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Acting up or acting out? Unlocking children's talk in literature circles

Pearson, C. (2010) Acting up or acting out? Unlocking children's talk in literature circles. Literacy, 44 (1). pp. 3-11. ISSN 1741-4350

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It is generally accepted that talk enriches children's interpretations of texts in literature circle discussions. However, the nature of that talk and exactly how it facilitates interpretation of texts has not been much analysed. This article describes some work undertaken with a class of Scottish children, aged 9-10, to introduce them to the idea of literature circles. The literature circle discussions were then recorded and analysed. The purpose of the project was to record the kinds of exchanges, chains of comment and range of discourses and voices that children used when talking among themselves, and to reflect on their function and value. It was found that a lot of the talk was exploratory though not always in the sense proposed by Mercer. In his terms much was 'cumulative'. Some talk veered towards anecdotal chat. The children also frequently put on voices not their own, mimicking characters in the story they were reading, and other people they knew. These forms of talk are not always encouraged in the classroom, their effectiveness for learning being in doubt. This article argues that cumulative talk, the telling of anecdotes and the performing of different characters' voices all have a useful function in discussions of books: they can encourage engagement, be helpful in bringing texts to life and advance children's thinking about literature.