Literature Circles: Skill Focused Activities

August 06, 2021

Literature circles are about reading and discussing, but also an opportunity to review and introduce skills through focused writing and activities.

Literature circles are not just about reading and discussing in student led groups, teacher led groups, or online. They are also an opportunity to review old skills and introduce new ones. Opting to use mostly skill based activities (i.e activities that focus on conflict or character) rather than text based activities (i.e. activities that are specific to a certain book) allows all students to engage in the same work regardless of what book they are reading. This approach also means much less work for you as the teacher.

In my most recent go with literature circles, we focused on conflict, character, and point of view. I wanted to do a review of plot structure at the end of our literature circle unit, but just ran out of time because of the number of snow days. You could also focus on setting and mood, the author's use of language/their writing style, theme, and depending on the text, irony or suspense.

Introducing or Reviewing Literary Elements
For each skills, I begin with an introductory lesson on NearPod. This was a new tech tool for me this year, but is a great way to engage students virtually and in person. The literary elements we focused on during this literature circle unit were all ones I taught earlier in the year, so these introductory lessons included a quick refresher video, key terms and definitions, and then a variety of practice activities. 

NearPod has different types of activities built in like matching, fill in the blank, quiz questions, and a gamified quiz called "Time to Climb." There is also a "Draw It" feature that can be used for drawing, but also for annotating text.

Writing About Reading
After this reintroduction lesson, students would be assigned a skill based writing assignment that would ask them to apply their knowledge of a literary element to their text, cite text evidence, and then synthesize their ideas in a paragraph. Students might be asked to identify character traits, give evidence from the text of those traits and then put it all together in a paragraph. These short, skill focused writing assignments allow students to build up the structure and stamina needed for the text dependent analysis writing they'll see later in the year during state testing.

Creative Skill-Based Assignments
Following this writing, students apply their knowledge of conflict, character, or point of view to their text again but in a more creative way like creating a character web to show relationships between characters or reflecting on an important event from their novel as they wrote a postcard from one character to another. During these types of assignments (I call them mini-projects), I allow students reading the same book to brainstorm together, but each student submits their own assignment. 

Brainstorming in a group is a support for students who may not have read as much as others or struggle with reading comprehension. If a student has not been engaged with the text, hearing from students who are engaged in the text may help to draw them back into reading the text. Because students are each submitting their own assignment, there is still accountability for all students. After students have finished brainstorming, I allow them to work with any students in the class, regardless of what book they are reading. This prevents "copying" and even if students have read different books, they can still ensure that they are following the directions for the assignment and including all of the required elements. I often have them do a quick peer check before turning in their work.

Tried And True Activities
One of the first activities I do with students is a character web, which can be completed at any point in a book, but I like to do once students have met all of the most important characters and have started to get to know their personalities. This is a great assignment to help reinforce their knowledge of the characters and keep track of who is who. Students brainstorm major characters, their relationships with each other, and symbols to represent each character. Then students create a web, representing the characters with those symbols and connecting characters with relationships.

Literature circles are about reading and discussing, but also an opportunity to review and introduce skills through focused writing and activities.

Another activity I frequently use during literature circles is a conflict map. Like the character web, it can be completed at any point in a book, but I make sure students have read enough so that a number of conflicts have begun to develop. This is a great assignment to help reinforce the central conflict in a text and help students to understand how that problem moves the plot forward. Students brainstorm examples of different types of conflict, discuss which is the central one, and then display that information along with text evidence in their conflict map.

Literature circles are about reading and discussing, but also an opportunity to review and introduce skills through focused writing and activities.

My favorite activity to do with students is a point of view postcard. Like the other activities, this mini-project can be completed at any point in a book, but students should have read enough that several important events have already occurred and students have started to get to know characters’ personalities. This is a great assignment to help reinforce their knowledge of the plot, dig into what characters are thinking and feeling, and discuss the difference between point of view and perspective. Students will brainstorm important character and events, illustrate a key event, and write from a character's point of view reflecting on that event. I love reading what students come up with!

Literature circles are about reading and discussing, but also an opportunity to review and introduce skills through focused writing and activities.


Literature circles are about reading and discussing, but also an opportunity to review and introduce skills through focused writing and activities.

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