today's Literature Circle? Is there some way you think today's group could have gone better?

How does this all work? MODEL, MODEL, MODEL!

The first and second literacy circle sessions should be for demonstration purposes only. Choose six "guinna pigs" for each group and use a book all students are familiar with. Go through the process as the class watches. Since it is a book that has already been read (such as a read-aloud) all students can get the idea. As students run into difficulties, model how questions are asked, words are looked up and so on. During the modeling process, the teacher will actually preform many of the tasks, or talk students through the process. It is vital that students know exactly what is expected. I like to ask a student in the model group to act out in some way. Then we discuss with the group and class how to deal with a student who is not doing his/her job, or who is disruptive. Before beginning the process, have ideas ready for students to use. The key is to have students prepared, know the perimeters of the activity, and be ready to learn. Take the time needed to prepare students, and you will never teach without literature circles! They work!!

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Sunday, March 5, 2017

Solar System Resources

My Kids ALWAYS loved the solar system unit! I'm sure yours do too! It isn't just enough to read out of the book, they need hands-on activities to understand the tremendous distances in space, and games and videos to grab their attention and never let it go!! This is one unit that can ignite not only an interest for a lifetime, but a career in science as well! I hope you and your students enjoy the great resources below.

1.  ProTeacher Directory
This is a great place to come for ideas and activities to inspire kids. Ideas for planet advertisements, planet postcards, moon phases and more.

2.  Scholastic
There are great lesson ideas here of's Scholastic). Some are based on books, some are activities without a specific book.

3.  More Scholastic!
This site is FULL!  Get study jams, activities for reading and writing, and much, much more!

For center time, or group work don't miss these great out space games and activities!

NASA Space Place
Lots of great games that come straight from the source....NASA!

Interactive Sites for Education
13 Terrific games/sites!!

I've saved the best for last!!  The one thing that is really hard for kids to understand about space is the tremendous distances involved. I've done this activity with my third graders and they are absolutely amazed. We did it in a long hall, and to get to Pluto, we had to go right out the back door. This is my most favorite space don't forget it either!! I didn't write it, by the way. It comes from Family Astro.

Hope you and your students enjoy these fun resources.

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