Literature Circles: A Powerful Practice to Support Differentiation

Literature Circles. Of all of the practices I introduced as a teacher in the Primary Classroom, I believe this to have been the most powerful. For me, literature has the power to connect us all beyond age, nationality, language, culture, religion or gender and also has the power to provoke thoughts and opinions that lay the foundations for a much deeper understanding. Stories are the way in which we begin to make sense of the world, and literature circles provide a framework through which we can support our students in discussing and sharing their opinions in order to be able to develop deeper understandings.

So, given my enthusiasm for Literature Circles I was delighted to have an opportunity to share this practice with teachers during our recent professional development days at Berlin Metropolitan School. We ran 17 teacher-led workshops in total, that teachers from ElC, Primary and Secondary could sign up to attend, and also our CCEP ( Co Curricula Education Program) educators joined in to both offer and attend workshops.

The theme for our professional Development Days was ´An Inclusive Culture of Learning´ and focused upon differentiation in the classroom. This was the perfect forum for discussing Literature Circles, as indeed, one of the elements as an international educator in a multilingual classroom that I found most appealing when I was first introduced to the practice of Literature Circles, was that they allowed for natural and authentic differentiation for all learners.

The presentation for this session outlining how Literature Circles can support differentiation can be found  by clicking on the link below. by emaze

Sharing Literature Circles with such a diverse group of teachers generated a great deal of interesting discussion and suggestions about how we can implement these at our school.  Teachers came with a variety of experiences of Literature Circles and from working with students from a range of ages. What struck me most was how this framework can function for our youngest students right the way through to our oldest learners. I love the flexibility they allow, and left the session posing questions about how we could transfer this structure to other disciplines or subject areas perhaps, or even work in a bilingual framework. I am looking forward to seeing what interesting ideas our innovative teaching team develop to support deep learning for our students of all ages and abilities through use of Literature Circles as a framework.

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Enriching Comprehension Skills – Imaginative Illustrator

I currently teach Literature Circles lessons to two Year 6 classes each week, generally my favourite part of the week, when we can immerse ourselves in reading together! One of the greatest challenges in a multi-lingual, multi-level classroom is managing student groups to ensure everyone is understanding what they are reading and moving beyond this to actually questioning that understanding.

In order to address this, recently I developed some lessons to support students in deepening their understanding and engage them further in the role of Imaginative Illustrator as part of our Literature Circles. This role is often a student favourite, essentially there is a belief that it is the easiest! Draw a picture and talk about it. Seems simple, right? I decided to challenge this assumption and encourage students to reflect and use their critical thinking skills at a much higher level.

We discussed visualisation and ‘making a movie in your mind’ as the strategy that most students use to help support them in this role. I then introduced 3 further strategies that might help to develop this further:

1. Envision maps

Essentially this means having some paper handy so that the reader can doodle or note words that are significant for them whilst reading.

2. Post it

The reader uses post-it notes to mark pages in the book or a ‘golden line’ a powerful sentence that inspires the reader.

3. Image pin it

This can be done in a variety of ways, essentially using visual images to make a collage which reflects the reader’s understanding of the text. For example, using magazines and printed images to make a collage or perhaps digitally, using the app Pic Collage.

As a class, we practised applying these strategies by listening to different story extracts in order to practise together. Here are some examples of student application of the strategies.


Imaginative Illustrator Pic Collage


Students embraced these strategies and continue to experiment with them in order to discover which are the best fit for each of them Individually. Recording what they were actively thinking as they were reading, and preparing ideas before they actually completed their illustrator role students were much more capable in summarising what had happened in the story; demonstrating greater skill in considering character, plot and setting in more detail. Using these tools has enriched their ability to connect with a story and produce more thoughtful and meaningful illustrations.