Elaine Jaltema’s Lit Circle notes

Literature Circle Format, Elaine Jaltema

In my intermediate class (grades 4/5, 5/6, or 6/7) students meet in literature circle groups every week from the end of September until the end of June. I use a format that looks, sounds, and feels like an adult book club. My students love it!

I stopped using the common system of roles (connector, director, illustrator, etc.) in order to put the emphasis on reading and discussing rather than writing and reporting. I have also tried using the method where students read at their own pace and say anything that interests them but my students and I prefer the following format in which everyone reads the same section and can make predictions.

I join the group (or have a student teacher or volunteer with the group) in order to ensure that the group discusses the meaty ideas in the book. It also gives me a fabulous chance for meaningful conversations with kids, especially those who are less visible in a large group.

Here is my process:

➢ I gather multiple copies of 5-7 different novels, usually gathered around a theme. The novels represent a variety in levels and styles. I give short book talks for all of the books, then I give students a little time to look through them and try reading a few pages. Students fill out a request form, listing their top 4 preferences. This system allows the teacher to organize balanced groups and assign books that are suitable for students’ reading levels. I typically put kids into groups of the 5 most popular novels and put the unselected titles away for another time.

➢ Students read an agreed upon section for each week’s meeting – usually about 60 pages which is 1/3 or 1/4 of the book. An average reader reading a grade level book will read a page in 2 minutes or less. Therefore 60 pages per week will take most kids about 2 hours of reading at home. Easier novels usually have less than 180 pages, making it easy to give less capable readers fewer pages to read each week.

➢ Students are not allowed to read ahead of the week’s assigned section so the entire group has the fun of guessing what will happen next.

➢ Keen readers often join 2 or even 3 groups. I put some of these “bright lights” into an easy book for their second book in order to raise the caliber of discussion for the easiest novel. That also means it isn’t obvious which is the “easy read” for the less skilled readers.

➢ Students have a routine assignment: write down 2 fat, juicy questions and a connection about the week’s reading, look up 3 unfamiliar words in the dictionary and write down their meanings. Fat questions are ones that have no right answer so they can elicit different responses and discussion. As the year progresses, I begin to give an additional weekly assignment which could be writing a reflection or completing a task related to the theme (see next page for examples).

➢ Meetings are scheduled once a week. If I have a volunteer or student teacher, I can schedule two meetings to occur simultaneously. When I do this, I have to work out the meeting schedule before assigning groups to make sure I don’t put my keen readers into groups that are meeting at the same time.

➢ Students sit together with me in a circle in a corner of the room.

➢ I start each meeting by asking students “skinny” comprehension questions just to check that they have read and understood the week’s section. Those who can’t answer the questions at any meeting will have to write a test at the end of the book in order to get credit for the book. Those who are obviously reading with understanding are spared the need for a test. If I have trouble scheduling a time for me to meet with each group, I give the kids the additional assignment to write 2 skinny questions so they can check each other’s comprehension, rather than my having to do so.

➢ Then the kids take over the meeting with me as an observer who sometimes chimes in if there is something I want to say. Children take turns asking their fat, juicy questions. When each child asks a question, classmates raise their hands to give their answer. Answers can’t be simple “yes” or “no”; they need to explain their thinking. Students can’t repeat an idea that has already been said. When everyone who wants to speak has been heard, the questioner answers his/her own question. They go around the circle asking first questions, then second questions, then giving personal connections.

➢ Meetings last half an hour. During the meetings, other students do silent reading or other quiet work.

➢ Most often, the discussion of questions and reporting of connections uses the whole half hour and I simply glance at the students’ other written work to give them a mark. If the group is small, there may be time for them to share some of their other written work.

➢ During the meeting, I am openly marking their preparation and participation. They tend to take care of each other by making sure that everyone gets a chance to give enough answers to get “5” for oral participation. They get 3 marks for having read and understood the section and another 2 marks for completing the written work.

Literature Circles Assessment

Book: _ Section: Date: Teacher:
*Start all Literature Circle meetings by going around the circle, asking literal comprehension questions to determine whether students have done the required reading.

Comprehension √
2 fat questions √
Connection √
3 words √

Preparation 1-5
Oral 1-5
Notes: _

Use the blank spot to record some other task, such as:
• Use a post-it note to mark a short passage (3-5 sentences) that shows powerful writing
• Tell about a time when a character makes a positive difference
• Tell about a time when a character makes a difficult choice and explain how making a different choice would have led to a different consequence
• Tell something funny that happened
• Tell how a character changed
• Record each section on a plot line
• Complete a novel study sheet
• Write 3 animal facts that you learned from this week’s reading
• Write a response:
Response choices:
1. I predict….
2. I didn’t understand….
3. Now I know why…
4. The feelings I had in reading this were….
5. I would like to know….
6. If it was up to me….
7. I really like the following passage…. I like this passage because….
8. The character:
_ reminds me of someone else….
9. I would love/hate to be like
_ because….
10. The author uses suspense when….
11. If only….
12. The author grabbed my attention by….
13. Something that surprised me is….
14. I am enjoying reading this book because….
15. I am not enjoying reading this book because….


SUYReading page

Watch Part 2 of the video from Start UP! Your Reading: Creating Avid Readers with Literature Circles with Elaine Jaltema.