How To Use Keeper Of The Lost Cities To Plan And Facilitate Your Next Literature Circle

We partnered with Simon & Schuster to bring you a teaching strategy for an exciting middle grade series, Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger, that will help your students find joy in reading.

The Keeper Of The Lost Cities

How Can We Help Our Students Find Joy In Reading? 

As teachers, we hold ourselves accountable for supporting students to discover themselves as readers and identify their reading preferences. There are many instructional strategies for helping students experience the magic of books from classroom libraries to literature circles.

Students who claim to hate reading may come to love reading when they find their “just right book.” When students discover a character they love or a plot that they can’t get enough of, reading becomes an activity that they look forward to in our classrooms. Our job is to create opportunities for students to discover and talk about books.

An effective instructional strategy we can use to foster and encourage a love of reading is literature circles. Literature circles work especially well with an exciting series kids are already discovering and enjoying like the Keeper of the Lost Cities series by Shannon Messenger.

Keeper Of The Lost Cities

If the ingredients for an engaging series are characters with super powers, a world that needs saving, and characters who are trying to figure out who they are and where they fit, then the Keeper Of The Lost Cities series checks all the boxes. There are seven titles so far, and the newest book will be available November 5th.

Twelve-year-old Sophie has never quite fit into her life. She’s skipped multiple grades and doesn’t really connect with the older kids at school, but she’s not comfortable with her family, either. The reason? Sophie’s a Telepath, someone who can read minds. No one knows her secret—at least, that’s what she thinks…

But the day Sophie meets Fitz, a mysterious (and adorable) boy, she learns she’s not alone. He’s a Telepath too, and it turns out the reason she has never felt at home is that, well…she isn’t. Fitz opens Sophie’s eyes to a shocking truth, and she is forced to leave behind her family for a new life in a place that is vastly different from what she has ever known.

In order for students to get the most out of literature circles, they need to be excited about the book and engaged during the reading process. We recommend this series because it is just that, engaging and students are excited about it. Don’t just take our word for it! Take a look at the curriculum guide and reader praise. Use #KOTLC or check out Shannon Messenger on Instagram (@sw_messenger) to see how engaged fans really are.

If you are eager to learn about how to facilitate a literature circle using the Keeper Of The Lost Cities series, read on for a step-by-step guide, teaching resources, and tips.

What Is A Literature Circle?

Literature circles are a collaborative and student-centered reading strategy. Students meet in small groups to discuss a shared text. During each meeting, each student takes on a different role. Some of these roles might include: Discussion Director, Word Watcher, Super Summarizer, and Question Creator. Students discuss what they’ve read (usually 1-2 chapters depending on the grade level), and take notes depending on their roles.  To get students talking, I recommend providing students with a list of accountable talk stems. These sentence starters help students enter the discussion and sustain it as they talk about the book.

Why Are Literature Circles An Effective Instructional Strategy?

Literature circles are a best practice for teaching reading because of the way that they couple collaborative learning with student-centered inquiry. Students learn to take ownership over the process, and through the discussion, practice essential communication skills like building on each others’ ideas and asking clarifying questions, while demonstrating reading comprehension.

"In his book, Literature Circles, Harvey Daniels writes, “...literature circles have the potential to transform power relationships in the classroom, to make kids both more responsible for and more in control of their own education, to unleash lifelong readers, and to nurture a critical, personal stance towards ideas” (Daniels, 31)."

If your goals for your students include creating lifelong readers, supporting students to take ownership over their reading comprehension, and teaching students how to initiate and sustain a discussion about books, then literature circles are your next instructional strategy.

Literature Circle Teaching Tips:

Build Excitement And Set Clear Expectations.

A challenge teachers face when they first start literature circles is communicating clear expectations. Because these reading groups are student-led, it is essential that students know what they are going to do, and have the tools they need to be successful. Some of my suggestions for building excitement and setting expectations are:

Activate Students’ Prior Knowledge and Preview The Text.

Some of your students might already be familiar with the Keeper Of The Lost Cities series. Ask your students who knows about the series and how they found out about it. Pass out copies of the first book in the series, and ask students to look at the cover, the table of contents, and preview the book.

"Before students begin reading, ask them to predict what they think Keeper Of The Lost Cities is going to be about. You can circle back to their predictions at the end of the circles, and it is always fun to see if their predictions matched the story."

Make Sure Students Come Prepared.

Everyone should know how many chapters they need to read, and should have completed that reading prior to the circle. The chapters in Keeper Of The Lost Cities are around fifteen pages long. You may want to assign no more than one chapter at a time. You can also provide class time for students to read before the literature circle begins (this works well for younger students). If students needed to take notes or complete a graphic organizer, make sure they have class time or ample time to complete it. For students who need more time, provide these materials earlier.

Assign Each Student A Role.

For any type of group work, it is a best practice to assign roles. This practice makes the time students are working together structured, and more productive. The number of students that you have in each literature circle will determine how many roles that you need. When I taught middle school English, I found that literature circle groups of no more than six students worked best. Each circle, students take on a new role so they have the opportunity to practice different reading skills like questioning, predicting, summarizing, and character analysis.

