Sunday, February 2, 2014

Here's a Bright Idea About Literature Groups

Welcome to the Bright Ideas Blog Hop! Okay, my idea is not be exactly bright. More than dim, less than blinding...

Let's back up a little. I am so (so, so, sooooooooooooooooo) excited to have been included in this blog hop! Do you know Shelley Grey from Teaching in the Early Years? Can you believe she put together a blog hop with well over a hundred participants? There are plenty of days when I can't find two socks that match and Shelley's got an entire blog hop under control! Can you hear my huge sigh of admiration?

This blog hop is a little different than some of the others. It's not about products or downloads or anything other than classroom ideas. We're all just hoping that you find this hop fun... and helpful!

Here's another thing that's neat about this hop: It's a lot of people from lots of grade levels talking about lots of different things! Hopefully every "hopper" will find at least one new idea. Look to your right! That's me hopping right beside you. I'm finding new ideas at every click!

I am sort of in a weird situation in BlogLand. While my students are sixth graders, we are at an elementary school. I am definitely not a middle school teacher. I am three billion miles from being cool enough to accomplish that. But I do teach "big kids," attitudes and all. And they are tweenagers, so I understand the middle school perspective (sometimes more than I would like to!) I teach all subjects (except PE--which is lucky for everyone involved, since I am completely lacking in coordination and I manage to trip over dust!). So I still consider myself an "upper elementary teacher." Sometimes I can't decide if I don't fit anywhere--or if I fit everywhere!

This year, I have readers working at a third grade level (and below) and I have readers working at a seventh grade level (and beyond). And most every stop in between too! We have a veritable three-ring circus going on in my room during the literacy block. In fact, it's a five-ring circus, because I have five groups with seven kids in each group!

I WISH I could do more guided reading with my groups because they need a lot of scaffolding, and encouraging, and, sometimes, just plain directing! And I want them to read real literature and have rich conversations. Alas, I am just one person with thirty five (mostly taller-than-me) friends.

Since I can't be in two (or five) places at once, I have tried to design a guided reading experience that happens... without me! Students run the groups themselves, but they follow a discussion guide that allows me to "shape" their thinking a little--without me being there with them.

In the context of Literature Groups (or Lit Circles or Book Clubs--funny how those labels seem to change periodically!), students work from prompts that I have provided as well as directing their own conversations and formulating and discussing the responses to the questions that they have written themselves.

As I said, I have five groups happening at the same time during the Literacy block... twice a day! At any given time you might see some combination of the following...
  • Guided Reading
  • Nonfiction Adventures
  • Word Work
  • Content Reading (Science and/or Social Studies texts that address our work in other areas)
  • Literature Group (reading)
  • Literature Group (discussion)
  • Reading work on the Computer
  • Writing work on the Computer
  • Researching in the Computer
  • ELD group work
  • Poetry Analysis 
  • or something new and/or unusual
Every group has a group leader. This person is responsible for getting the materials and keeping the group running smoothly. There is a score sheet to assess the time that the group meets with "call outs" at the end of that rotation.

As far as Literature Groups, my students are currently reading five different novels:
  • The Mouse and the Motorcycle
  • Sign of the Beaver
  • Sixth Grade Nickname Game
  • Tuck Everlasting
  • Wolves of Willoughby Chase

During the first rotation of Literature Groups, students read the designated pages, write a response in their Literature Notebooks and add some notes to their papers aid in their discussion. They also write a question or two of their own to further the discussion. I always tell them that Book Clubs is a time when arguing is a good thing if it is done in an appropriate way. We simply agree that we will disagree...and that there is not one right answer as long as you can bolster your thinking with evidence from the text.

Here are two excerpts from one of the discussion sheets from Tuck Everlasting. The questions do push the students into discussions. And there is a consistent reminder to support their thinking with textual evidence. There are also prompts for decoding words, for looking at fugitive language, for examining text structure and literary elements... if it's in the standards, it usually pops up somewhere! It's a bit like one-stop shopping. Click on the pic below and it should become large enough for you to read.


