Literature Circles

In literature circles, small groups of students gather together to discuss a story they have read. Students talk about events and characters in the book and personal experiences related to the story. Literature circles provide a way for students to engage in critical thinking and reflection as they read and discuss books.  Students may change and add to their understanding of the story as they discuss the story with other readers.  Literature circles help guide students to deeper understanding of what they read through structured discussion and extended written and artistic response.

I implemented literacy circles in a fourth grade classroom last year, and it was a very  successful experience.   Each student was allowed to choose a book from a group of books.  After they chose their book, they  joined their group.  Each student took a turn filling different roles.  The five roles were illustrator, discussion director, summarizer, word finder, and connector.

•  The illustrators were responsible for drawing a picture based on the chapter(s) they read.

 •  The discussion director wrote at least two open-ended questions for the group to discuss.

 •  The summarizers wrote a summary of the pages that were read.

 •  The word finders would find vocabulary words that were significant to the story.

•  The connectors would connect what they read to their own lives.

There was usually four to five students in each group.  I had a chart on the wall that the students could check to see what role they were filling each day.  I acted as a facilitator and walked around the classroom each time the groups met.  I made sure that the students were on-task and they each had a chance to share their information.  I changed the roles at least twice a week.  The students liked some roles more than others, but they all seemed to like the chance to try them all.  The groups met on a regular schedule to discuss their reading.  They used what they created to guide both their reading and discussion.  The topic ideas came from the students.

Literature Circles fall within UDL guidelines because they provide multiple means of

•  representation –  The variety of ways that the information is represented by peers provide options that customize the  display of information.

•  action and  expression – Students have different options on how they can give responses.

•  engagement – Choice of books can enhance relevance, value, and authenticity for the students.

A video of a literature group in action:

One of my favorite things about the literature groups was that I had the time to go around and ask questions like the teacher  did in the video.  It was fun to join in the conversations with each group.  The enthusiasm that the students had for the books was contagious!  During the last week of reading the book, I let the students pick the role they wanted for that week.  It was interesting to see the variety of choices they made.  One wonderful result of using the literature groups was that the students did very well on comprehension questions about the books.   Many students with reading disabilities do not enjoy reading because they don’t comprehend stories because the vocabulary is too difficult for them.  Giving these students extra support while they fill their roles helps them feel comfortable in the groups.  One of the challenges for me was making sure that the books were appropriate for the reading levels of the students in the groups.  I had one student who really wanted to read a book that I thought would be too challenging for him, but I let him choose the book.  It worked out very well because the other members of his group were very supportive, and he ended up showing an excitement for reading that I have never seen in him before.  I think literature circles really help students realize that reading can be enjoyable!


Allen, Jennifer. 2006.  Becoming a Literacy Leader. Portland, ME:  Stenhouse Publishers.

Calkins, L. 2001.  The Art of Teaching Reading. New York:  Longman.


Virtual Manipulatives for Mathematics

The video above is an example of how math can be perceived in two totally different ways.  The man is having a hard time explaining how he came up with the answer because ma and pa already think they know how to divide the number even though their answer is totally incorrect.  This is an example where math manipulatives would have been very helpful.  Ma and pa would have had a hard time arguing if they saw 25 things being separated into 5 groups.  Now educators have the convenience of virtual manipulatives for mathematics!

Virtual manipulatives are defined as computer-based simulations of physical manipulatives that are accessed via the internet or computer software (Bouck, E., Flanagan, S. 2010).  Virtual manipulatives are modeled after manipulatives such as blocks, tangrams, coins, spinners, rulers, geoboards, and algebra tiles.  They can support learning mathematics for all students including students with learning disabilities and ELL students.

Virtual manipulatives align with UDL guidelines.  They provide representations that illustrate key concepts non-linguistically.  Students are engaged in lessons that highlight critical features, big ideas, and relationships.  They provide opportunities for students to practice and show what they’ve learned.
For years, hand-held manipulatives have helped students better understand math concepts.  Virtual manipulatives offer more learning opportunities  that aren’t possible with text books or hand held manipulatives.

