Encouraging students to use “accountable talk” in literature circles when analyzing novels and texts.

by Amber Wilson


The new elevated Common Core Standards ask kids to look at texts in more complex ways. To accomplish this I have adapted traditional literature circles to meet these new requirements, and the result is that complexity of student thinking improves and they are better able to support their ideas.

In the past, introducing literature circles might have consisted in students taking on different roles in the ownership of a novel, studying the novel on their own, and then filling out role sheets and sharing their results with others to create adult-level book conversations.

Now, to better meet the Common Core Standards in ELA, I ask students to:

–First make their role sheets more robust by making sure they look closely at the text; pull relevant and strong textual evidence; and offer some interpretations of what they’ve read.

–Next, add different discussion protocols, both by asking them to use textual evidence in proving what they’re saying; and by giving them sentence stems until they can use them without an external prompt.

–Then create a group work product such as an analytical paragraph discussing the significance of a part of the book; or a one-pager where they symbolically represent something in the novel.

As a result of implementing this strategy, I see kids being more confident in their speaking and engaging in conversation at a much more rigorous level. They’re able to better articulate their ideas, and better able to meet the Common Core Standards established for them.


What I did well (in sharing this practice with other teachers)?

Looking through the videos, I think my explanation as to why the traditional model of literature circles needed updating to meet the shifts in the Common Core does a very good job. In addition to the explanation, during the actual workshop it was nice to see that the groups were working well to analyze the passage for character development.

What I would do more of, better, differently (in sharing this practice again)?

I felt rushed for time. While the introduction of the strategy and its rationale were essential to the workshop, it didn’t leave enough time for the participants to actually go through the entire strategy themselves to the depth I would have liked. Second, I feel like the presentation doesn’t highlight the flexibility of the model. The dialectical journals that are modeled are but one protocol within the larger strategy of literature circles. If every week the only thing the students engage with is a dialectical journal, then they quickly lose interest causing the discussion and final product to suffer. By getting students familiar with each of the protocols at the beginning of the year, it grants the flexibility to use different protocols as they make sense when engaging with a text.

In what ways do I still want to learn and grow in using this practice in my classroom?

These protocols are constantly evolving in my classroom. For example, the Film Circle Role Sheets were a product of wanting to help my students be more engaged in a film study. I wanted them to analyze film the way we analyzed literature. While they are not perfect, I think the sheets are a step in the right direction and they will certainly be subject to further revision based on student feedback. As I try to make my classes as student-centered as possible, I find providing strong scaffolds for students to engage with rigorous text to be essential.