Learning Project: Literacy Circles #4

In this last edition of my learning project posts, I will describe how I would set up my literacy circles and have them run.

First, I would have a list of three or four novels that I would like my students to study. I will give students a slip of paper to write their vote on and we will use a ballot box so that the vote is private. For this post, I will just pretend that students voted on using Because of Winn-Dixie for our literacy circles.


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Lets say there are twenty students in my classroom. I will ask students to group themselves into groups of five (if students cannot seem to handle choosing their own groups wisely, this privilege may be taken away the next time we use literacy circles). I will choose one student from each group to be the Discussion Director. This must be a student who has strong leadership skills and who works well with others. Once we have established the Discussion Director for each group, I will distribute a log sheet for the Director of each group to keep record of roles. The Discussion Director will choose who will fulfill the roles of Summarizer, Illustrator, Word Wizard, and Connector. They will record the date and the name of each group member under the role they are fulfilling each week. Next, the teacher will distribute the texts to the groups.

Students will each be given a packet that will correspond with that week. The first week our packet will cover Chapter 1-4, week two will cover Chapter 5-8, week three will cover 9-12, week four will cover 13-16, week five will cover Chapter 17-20, and week six will cover Chapter 21-26. Each packet will have a sheet for each role. The student filling that role for the week will fill their sheet out. Each other group member will be expected to take notes from the other roles on the sheet that corresponds with that task. The Illustrator must draw their picture and write a description and an explanation of why they drew what they did.

Students will be given an hour for the group meetings which will be broken down as such: 30 minutes to read the assigned chapters together, 15 minutes to find the information and fill out their role records, 15 minutes to discuss their findings with their groups. Once this has been done, students will fill out an exit slip asking comprehension questions about the assigned section of the book. Once a week we will also fill out a STEAL graphic organizer for a different character in the book and each student will write a paragraph about that character. Two students will be chosen each week to share their paragraphs with the class.

At the end of  the study I will ask each group to give a short presentation to the rest of the class. This presentation could be a short skit, a slide show or PowerPoint presentation or just an oral report of the book. Students will be asked to use some of the most important information they’ve discovered about the book through their critical thinking skills.

I spent a total of 20 hours researching for this project and planning out the blog posts. I will share this information with students in my education classes and hope to use this process in my own classroom when I am a teacher.

Learning Project: Literacy Circles #3

In my last post about literacy circles, I discussed a few different types of literacy circles that can be used, the structured type and the book club. For each teacher, it will take quite a bit of time and planning to get literacy circles set up just the right way for your particular class. Some students may need more structure and direct, explicit instruction on how to participate successfully in literature circles while others may truly blossom in a more relaxed format such as the book club. No matter which approach a teacher decides to use in his or her own classroom, the end goal is for students to take hold of their own learning and really learn to become investigators, seekers of knowledge, and problem-solvers.



Freedom by Osajus is licensed under CC by 2.0


There are some other very important guidelines to remember when setting up and modeling literacy circles for students. The teacher should explicitly explain to students that the literacy circles are a safe place. This means that all students will respect each other during group meeting times and outside of group meeting times. Students should not be allowed to make fun of another student because of their level of reading ability whether it is during group time or any other class time. If this seems to be a problem, the teacher may choose to introduce text to the literacy circles that shares the message that bullying is wrong and will not be tolerated.


Anti-bullying Respect Tour 2009 by Working Word is licensed under CC by 2.0


Each group may work on a different text or if the teacher chooses, they may all work on the same material. The key here is to give students some freedom of what they will read. This allows students to be able to think more critically. If student interest in the book is not present, then learning is less likely to occur.

As Elena Aguilar states in her blog post The Power of Literature Circles, “Literature circles are fun, in part because they are social experiences.” Students need to feel that they are in charge of some aspect of their own education in order to enjoy their education. They are told to be quiet and stop visiting on a regular basis throughout the school day when they often need that interaction with peers. Sometimes when learning is cooperative, it is much more meaningful and long-lasting. Literacy circles give students the perfect opportunity to have that social interaction with peers as well as learn from one another.



