Expect Unexpected Engagement When you try Hexagonal Thinking in ELA


Trailer: The Spark Creativity Teacher Podcast
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121: When Lit Circles WORK, with Krista Barbour

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Krista Barbour is one of those teachers I’d just love to have on my hallway. From her endless enthusiasm for the craft, to her persistent push for integrating anti-racism and social justice into the ELA curriculum, to her fun fashion choices, she’s just… well… fabulous! 
We’ve been Instagram friends for a while now (find her here), and I’m so delighted to bring her onto the podcast today to share her insight with you on how to set up flourishing lit circles. If you’ve ever wondered if it’s possible to make lit circles work with older students and leave those constricting defined roles in the dust, you’re in for a wonderful look at what’s possible today. 
I love how Krista integrated her lit circles with a full class non-fiction novel,  the way she stoked enthusiasm for her book choices by reading the first chapter aloud from ALL OF THEM, her advice for letting go of control when it comes to lit circles, and so much more. I think you’re going to gain a lot of insight into your next successful lit circles unit from this show, so let’s get started!

You can listen in on the player below or on your podcast player of choice, like Apple Podcasts, Google Air Play, Sticher, Blubrry, or Spotify. Or simply read on for some top takeaways.
Meet Krista
Krista teaches sixth grade English at a 6-12 independent school in Lawrence, Kansas. She worked in several public schools before landing there, a special school where the administration really trusts teachers to make the right decisions about curriculum in their classrooms. 
What’s so great about Lit Circles?
Krista loves how lit circles get kids talking about books in a less formal setting, more like adults who talk to each other about the books they care about. Students get to be more like adults in a book group, in a more intimate setting. It’s also cool because throughout the unit the kids become aware of all these other wonderful books that their friends are reading. 
When Krista’s unit ended, her students made a mad rush to check out books from the others’ circles, so that’s a big win. Everyone in class gets a peek into every book, not just the one they’re reading.  
When she asked for feedback, they told her they liked getting to know other kids better in the smaller setting of their circles, relating over parts of the book, and also getting to really dive into discussion of the book. 
Teasing the Book Options
When they got started with lit circles, the whole class was reading Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice,  a nonfiction book about a fifteen-year-old girl who refused to give up her seat on the bus six months before Rosa Parks refused to give up hers. Krista wanted to connect the whole-class piece to the lit circles, choosing a variety of titles and styles to help students engage. The essential question of the unit was, “How does my knowledge of injustice impact my actions?”

She pulled these five titles to make up her literature circles booklist: 
Krista read the first chapter of all five over the course of three days, and kids had a graphic organizer to jot down notes as they listened and check off their interest in boxes listing fun and easy reminders like “Gimme that book right now!” or “Pass.” 
The students ranked their choices at the end of the week. Most kids were able to have their first or second choice, though many said they’d enjoy reading any of them. The fact that many kids were interested in multiple books helped with getting them excited to check out the books from other circles at the end of the unit! 
Scheduling the Unit
Krista shared her timeline with the kids, that they need to finish the book by a certain date two and a half weeks later, and that they would meet on five or six dates. Then they looked through their books and created their own reading schedule. Krista encouraged them to set a reasonable pace that would work for everyone. They posted their schedule up on the wall on a poster. 
Then, at their meetings they would do an activity and debrief about what they read. Krista would pop in and out to answer any questions that might come up. 
Goodbye to the Roles
Krista and I have both taught lit circles through the traditional roles – illustrator, wordsmith, etc. – and we have both rejected the concept for older kids. 
Krista used this literature circles curriculum set from my TPT store to set up her lit circles meetings. Kids would do some activity prep as they read, and then in class dive into an activity like creating a lightning version of what they had read to perform, or doing a one-pager. 
What to do as the Teacher during Lit Circles
As the students worked, Krista had them spread out in her classroom, in the hallways, and in the gym so they could be physically spread out. She carried her book with her as she visited the groups, standing nearby but appearing to be paging through the book while she eavesdropped. Sometimes she’d jump in to reinforce a great point or help correct something they kids were confused on. 
There has to be some trust with lit circles. There’s no way to monitor every second, and that’s OK. 
Final Projects and Products: Book Trailers + Analysis
Each group made a book trailer at the end of the unit. iMovie has a trailer template, so they just worked through the template to create a video that would help tease the book. If it weren’t for COVID, Krista would have tried to share the trailers to the whole middle school (I love this idea!), but since they couldn’t easily do that this year they watched them in class. The showing really helped encourage more kids to read the books from other circles.

They also did a little bit of analysis through a “Spill the Tee” Paragraph.
Since the big essential question for the unit was “How does my knowledge of injustice impact my actions?”, they searched for injustice in the book and then explained and unpacked that injustice, finally adding an element of how that injustice impacted them personally as they read. 
Big Takeaways: Golden Nuggets of Advice for Lit Circles Success

#1 Let Go! You have to be OK with letting go, not doing comprehension questions for every single chapter, giving students more control. 
#2 Take Copious Margin Notes! You’ll need to be able to jump into conversations about different books quickly and it’s not easy to keep all your books straight if you don’t have margin notes! You’ll feel so much more confident joining the kids in conversation with margin notes. 
Connect with Krista Barbour from Whimsy and Rigor

Krista shares such fun ideas and hilarious videos on Instagram

Learn more about how to “make middle school not the worst place ever” on Krista’s Youtube

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I'm Betsy

I’ll help you find the creative ELA strategies that will light up your classroom. Get ready for joyful teaching!







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  • How do I get those literature circle sheets? They look incredible!

  • Hi there! They are linked in purple in the show notes if you take a peek above the photo of them. 🙂


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