‘Literature circles’ round out reading skills

Literary luminaries: Year 5 students Madeleine and Jacob Tran are adept at reading comprehension.

St Martha’s Catholic Primary School Strathfield’s love of literature circles could soon spread to Asia after an academic from Ehime University in Japan visited to see the reading comprehension strategy in action.

Year 5 students at the school have dived into analysing chapter books with gusto after their class teacher learnt the strategy at a professional development session with University of Sydney education academic and literature circle guru Alyson Simpson last year.

Teachers from other Catholic primary schools in Sydney’s inner west also received the training. The St Martha’s students, who have made it part of their daily literacy lessons, were front of mind when Ms Simpson was looking for an example for her international colleague to observe.

The book club-like format involves the students sitting in a circle, reading a text and analysing it. Each student takes on a quirky, alliterative name like literary luminary, sassy summariser, articulate artist, creative connector, character critic and inquisitive investigator, which gives them a clearly defined role in analysing a section of a book.

What the writer puts in affects how we read the book.

– Jacob Tran

Assistant Principal Caroline Boulis said before the students started literature circles, they were taught higher order questioning skills to help them think critically.

“They might talk about the significance of a character in a particular chapter and how that character has developed. Not only has their reading improved, their writing has improved.”

Year 5 students Madeleine and Jacob Tran work in literature circles each day.

Madeleine was the ‘creative connector’ when reading Katherine Applegate’s book The One and Only Ivan, about a captive gorilla who questions his life when he meets a baby elephant taken from the wild.

She said the creative connector has to find examples in their own lives, other books and global media that are like what they have read.  “I’m developing lots of skills,” she said. “I like to be the ‘articulate artist’ too, because you get to draw the events that are stated in the book.”

As a ‘literary luminary’ Jacob notes how descriptive words and sentence structure impact how a reader understands texts, including Morris Gleitzman’s World War Two story, After.

“What the writer puts in affects how we read the book and see the character’s point of view,” he said. “I could relate to the character, Felix, because he is a similar age to me and sees things the way I would.”

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