Fun by Thomas Hawks is licensed under CC by 2.0


In the video Literature Circles in Action teacher Daniel Knoll uses an exit slip to gauge comprehension and learning. In addition, he uses a graphic organizer that features the acronym, STEAL, which stands for Says, Thinks, Effects of, Actions, and Looks. This graphic organizer helps the students to gain a deeper understanding of the characters in a novel. Knoll even has the students use this graphic organizer to write a paragraph about the particular character. The student then shares their paragraph with the class. This final step helps students to become more skillful speakers and to gain the confidence to speak in front of others.


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Sample of a STEAL graphic organizer





I spent four hours researching for today’s post and one hour planning and writing the post itself.




Top Ten Picture Books

As most of you know I do not plan to teach lower elementary grades. In fact, I hope to teach no lower grade than fourth. I just have more of a connection with this age group and I love to see their developing brains making connections for themselves and beginning to become awesome problem-solvers and critical thinkers.

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Picture Books by Enokson is licensed under CC by 2.0

BUT, just because I want to teach upper elementary does not mean that I won’t have use for some picture books. Even fourth and fifth graders need some guided reading time and picture books are the best books to use for that group reading time. Picture books can also be great for these students to use when doing a research project or for classroom read alongs sometimes, especially when your kiddos are having some social issues and need to hear a particular message.


Theme Grafitti by Duncan c is licensed under CC by 2.0

It goes without saying that I’ve spent most of my reading hours focusing on chapter books and children’s novels but I started out pretty strong with the picture books early on this semester and have even found a few along the way that I would definitely consider adding to my own classroom library. I would say that Patricia Polacco is one of my favorite picture book authors so far and I would probably purchase every one of her books if I had an overflowing wallet.

I also really enjoyed the nonfiction picture book category quite a bit and will definitely add lots of these to my library. As educators we need to make sure our students are getting  a majority of their reading hours in through nonfiction and I was able to find quite a few books that actually make the topic interesting for them to read. One of those books is The Camping Trip That Changed America. If you haven’t read this book or the others on my list, check them out and as always, Happy Reading!

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  1. Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena
  2. Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
  3. The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco
  4. Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe
  5. Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett
  6. This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen
  7. Thunder Boy, Jr. by Sherman Alexie
  8. Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by LindsayMattick
  9. The Camping Trip That Changed America by Barb Rosenstock
  10. The Chimpanzees I Love: Changing Their World and Ours by Jane Goodall

Top Ten Books Everyone Must Read!

This is my second top ten list but I wouldn’t say that these books are any less enjoyable than those on the fist list. Again, it is soooo hard to choose!


ten by Fabio Hofnik is licensed under CC by 2.0



I read some reviews on Roll of Thunder that were not good at all…like someone actually said they hated this book…but, I loved it. I felt it spoke such high levels about where our nation has come from and why we need to focus on progress. Especially in such confusing times in our country where there are such strong divides and such hatred, this book can help children to see things from a better perspective why we need change. It is for that reason that I listed it first. I chose My Side of the Mountain and Spirit Bear because I love survival stuff! These books also really teach some very good lessons, too. I think there is a lot to be learned from these two children’s novels.

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The rest of the books also had many great themes and plots and were just downright good reading. I am a sucker for the classics so I had to give Mr. Lewis a spot on the list and besides, who doesn’t love a good fantasy-adventure story?? We all love a good make-believe turned reality story so Little Bear also earned his place on the list. Jo and her sisters make for a really long read, but they are so heartwarming and endearing and there is so much to be learned not only from the themes of the book but the language as well that I couldn’t neglect to give it a spot on this list. And then there was the odd-ball…See You in the Cosmos may have been one of my all time favorites of this year. I have already written a review about it in one of my IMWAYR posts so if you haven’t read it, you may want to check it out but I highly recommend this book! Happy Reading!