In order for students to have enough material to complete their roles, the students need enough material to work with.

"Keeper Of The Lost Cities has an action driven plot with elements of mystery that will keep your students guessing. The protagonist, Sophie, is a dynamic character who faces and overcomes challenges as she seeks to better understand who she is and where she fits, a theme that your students will identify with. "

Sophie is the new kid, and has special powers that make her stand out. Her struggle to embrace what is different about her while also wanting to make friends is a topic that will provoke a lot of discussion in your literature circles.


Before Students Get Started With Their Roles, Provide Modeling And Support.

Learning how to formulate questions is a skill that must be taught. Provide your students with examples of strong questions.

"You can find a series of questions for students in the Keeper Of The Lost Cities Curriculum Guide that will serve as strong examples for the types of questions you’d like your students to ask. The Question Creator might ask the group questions about the characters relationships like this one from the guide, “ What is Sophie’s relationship to her human family?"

As a pre-reading activity, I recommend selecting 5-7 questions from the curriculum guide, and asking students to read those questions, and develop a list of the types of questions they are. For example, are they questions about big ideas? Character relationships? Setting? Literary devices? Plot? This will support your students to see examples of the types of questions they will be asking each other during literature circles.

Create A Set of Success Criteria.

One of my favorite teaching strategies for preparing students to work in groups is Looks Like, Sounds Like. Ask your students to consider a team or group they were a part of that was successful. Then ask your students to share what that team or group did and what they said that showed how well they worked together. Chart it out, and then as a class, determine what a successful literature circle looks like and sounds like. Once you have your success criteria, hang it up in the classroom so you can remind students as they meet in their reading groups.

Hold Students Accountable.

While you are not participating directly in your students literature circles, it is still important for you to assess your students’ work, and hold them accountable for meeting expectations.

Create A Rubric. 

You might consider creating a rubric that communicates your expectations and share that rubric with your students before they start.

Give Your Students Glows and Grows.

You can informally observe your students as they discuss the book, and use a framework to provide them with feedback. One of my favorite frameworks for giving students feedback is Glows and Grows. This is a less time-consuming, but effective way to provide them with feedback.

Have A Back Up Plan.

It is important to have a backup plan if students come to literature circles unprepared. One teaching tip is to ask the students to do their reading and then they can join the group when they have finished. If a student consistently doesn’t come prepared, that student might not be able to participate, and will need to complete the work independently. We try to do everything we can to avoid this, but it is important for the group to be productive.

"If students get stuck and are having difficulty completing their roles, use examples from the Keeper Of The Lost Cities Curriculum Guide to support them. For example, one of the roles is the Super Summarizer. The guide contains an example summary that you could use as a model to share with your students."

Establish A Routine.

I have found that literature circles work best when students have a consistent and predictable routine. The more quickly students can get settled, the more time they have to discuss the book.

Create A Schedule.

Students get settled in their groups, and they have five minutes to review their reading. Once time is up (set a timer that is visible in the classroom), students select their role. I recommend creating a calendar that you give to students that clearly identifies the day, the students’ names and the role that they will have. Students then have five minutes to complete the tasks for their role. For example, if they are the Question Creator, then they would come up with several questions that the group will discuss. Once students have completed their tasks, the Discussion Director begins the book talk by having the Super Summarizer sum up the reading. Students then have (depending on how long your class period is) 20-30 minutes to discuss the book.

Get Out Of Your Students' Way.

It is very important to allow your students to take ownership over the discussion and the process. In many ways, a literature circle is similar to your Friday night book club. The primary goal is to provide an opportunity for students to discover the joy of reading as they discuss a book together.

Create A Rotating Schedule Of Observation.

Visit each literature circle group in order to provide students with feedback, to ask clarifying questions, and make sure that students are meeting expectations. I would recommend doing this sooner rather than later in case students need modeling and support. Select questions from the curriculum guide to ask when you visit each circle.

Provide Time In Class To Prepare and Read.

While many teachers assign literature circle work for homework, I don’t recommend it. Especially if you teach elementary students. It can be very helpful to provide time in class for students to read and prepare. You can read the book aloud to students or do a popcorn reading where every student reads a paragraph and you take turns going around the room.

Plan Your Keeper of The Lost Cities Literature Circle.

In addition to all of the resources that are shared in this blog, we have additional resources that are specific to Keeper Of The Lost Cities. The curriculum guide will help you become familiar with the book, and provide examples of questions that you can share with your students. If your students want to keep reading on their own, we recommend using the Keeper of the Lost Cities book club guide to get them started!

Julie Mason is the Head of Content and Curriculum for TeacherVision. She brings an expertise in blended and personalized learning, instructional coaching, and curriculum design to the role. She was a middle and high school English teacher for eight years and most recently taught at Dana Hall, an all girls school in Wellesley, MA. She was a blended and personalized learning instructional coach for K-12 teachers at BetterLesson for two years, and she has presented at The National Principals Conference, ISTE, and ASCD where she shared her expertise on how instructional coaching builds teacher capacity in K-12 schools. She has extensive experience designing and facilitating professional development for teachers, and she oversees the TeacherVision advisory board.

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