Linda Clinton is a literacy coach in East Detroit Public Schools.  She keeps up with much of what I write in this space, and I can always rely on her to provide insightful comments, meaningful feedback, and ideas that enhance the work that I get to do with teachers each day. As I began this series on literature circles several days ago, she sent the following message my way. It provides a great example of how teachers and coaches can work together to support students as they begin this work. I know a few teachers who have been interested in learning more about fishbowl discussions too, and Linda’s work offers a version of that as well. Enjoy!

As a coach, I have worked with several teachers to launch Literature Circles. After the teacher has taught students the roles they will use, I come into the classroom. The teacher selects two students to model a lit circle discussion with the teacher and me. These students are generally ones who are very capable of engaging in meaningful dialogue. Before the booktalk, I begin with a brief intro/reminder about good listening skills, taking turns, participating, and connecting to the book.


We do this “fishbowl” style, with the remainder of the class circled around the four of us discussing the book. Prior to the actual book talk, I direct the observing students to make some notes as to what they are witnessing. During the role-play I emphasize going back to the text to support or question comments made by others, being very deliberate with statements such as “I agree (disagree) with your idea  because on page __ the author tells us…” Depending on the group, the teacher and I may also demonstrate some innappropriate group behaviors, such as not paying attention, talking to someone else, or putting down a comment (the students in the model group know about this ahead of time). Following the fishbowl we debrief on the board, poster paper, or overhead. I ask students to share what went well, and what we could do better next time.


Day two I come back to the class and review the noticings from the fishbowl booktalk. The teacher and I each take half of the class. So if the class is in six groups, we each take three. As students engage in their book talk, the teacher and I can support the students by helping them monitor their book talk, and, if necessary, posing an occasional question or comment to keep the dialogue moving. This also helps to scaffold the teacher by supporting classroom management as students are learning new skills. Again we debrief at the end of the class period.


Depending on the class, I may return for an additional class period or two. But generally, after this scaffolded launch, students have the idea, and teachers are pretty comfortable with the process.

This post is the fifth in a series focused on literature circles. You can find the others here:

1. Launching Literature Circles

2. Circling Around Essential Questions

3. Engaging All Students in Literature Circles

4. Literature Circles and the Role of the Teacher



  1. The “fishbowl” seems to be an effective way to model appropriate behavior, so there is no misunderstanding about expectations.

  2. @Brit-Edelgard Just like anything new, the process needs to be monitored and, if necessary, adjusted, reviewed and/or retaught. As I work with teachers, we talk about what’s going on, and what next steps need to be taken to move students along.

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