  1. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
  2. My Side of the Mountain
  3. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe
  4. Charlotte’s Web
  5. The Indian in the Cupboard
  6. Touching Spirit Bear
  7. Little Women
  8. Tuck Everlasting
  9. See You in the Cosmos
  10. The One and Only Ivan







  1. n

Top Ten Books of the Semester

Ok, so everybody knows that I love Harry Potter. In the words of Demi Lovato, “I’m sorry, I’m not sorry”. My top ten books of the semester may have a heavy J.K. Rowling presence and I refuse to feel any shred of guilt about that. I think the books are fun and adventurous. They take you to a completely magical world full of imagination and away from the stress of your own life. My children have even become addicted to the books now.


Award by Leandro Agro is licensed under CC by 2.0

Anyway, I have rarely picked up a book this semester that I didn’t really like ( I think there were maybe three altogether) so it was hard for me to choose which I would list as my absolute faves but here they are:

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1. The View From Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg

2. Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

3. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

4. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

5. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

6. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

7. From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

8. The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

9. Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

10. The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

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I’m still not 100% sure of this list. Don’t get me wrong, I loved all of these books for so many different reasons and I would highly recommend each of them to young readers but its so hard for me to say these are my favorite, just like it would be pretty impossible for me to list my top 10 favorite songs or musicians of all times…there are just too many to settle on 10! I hope you take the time to read at least a few of these and check out my other top 10 lists coming soon! Happy reading!



Its Monday! What Are You Reading? Week 16

This has been another rough week of not feeling well and trying to play catch up on homework and reading. Although this is our final week of IMWAYR posts and class, I truly hope to find time to continue to read from the list that I chose for my challenge and to post reviews of those books through IMWAYRs. I did not meet my goal in this challenge but I don’t feel that I failed. I read a total of 82 books this semester and have started on number 83 although I’m not sure when I will finish it since next week is Finals week.

This week I read The View From Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg which is a Newbery Award winner. This book tells the story of how four sixth grade students became friends and were chosen to compete as the academic team by Mrs. Olinski. The Souls not only win the sixth grade competition but beat the seventh and eighth grade and go on to compete in the district competition. I found this book much more interesting than I thought I would because the themes of this book are not explicit at all. The reader has to think about the messages the author is expressing throughout the book. I think what threw me off at first was the organization of the book; it begins with one of the four students narrating about his experiences and ties to Florida and his origins in New York then moves straight into another one of the four their experiences, ties, and origins, then on to the third of the four. The story sort of travels back and forth between the four students’ hardships and even touches on those of their teacher, Mrs. Olinski before we finally come to see the connection between the students and their adult counterpart and before we truly come to understand the message of the book. This would be a great book to teach advanced readers in 4th or 5th grade.

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I also began reading The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill this week on my Amazon Kindle app on my phone. Although this book is not on the Top 100 Children’s Novels list, it looked like a very good book and it was only $1.99 on Amazon’s Black Friday sale. I am only about halfway through the book right now but I hope to finish it soon. So far, it is a very interesting story and is full of out-of-this-world imagination. I can’t wait to see what happens next with Luna and Xan and the rest of the characters!

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Learning Project: Literature Circles #2 Structured Versus Book Clubs

In the last post about literature circles, I touched on what literature circles are and what the roles are within the circle. I also included some information about how teachers can customize the roles themselves and tips about how to set up literature circles.

Since that first post, I have done about four hours worth of research on literature circles that includes watching videos on YouTube, listening to webinars by educators and reading specialists, and reading educator’s blogs about reading circles. Let me tell you, there is a wealth of information out there on this topic and it seems like a very common and effective program to supplement reading lessons.

The first thing I learned about literature circles is that there are so many different versions out there that I would never have time to discuss them all. So, I will share details about two of the main types of literature circles being used in classrooms.


Book Club by Joel Bedford is licensed under CC by 2.0

Structured Literature Circles

I’m not sure this is really a name that anyone uses for literature circles but I’m calling it by this name because it seems to fit. In structured literature circles, each student will fulfill the duties of their roles and the time used during the meetings will be structured as well. For instance, it is Mary’s job to be the Word Wizard this week so she will be choosing words that are unfamiliar to her then finding the definition for those words as well as maybe a few synonyms and antonyms. She may also write down words that she finds interesting and discuss those words with her group. When their group meets, the first five minutes will be set aside for the illustrator to share their drawing and discuss it with the group; the next five minutes will be used for the summarizer to talk about what happened in the text; next, the connector will discuss the connections they made while reading, etc. Once each member has spent 5 minutes discussing their findings, the discussion director will ask the members if they have any questions or comments they want to share about their assigned reading for the week. Once the meeting time has expired the students may be asked to complete a related activity individually or the teacher may choose to have them share their findings. This system is meant to be very structured and although it is student-lead, the teacher ultimately has control because they choose the roles that will be used and may even assign the roles to students each week. The teacher also assigns the group members and sometimes chooses the text that the groups will be reading. The teacher will generally have some sort of activities lined up for students to do during the weeks that they are using literacy circles.


