April 10, 2013

How to Implement Literature Study

Since this school year is our middle school's first year implementing the Fountas and Pinnell Literacy Collaborative framework, it has been a process of implementing one thing at a time.  As the literacy coach, it has been hard to know when to introduce a new piece of the framework and when to hold back and wait until everyone was ready for the next piece to the puzzle.  Guided reading, in my opinion, is the trickiest piece of the framework to implement, especially with the added hurdle of a middle school schedule, so we have worked a large majority of the school year on how to incorporate this small group instruction effectively for all students.  It seemed like we were ready for the next step of reading workshop, which is literature study.  Next year, teachers will alternate small group instruction between guided reading and literature study.  The difference between literature study and guided reading is that guided reading is geared toward working with homogenous groups of students at the highest instructional reading level in order to work with them at the cutting edge of their learning, scaffolding reading for them in a way that will over time encourage them to independently take on what they were previously only able to do with instruction.  The goal of literature study differs from guided reading in the respect that it is heterogenous grouping where the ultimate goal is to get students to have rich text talk about age appropriate literature.  Students reading significantly below grade level may have to listen to the literature study book on audio, but once they are in the literature discussion with their classmates, they have an equal opportunity to discuss text in a "book club" type way that encourages a lifelong love of reading.

In the sixth grade classroom I team teach in, we recently made the shift from guided reading to literature study.  We have been insanely impressed with the language our students are using with one another to encourage everyone to share their opinions and the way they use text talk to keep the conversation focused on the book.  The conversations are completely student-led, and students are thriving because they love talking about what they want to talk about, not questions that the teacher is asking or filling out worksheets.  From the teacher perspective, you're able to take an outsider perspective to really observe what types of thinking students are doing surrounding the text and how they're able to express themselves and communicate with their classmates.  You learn about them from a completely different perspective than guided reading provides.  Literature study in the middle school classroom is made successful through strong guided reading, interactive read alouds that encourage student talk, minilessons that encourage students to turn and talk and share their application from the minilesson at the end of the workshop.  An effective literature study doesn't just "happen".  It must be a classroom community that is created throughout the year.

If you're interested in implementing literature study, I have broken down steps to implementation that I hope you find helpful!  They are listed below:

Day One/Day Two: Interactive Read Aloud, “Raymond’s Run” (read out loud for part of Reader’s Workshop and then give students independent reading time to practice putting post-its in their book to read.  Take the last five minutes of the workshop to share by buzzing with each other about what they’ve written in small groups.)
·                                *Read the story out loud to students.
·      -                         *Select places to pause and model by thinking out loud where you would stop and what you                   would write down on your post-it note as a discussion point to discuss with your literature study group.
·                                 *Other times, pause and have students turn and talk to discuss what they’re thinking at that point in the story.  Share out orally so students hear a variety of ideas.

Day Two: Have students independently read the story, “Charles”.  As they’re reading, have them practice writing down discussion points on post-its notes as you modeled the previous two days.

Day Three: Establish Literature Study Expectations.  As a class, ask students what they want their expectations for Literature Study to be.  Here is a sample chart that was created by Kelly and my class:

Day Four: Fishbowl.  Select five to six students to sit on the inner circle and participate in the literature study.  Model it exactly how it would be conducted if it were a real one.
·       Review the literature study expectations with students.

·       *Have students use the hand motions to participate (two fingers to add onto a point, thumb up to begin a new point).  Explain to students that you will always have the students who want to add onto a point contribute before moving onto a new point.  This is why it’s so important to listen to others and build off of others conversation.
·     *  Let students discuss the book for approximately ten minutes in the fishbowl format.  Allow the students to have the conversation, jumping in only when necessary to prompt them to say more, bring the group to a specific page number, stay focused on the book, etc.
·       *Ask each student participating in the literature study to give one final comment.
·      * Ask students within the literature study group what went well and what they would like to improve on for next time as a quick self-evaluation.

Students who are on the outside of the circle should be writing down observations about what they notice the students on the inside of the circle doing.  Allow the students on the outside to share out what they noticed.  Next, ask students if there is anything they would like to add of change on their literature study expectations as you move forward as a class.

