Terry Aranda (part 2)

Reading as Critical Thinking (part 2)

Click here for the first part of this post.

Literature circles are a special kind of small-group literature discussion in which the kids themselves lead the discussion in a genuinely cooperative and learner-centered environment (Kaufman, G. & Short, K.1995). The circles may have different formats, using the same text with different roles or different texts on the same topic.

Once the text is chosen, the teacher assigns different roles to each learner in the group: discussion director, word finder, illustrator, artful artist, passage picker, connector, summarizer, etc. Each one of these roles, or jobs, has specific tasks to respond to the text, all described on the role sheets. For example, the role of the discussion director is to ask questions that the group will discuss later. The word finder has to look for special words in the text. These words may be new, intriguing, funny, hard, strange, etc. The word finder has to mention where it is in the text and why it was chosen. The connector’s job, on the other hand, is to find connections between the material being read and the world outside; the artful artist has to draw something s/he liked in the story, or respond artistically to it in some other way, and so on so forth. There are many different roles to choose from, all connected to the genre of the text and purpose of the class. After reading the text, the students fill out the sheets according to their roles and then share their findings in their small groups. This is a type of class dynamics that integrates reading, writing and speaking, allowing learners to explore different angles and a variety of interpretations, as is the case for any piece of literature.

The nature of the literature circles thus enables students to realize that there is not just one meaning to be determined but multiple meanings to be explored and/or critiqued. Students ask questions instead of just answering pre-set comprehension questions. Also, by engaging in a dialogue with their peers, they listen to each other and respect different points of view. In this sharing of content and strategy debriefing, students become more responsible for their own learning and the choices they make. Taking this dynamics a step further, the students are involved in the self-evaluation of their participation in the group discussion. They first write down their thoughts and then share, orally, in the large group. This meta-cognitive thinking fosters reflection, listening and learning from each other too.

Reading is probably the most important skill for second-language learners. It offers a wealth of knowledge and develops critical thinking. It provides learners with high-level input and allows for vocabulary building. It opens one’s mind to new ideas and brings us face-to-face with our own. Reading always involves critical perception, interpretation and rewriting what is read (Freire, 1982), a dialectic process that requires involvement and detachment at the same time. Just like the dancer who watches videos of her performance to understand how she gets it right can only change it by going back on stage and dancing it again, readers can only become better readers by reading.

In a reading class, we should aim at developing not only skill, but an interest in and a taste for reading.  We should expose our students to authentic reading and help them activate prior knowledge and bring past experiences into the new reading act, enabling them to make connections, to agree and to disagree.  The strategies described above aim at helping students make choices, form an opinion and generate arguments to support it. By doing that, I believe we are equipping our learners with cognitive skills that go beyond the classroom and the language class.  We are educating them for life.

Maria Teresa Aranda (Terry), MA in Teaching, School for Int’l Training, Brattleboro, VT, is an English Language Coordinator at a bilingual school in São Paulo and a freelance consultant and teacher trainer.


Beach, Richard. “Experiential Theories of response” in A teacher’s Introduction to Reader Response Theories. Urbana, Il:NTCE.
Grabe, William. “Current Developments in Second Reading Research” in TESOL Quarterly (25), 3, 1991.
Daniels, Harvey. Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in the Student-Centered Classroom. 1994. Stenhouse Publishers. Maine.
Duffy, Gerald. Explaining Reading. A Resource for teaching Concepts, Skills and Strategies. 2004. The Guilford Press. New York, NY.
Echevarria, J., Vogt M., and Short D. Making Content Comprehensible for English Learners: The SIOP Model, 3rd Edition. 2007. Pearson
Short, KG, Harste, JC and Birke, C. Creating Classrooms for Authors and Inquirers. 1996. (2nd Edition). Heinemann.

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