Book Club Skype Chat by Kentucky Country Day is licensed under CC by 2.0

Children’s Book Clubs

Where structured literacy circles can be very pre-planned, children’s book clubs give students more freedom to be creative and responsible for their own learning. While the teacher still gives students a list of books to choose from, the students will prioritize that list of books. Students do not take on roles in these book club meetings but use whatever strategy the teacher assigns for the clubs that particular week. For instance, the teacher may ask book clubs to use one part of a graphic organizer while doing their independent reading for the week or they may be asked to use a bookmark slip that asks students to summarize what they’ve read and to list any questions they may have about the text. In order for these book clubs to work, the teacher must be sure to provide enough copies of the books for each member of the club to have one. Students will be allowed time for independent reading as well as time to prepare for book club meetings by completing journal entries, sticky notes, graphic organizers or bookmark slips. Book club meetings should be arranged once a week for about an hour each week but quick checks amongst groups should be allowed each day to help students hold each other accountable for their reading and assignments within the club. I have embedded the webinar video from YouTube by Laura Candler that goes over the details of book clubs and how they should be set up and managed in the classroom.

As I have not yet actually experienced a literacy circle or book club meeting taking place in a classroom, I cannot personally say which of these methods I would prefer to use in my own classroom. I did notice there were some similarities between the two methods, however. Whether you choose to use literacy circles with structured roles or a more student-centered book club method, students lead their own discussions and should be responsible for using critical thinking skills as well as social skills. Both methods will have a much higher success rate if they are explicitly modeled by the teacher. In fact, many educators recommend having an entire lesson on how book clubs or literacy circles should run and what the expectations will be. Many educators prefer to have a time where they meet with each group or book club to ensure the learning that is taking place is on target and to answer any questions students may have about the process.

I spent approximately four hours researching for this post as well as another two hours planning, organizing, and writing the post itself. The total number of hours I have spent on the project so far is eleven hours.


Mock Caldecott and Mock Newbery

After reading the blog post about how to conduct a Mock Caldecott trial, I feel fairly confident that I could accomplish one of these in my own classroom someday. I think one of the most important things I learned was that the rating system must be worded in a way that students can easily comprehend it. Since the criteria for a book to win a Caldecott or Newbery Award can be very specific, it is necessary to simplify these criteria for students participating in a mock of one of these.

I also was interested in how the librarian chose which grade level to run the mock trial with. I think the Caldecott would be quite a bit simpler to accomplish since it uses only picture books and the criteria is mostly based on the books illustrations. However, since I hope to teach upper elementary, I think it would be more exciting to try the Mock Newbery. I feel like I would have to do a little more research on the Newberry Award first and maybe ask for tips from other teachers or librarians. I think the biggest challenge would be to get the students excited about participating in this, especially boys who don’t enjoy reading or students with reading disabilities. The other big concern for me would be ensuring that students are giving honest ratings and not just faking their way through the ratings. I do feel that most students would find this to be a fun activity to participate in and hopefully that excitement would become contagious in the classroom.

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Rather than choosing three books from Mr. Schu’s list, I decided to find a list of Mock Newbery books. I found a fairly long list on Goodreads and chose from these books. The first I chose was Wishtree by Katherine Applegate because I have enjoyed every book I have read by this author. The second book I chose was See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng because I read this book a few months ago and I thought it was really fun and insightful and the way it was written was so different than most novels. The third book I chose was Auma’s Long Run by Eucabeth A. Odhiambo because it sounds like it would be a great book to introduce diversity in literature to students.

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