Updating the Literature Circle Roles

This past week, I have been working with a teacher who is looking to enhance one of her novel units. In the past, she has used literature circle roles, where each student is assigned a particular task in the group, such as vocabulary finder, illustrator, discussion director, etc. She still wanted to keep those three roles but wanted to make them more meaningful because, let’s be honest, the vocabulary finder copies the definition from a Google search and has no idea what it means, the illustrator draws some stick figure picture, and the discussion director asks basic questions. So, read on to find out how we amplified these a little bit.

Vocabulary Finder

Sometimes called the “Word Wizard,” the vocabulary finder is tasked with finding unknown or new words within the text. Often times the result is a new word with a definition that has nothing to do with its context. Because we want all students to be able to explore the vocabulary, we decided that the vocabulary finders would put their results into a shared slide deck. However, instead of just writing the definition, the students are using this Frayer model. With the Frayer model, students need to go a bit deeper with the meaning of the word by using it in an original sentence, finding images/examples, and also finding non-examples or antonyms.

I think the biggest applause goes to the use of images. Making a visual connection to the word is much more meaningful than just a definition. For examplFile:Alabama Crimson Tide logo.svge, the word crimson (from my Google search dictionary) means a rich deep red color inclining to purple. Now, how many shades of deep red could come to mind if you don’t have the visual to connect it? But if I show you a picture of Alabama’s logo, you can make a better connection to the actual meaning.


Being able to make sense of words by forming images is a critical skill for students, so naturally, creating an illustration of a scene, being careful to include important details, can show how much a student understand. To enhance this typical role, we still are having students create an illustration on paper. At this point, many of our students will produce better work this way. However, students will take a picture of their illustration and add it to a Google Slide.

In addition to the illustration, students will also take pictures of the text, picking out important words, phrases, or sentences that allude to the image. Students will also caption the image, which will essentially summarize those key points. In this case, students are using evidence from the text to support their reasoning.

Discussion Director and News Reporter

While the discussion director role is mostly staying the same, the result of what happens is a bit different. Our groups have four students, so we decided to add another role called the “News Reporter.” It is very important for the discussion director to develop questions that will allow for discussion to happen because the news reporter is responsible for summarizing the discussion by posting to Flipgrid. These two can work closely together to help develop the questions since they are dependent on each other.

21st Century Learning and the 4 C’s

If I had to defend why this incorporates 21st-century learning and the 4 C’s, here is what I would say.

  • Communication – This skill is embedded in every role, as the goal of the literature circle groups is to foster communication. We are also looking at sharing our work with another school, which only increases the need to be clear.
  • Collaboration – While students are mostly working on the roles individually, everyone’s work is on a shared slide deck. Student work is shared among the whole class so that everyone becomes a participant in all groups.
  • Critical Thinking – The work that students are doing requires more critical thinking. By using the Frayer model, students can’t just search for answers but must apply their reasoning skills. Illustrators must be able to back up their work by using text evidence. Discussion directors must think about themes, plot events, conflict, etc. to help develop questions for discussion.
  • Creativity – Each role is unique from the others and from the other groups. Students get opportunities to create through illustrations and writing.

The great thing about this upgrade is that it is not limited to a single novel. It is general enough that it could fit into some capacity for any novel, whether you do some of these things or all of them. We haven’t yet begun implementing this, but I will definitely report back as we go through this unit!


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