Monday, March 18, 2013

Literature Circles: Part 2 Ditching the Role Sheets

In my last post, I told you all about how I got my literature circle started through guided reading.  In this post, I'm going to explain how and why I got rid of the role sheets they were using.

First, the role sheets serve an important purpose in the planning your students need to do in order to have conversation about their books.  This is the most important part of literature circles, in my opinion, and it's what makes them so rigorgous.  Students must read and think about what they'd like to discuss with their group.  In an adult book club, you would hope everyone would come to the book club with their own ideas and selections they'd like to discuss.  For our students, the role sheets are the proof that they did that thinking.

The pitfall with the role sheets is that you may have students just reading from their role sheets and not actually discussing any of the points other students are making.  This is a problem.  What I want to hear from my students is natural conversations.  Things like "oh!  That reminds me...."  or "Yeah, I wanted to talk about that too!"  And I don't think you get that when students just read their notes.

Another problem is that students may focus just on their role (summarizer, questioner, connector) and forget that good readers do ALL of those roles in concert.  It's important for good readers to do the work of predicting, questioning for comprehension and summarizing every time they read.

So when my groups began their literature circles, I told them that they role sheets were temporary.  After a few meetings, when they knew how the literature circle was suppose to work, I was going to take the role sheets away.  I met with the group and gave them a stack of sticky notes to mark their ideas.  I told them they would use these sticky notes in place of the role sheets.

From Tuck Everlasting

You can see that they were still doing the work of questioning (to probe and to comprehend) and they were also summarizing.

From The City of Ember
In these stickies, they did the work of connecting, predicting and questioning.  And for the most part, their conversations were productive and natural.  I just couldn't help but feeling that we went from a highly structured planning sheet to a completely unstructured plan.  It didn't feel right to just toss stickies at them and expect that they would come to their group well prepared for discussion.  I wanted some structure, but something that would encourage them to use all of their reading strategies.  So I made them book marks!

These are double sided bookmarks that I printed on card stock.  Each box is the perfect size for a sticky note.  I LOVE that they can have a place to keep their stickies, it reminds them to use their strategies as they read and they can write their assignment on the side!

Here are a couple of examples from The City of Ember. You can see that the kids used all of the boxes to prepare for their literature circle meeting.  On the bookmark on the right, you can see that this student used multiple sticky notes to record her ideas.  I've opted to give them new bookmarks for each meeting, but you could also laminate their bookmarks and then ask them to store their sticky notes in their reading notebooks.  These are great for spot checking that everyone is prepared for literature circles!

You should be able to run that page through your printer twice to get 2 double sided bookmarks every time you print. (Note:I changed illumination to illustration)

Let me know what you think!


  1. I popped over from the Classroom Freebies linky. I taught 5th grade the last 2 years (teaching kindergarten this year...yikes!), so you post really brought me back!! I love all your photos and descriptions. Great post!

    Happy Teacher Heaven

  2. I love this idea! Thank you so much for sharing. I'm your newest follower.
    Hunter's Tales from Teaching

  3. Thanks for linking up with us at All Things Upper Elementary!

  4. I am so excited to have found your blog. I teach 4th and we are about to start lit circles. I love the idea of eventually taking their specific roles away and your bookmark freebie will be perfect for scaffolding! Thank you!!!

    iTeach 1:1

  5. Hi, I just found you through the linky! This looks like a great idea. I had the kids use sticky notes too but for reading conferences rather than for literature circles. I like the organization with the bookmark. As I was reading your post, I was wondering about how frequently they ask a question in a chapter versus making a connection. This is a great way to track which strategy they are more comfortable using as well through the entire book, chapter by chapter. Thanks for the great idea :) I'm a new follower!
    Doodling Around in 6th Grade

  6. I really like how you gradually release the students to more independence. The bookmarks are a great idea for keeping students on track, but giving them more independence. Thanks for sharing!

    Eclectic Educating

  7. Lit circles can be tricky with any grade...we want the students to be independent but we also need to be able to track what they are doing/learning/sharing. Your bookmarks will help all students remain accountable and not just focus on their "role sheets". Thank you for sharing. I am your newest follower.