How to use Literary Circles to Assess Writing in a Heritage Speakers Class

Sneak Peek: The basic concepts of a literary circle. How to specifically use a literary circle in a heritage speakers class, and how a literary circle best creates opportunities to improve your students’ writing ability via one-on-ones with your students.

In year one of my Heritage Speakers class, I did a literary circle unit. From a teacher’s perspective, literary circles are amazing because they get students reading and writing. But more importantly, they provide one-on-one opportunities for you to work with your students on their writing during class. Writing is a personal skill, and so coaching/teaching it on a personal level is something I am all about! Besides, how many times do you give thoughtful written feedback to your students on their essays, and you know it holds a high potential to be ignored or neglected? That frustration led me to literary circles.

There are three main components to a literary circle unit:

  1. Students choose and read a book
  2. Students complete writing assignments by pre-determined deadlines (these are assessed with the teacher one-on-one)
  3. Students create a video about the book using an amazing, free online tool: Adobe Spark

1. Students choose and read a book

literary circle books

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Inheriting a diverse collection of books left by the previous teacher was a stroke of luck. She had gone ahead and purchased them with her own money, so being generally under-resourced as a teacher, I was incredibly grateful!

The books I used this year (pictured above):

Papel Mojado by Juan José Millás
Yo, Naomi León by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Béisbol en abril by Gary Soto
La memoria de los seres perdidos by Jordi Sierra I Fabra
Erik Vogler y los crímenes del rey blanco by Beatriz Osés
Yaqui Delgado quiere darte una paliza by Meg Medina
Falsa identidad by Norah McClintock
El jamón del sándwich by Graciela Bialet
Tony by Cecilia Velasco

A couple of pointers if you are starting your own collection from scratch. Ideally, your selection would include varying reading levels and genres. At the beginning of the unit, I presented each book to the class and then had them sign up for the book that interested them most. During this unit, the books were not allowed to be taken home, so students needed to be sure to use their class time wisely. This was to preserve the quality of the books and to ensure my books didn’t disappear altogether.

I wrote down how many books I had at the beginning of the unit (of each title), and I created another list of who had selected which book. As you have likely guessed, this list came in handy on a few occasions to track down books. I had four or five copies of nine different books, but I highly suggest ordering a few more copies when you are purchasing as you will probably lose a few copies each year. 

lit circle spanish

The majority of class time during this unit has students working independently. In my class, I allowed students the choice of reading on their own or with other students reading the same book.

2. Students complete writing assignments by pre-determined deadlines (these are assessed in the teacher one-on-one)


At the beginning of the unit, after the books have been chosen, I give students a unit-syllabus that lists the four writing assignments, specific requirements for each, as well as deadlines for each assignment.

A solid requirement is a minimum of 150 words per assignment and that each would be handwritten. It is essential to emphasize at the beginning of the unit that they are not allowed to use Google Translate. If they were to use Google Translate it would totally defeat the purpose of assessing their writing with them one-on-one, as no one wants to assess Google’s accuracy. The goal is to assess their writing abilities so they can grow and improve.

This unit helped me grasp the spectrum I was dealing with in terms of the full scale of the writing abilities present in my class. My colleague, Lindsay Alejandrino, gave me this genius idea: once students turn in their first writing assignment, each student is called up to work with me, one-on-one, as the remainder of students continue reading with their groups (or on their own).

To assess their writing, I give students a blank sheet for notes I call mis errores for them to list their errors. As I find an error, I have them write that word down correctly on their sheet. This becomes their personalized vocabulary list to study and perfect. Later, the words on this list will form their personalized spelling quiz. The student hands me their list at the end of the week and I ask them to spell five different words chosen from their list. Any word can be chosen from the list, so students know to come prepared having mastered them all.

This same process is conducted for each of the four writing assignments. Simultaneous gradings with the student right next to me, help me refrain from taking extra work home. Also, it provides students with direct feedback and a specific list of words and concepts to study. Some students may only have a few errors, while others will have a page full. Either way, they will only get quizzed on five words. You can choose how often you want to quiz students throughout this unit, depending on your class size. If you don’t have time to quiz them at every checkpoint, you could just do a twenty point final quiz instead. Either way, they will spend time studying how to correctly spell words they didn’t know before. I love how personalized this is for each student. What a great way to differentiate!

3. Students create a video about the book using Adobe Spark


The culminating project for a literary circle unit is an individual media project. Students are tasked with creating a video using Adobe Express. Adobe Express is a free internet software that allows students to record their voice behind images, text, and media clips. To begin the final portion of the literary circle unit, I give students a project rubric and teach them the basics of Adobe Express.

I save the best video projects from each novel, which will serve to improve the introduction phase of this unit in the years to come. The videos help introduce offered novels for students as they are choosing which novel most interests them. Using former videos will help spice up the imagination of your students both in terms of the books they can choose from, as well as the capabilities of Adobe Spark.

One extra component I learned while doing the literary circle unit, is to have students discuss the novel and it’s plot points with other students who finished reading the same one. I am looking forward to seeing if it adds another scholarly layer to what is already an educationally rich experience on a variety of levels.

Have you done a literary circle before? How do you use literary circles in your classroom? Comments and questions are always welcome!

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how to use literary circles to assess writing in heritage speakers class

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