Example of a division problem from Kidspiration 3 (free 30 day trial available)

Virtual Manipulatives for Mathematics websites

National Manipulative Library
Kidspiration 3
Math Tools
Teachers should take advantage of students’ interest in computers and use virtual manipulatives as much as possible when teaching mathematics.  Abstract concepts are essential to understanding and performing mathematics.  Virtual manipulatives help students process and organize information at their own pace.  As technology continues to evolve, the possibilities for what might be created in the area of virtual manipulatives are endless!


Bouck, E., Flanagan, S. (2010) Virtual Manipulatives Intervention in School and Clinic Retrieved from ERIC database.…/Manipulatives/Virtual%20Manipulaitves.pdf

Graphic Organizers

Graphic Organizers


Although children who have been diagnosed with learning disabilities often have executive function weaknesses, studies suggest that executive functioning training may affect the way all children’s brains develop.  Torkel Klingberg, a neuroscientist in Sweden, conducted  a study of children with ADHD.  He found that better working memory skills may reduce ADHD symptoms.  One way to help student’s working memory is with the use of graphic organizers.  Literacy experts, Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell (2001) cite that when content is illustrated with diagrams, the information can be maintained by students over a period of time.  Graphic organizers help present knowledge in a meaningful way which help students make connections and  bring clarity to ideas.  Organizers can demonstrate how concepts are linked to prior knowledge.  They are not limited to any particular subject.

 It is important to remember that graphic organizers should not be used as “busy work” or just worksheets that are handed out after a lesson.  A graphic organizer should be used as a tool that helps students organize their thoughts.  The teacher needs to find the correct organizer to fit the learning situation. In the following video, the teacher explains how she has the students supply examples of why they chose certain words to describe specific characters.  This is a good way to use graphic organizers effectively because the students are required to show understanding of what they’ve written.

Graphic Organizers can:

help students plan out writing projects

make it easier for students to classify ideas and communicate

allow students to examine relationships

make it easier to brainstorm

help students increase reading comprehension

show how to break a story into main elements (intro, rising action, climax, falling action, conclusion)

help visually show cause and effect

help with note taking

help with organizational skills

help with sequencing

It is important for students to have a way to organize ideas, facts, and concepts.  Graphic organizers help students  generate mental images to go along with information.  This is particularly important for visual learners. Graphic organizers can be used before the learning task or after the material has been presented.  There should be explicit teacher instruction on how to use them or they  may not be effective learning tools (Clements-Davis & Ley, 1991).  Researcher David P. Ausubel  has shown that the mind arranges and stores information in an orderly fashion.  Graphic organizers complement the way our minds store information quite nicely.

It is is crucial that teachers use a graphic organizer that is going to help accomplish the learning goals of their lessons.  Once the graphic organizer is chosen, the teacher should continue to use the same one for future lessons.  Then the students will always understand how to use the organizer, and they can focus their attention on the content of the lesson.

Some examples of graphic organizers:

Organizing a hierarchical set of information is made easier by constructing a Network Tree.

When the information relating to a main idea or theme does not fit into a hierarchy, a Spider Map can help with organization.

 A Problem-Solution Outline helps students to compare different solutions to a problem.

A Sequential Episodic Map is useful for mapping cause and effect.

A Comparative and Contrastive Map can help students to compare and contrast two concepts according to their features.

A Series of Events Chain can help students organize information according to various steps or stages.

A Cycle Map is useful for organizing information that is circular or cyclical, with no absolute beginning or ending.


Ausubel, D. (1963).  The Psychology of Meaningful Verbal Learning.  New York:  Grune & Stratton.

Clements-Davis, G.L, & Ley, T.C. (1991).  Thematic preorganizers and the reading comprehension of tenth-grade world literature students.  Reading Research & Instruction.

Fountas, I., & Pinnell, G. (2001)  Guiding Readers & Writers, Teaching Comprehension, Genre, and Content Literacy.  Portsmouth, NH:  Heinemann.

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