The best part is that students are reading novels at their own levels. They are participating in literary discussions about texts they can read. I tend to add a novel each year to my ever-growing cache of discussion guides, so I have a few to choose from depending on the level of my readers. And, each year, I find myself adjusting the guides just a little bit to meet the needs of the particular group of readers or my District's focus for reading instruction. It has been fun to watch the students grow as readers--and as debaters! My students aren't quite ready to take on the task by themselves yet, and there is some specific teaching I am trying to infuse, so discussion guides are working for me at this point. If you haven't read Notice and Note, you might want to check out this book. The authors of Notice and Note offer another way to code text in order to facilitate discussion. Their approach is less labor intensive than the discussion guides that I use--and their strategies can also be molded into student-selected and student-led discussions. This book is a wonderful resource.

So here's your chance to HOP the Hop. Do you know Kate at Second Grade Sparkle? She is wonderful! She just switched to teaching sixth grade which is like finding a treasure for me! Kate's talking about talking too--and I know I am going to learn some great new things! Either way, she's waiting for you to hop on in so she can share her ideas for facilitating discussion (And while you're there, I hope you will get to see a picture of her adorable baby boy. What a cutie!) Just click on her button to get there...


Thanks for joining in on the Hop. I hope that I will see you here. And there. And everywhere!


  1. Hi Kim
    I just loved your blog post, thank you. Just one question, I thought Cris Tovani was the author of "I Read it, But I Don't Get It"? I don't know Kylene Beers' work, so I am off to check that out right away! Thanks for the heads up :)

    Great post - love your ideas :)

    p.s. I just purchased the Close Reading text - thank you so much!!!

    Ripper Reading Resources

    1. Oh Kylie, I am so glad you are on your toes! You're right! I loved the Chris Tovani book (We do "The House" every year). Check out Notice and Note--I think you'll love that one too!
      Thanks for the "heads up"!


  2. Hi! What a great post! I love the idea of groups all reading at the same time. "Traditional" literacy centre rotation is so difficult in the upper grades...especially since writing and reading assignments take more time than they do in the lower grades.
    I just have a few more questions about the group leader. Does it change? If so, how often? On that pink sheet are they assessing their own job as leader? Or the groups job on a whole? Does everyone in the group fill out this sheet each day? Week?
    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Krista: Yes, the group leader changes daily, so everyone has a chance to be "in charge." (Nothing like a mini clipboard to give a you a sense of leadership!) I just move a marker down on the list of kids. I wrote about here... if you want some more details.
      I am so tickled that you stopped by to chat! Made my whole morning brighter. Thanks!


  3. LOVE Kyleen Beers! And you!! I think you should write a book ... just sayin' ... thank you for being part of this wonderful blog hop and sharing your SUPER stuff.


  4. WONDERFUL!!!! I hopped to another great idea!!! I am going to have to go check out Notice and Note... thanks for adding to my BRIGHT IDEA list!!!

  5. Kim, I just love you. I love your voice in teaching. I love what you give your students. YOU are the JOY in 6th!
    Teacher to the Core

  6. Kim, Great solution and discussion questions. This IS definitely a bright idea! I want to check out Notice and Note too. Thanks!

  7. Oh Kim please don't ever use the word dim again!!!! This was brilliant and very helpful!! I am always, always wanting to run literature circles but can't seem to figure out how to manage it (see, look who's really dim?). THIS makes it seem so easy! Well, not easy because I know a ton of work went into setting these groups up to make them successful, but you know what I mean. Thank you for sharing all of your wisdom :) :)

    1. I agree with everything Kristen said. I am processing it all now. I actually took an extra long shower tonight because I just kept thinking about how it all could work in my room (Yeah...I don't sing in the shower, I think)

  8. I love your literature circles!! :) I miss this with my older children.. what a great way to organize :) xo

  9. This is SUCH a terrific idea. I love that you have them covering multiple content areas. So smart! It's a huge time management challenge for us in elementary upper grades because there's a ton to cover in Science and Social Studies too. Not to mention word work, and the needs are so different among the kids! I"m sure they love the autonomy of working as leaders too. Thanks for sharing!! :-)

  10. I teach fifth grade and am really trying to implement more independence during my guided reading/reading work time. I absolutely LOVE the way you seem to have implemented LDG's in your room - however, I have a couple of question: How do you prep for all of these groups? Was this summer work that you already have done? Do you have any of these discussion questions available for purchase for any of your novels? What did you begin with (begs the newbie to LDG's)? How do you pull for guided reading without interrupting your LDG's? I just am really trying to come up with how I can provide scaffolding material for that many groups, allow for you flexible guided reading groups and still keep my sanity ;0) You are amazing!


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