Day Five:  Book Talks.  Give a book talk on each of the literature study books.  Have students fill out the sheet with their top choices and why.  Before class the next day, you will have to group students into heterogeneous groupings.

Day Six: Group Organization.  Put students into their groups and have them agree which pages they will read to and when.  Allow students to have time to begin reading their books.

Day Seven: Minilesson Statement: “Readers understand how to add onto the discussion of others so that they are able to have an engaging conversation about text.” Give students additional time to continue reading literature study book after this lesson.

Sample Anchor Chart to go with this minilesson and be hung up by the literature study area:


  1. The steps are so helpful! Is there a place you recommend finding good interactive read-alouds and literature study books for middle schoolers?

    1. Thanks so much! I'm glad the steps are helpful! To be honest, a lot of what we do is searching Pinterest, reading book reviews, asking our school librarian, using books that we've read that we think will be enjoyable, etc. For the lit study we're doing right now, we used books that used to be used in sixth grade as class novels but are not used anymore since we don't do class novels. It's basically a lot of trial and error. One of these days once I get a list together, I will definitely share that with the followers of this blog because I know how hard it is to find middle school resources that will keep their interest!

  2. Hello Kasey! I am so excited that I found your blog via pinterest! I teach 5th grade, but I love your blog and ideas! With the rigor of the common core, 5th grade is no joke! I look forward to reading your posts.

    Teaching to Inspire in 5th

    1. Hi Jennifer,

      I'm so glad that you found my blog! I have read posts from your blog as well and really enjoy them! :) I am a literacy coach from 5-8 and completely agree. I am always amazed when I am in 5th grade classrooms at what they are capable of doing! Thank you for following my blog!!


  3. Hello again Kasey,
    I started your lit circles from TpT today, having finished up our first round of 'traditional' lit circles before our break. In the last round, I'd given the students an agenda which the discussion director guided everyone through in the time available. As they had very specific roles, there was little overlap and the contributions were clearly delineated. Today, the most common feedback comment I got was they felt it was chaotic and weren't sure who should speak when.
    So, I guess my question is - what is the pathway through the actual session? I would like them to manage the process, so I don't want it to be teacher-centric but I'm not sure of the best approach.
    On the upside, they said they felt the preparation was much more thorough and they enjoyed the challenge of incorporating the various roles into 1, so thanks for the materials.
    Thanks too for your constant support.

    1. Hi Abena,

      Doing literature circles without the define roles should be the next step for your students. Have you worked with them on the hand signals? (Thumb up for a new point, two fingers down to add on.) It's a rule for us that you always visit the people who want to add on before continuing to a new point. I tell my students that if they end up talking about a few amazing questions the entire time, that's just fine. The point is to shift students into not talking when they feel their role allows to prompting them to add onto others thinking when they have something to say, and strategically bring up a discussion point that they've prepared that strategically fits next. Keep with it and keep revisiting the norms, modeling, use a fishbowl with your best students in front of the whole class, etc. The first couple of times may seem messy, but if you stay consistent and keep working on it, I think the conversations in your class will go to the next level. Also, I have each group go once per week and sit in with each group. I am constantly taking notes and what is being said and what type of conversation each students is adding, but I challenge myself not to talk unless the discussion is completely in the toilet. I hope this helps! :)


    2. I will give it time. In between asking and receiving your answer, I challenged them (in their groups) to come up with an agenda which they did, much better than I expected. Their feedback suggested it felt a lot less chaotic and richer overall. Unfortunately, I can't sit with each group once a week because I see them so infrequently (2-3 times a week) and you already know how I'm struggling to fit it all in. They just have to be more independent so I can rotate between them over the half hour it takes - it's a learning curve but we are definitely making progress.
      Thanks for the advice as always.

  4. Who wrote Raymond's Run and Charles?

    1. Toni Cade Bambara wrote "Raymond's Run" and Shirley Jackson wrote "Charles."

  5. How long each day do you give the students in their lit circles?

    1. I meet with each of my five groups once per week for approximately 25-30 minutes. Students have time to read and prepare for literature study on the days their group isn't meeting, along with apply the Reading Minilesson for that day to their reading.


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