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Tips for Successful Literature Circles

literature circle

literature circle

Literature circles are one of the best ways to engage readers and activate critical thinking. In literature circles (sometimes referred to as “book clubs”), small groups of students meet to discuss a piece of literature circle in depth. These meetings are student-led; the teacher is simply a facilitator, establishing roles, behavioral expectations, and schedules.

Establish Literature Circle Roles

Ideally, each group should consist of seven members—one member for each of the seven roles. Here are the roles that I use and a basic description of each, but there are several variations of roles that you can create to fit your needs.

  1. “Discussion Director” – creates a list of questions to ask the group during the meeting
  2. “Connector” – makes text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world connections
  3. “Vocabulary Enricher” – scouts out important or interesting words
  4. “Literary Luminary” – finds interesting or important excerpts to read aloud to the group
  5. “Investigator” – does a little research on a related topic from the book to share with the group members
  6. “Plot Profiler” – track and describe the plot elements of the reading selection
  7. “Illustrator” – create a visual that represents the reading selection

You must clearly communicate the responsibilities of each role to the students. Consider creating job cards for each role that goes beyond the general descriptions from above. Job cards should include specific duties you are expecting the students to perform.

Students rotate jobs, so (eventually) each student gets an opportunity to assume every role. A rotation schedule will vary depending on how often your students meet and how long the book is (more on scheduling coming up). If students are participating in a literature circle for the very first time, I recommend waiting for two meetings before rotating jobs.  This allows students two opportunities to learn a particular role. Even if students are not able to rotate through all the roles during one book, I still recommend they complete a role twice before moving on. When they start a new book, they can then move on to a role they have yet to try. Once students are familiar with literature circles, you can rotate jobs after each meeting.

Creating Groups and Selecting Books

Homogenous Groups:

Typically, literature circles are comprised of students who share similar reading levels. This allows teachers to select books at different levels depending on the group members. Since students are reading independently in literature circles, you will need to choose books that are at students’ independent reading level.

Heterogeneous Groups:

You can create literature circles with students at varying reading levels. However, I don’t recommend starting with heterogeneous groups. Students must first learn how literature circles work and what each of the roles entails. It is much easier for students to begin literature circles in homogenous groups using appropriate leveled books.

Do not create heterogeneous groups that are too varied in ability level. Avoid extremes in regards to reading levels (i.e., Your very highest reader should not be in a group with a reader who is performing at the bottom 10th percentile of your class).

When conducting literature circles with heterogeneous groups, all groups should be reading the same text (e.g., a grade-level book used for a novel study). This will make it easier for teachers to provide support to students reading below grade level.

Regardless of which type of groups you use, each student will need his/her own copy of the book.

Setting Up a Literature Circle Schedule

Scheduling literature circles is very flexible. There is not one set schedule that will work for all teachers, students, and books. How often students meet and how long a literature circle lasts all depends on the length and level of the book. Teachers may also alter the schedule to fit around their instructional minutes and other time commitments. It is ideal for students to meet at least twice a week, but if your schedule only permits once a week, that is fine.

Steps for Creating a Schedule:

  1. Students should be given at least 20-25 minutes to meet for a literature circle meeting. Take a look at your schedule and determine if you can allow for two meetings or one meeting per week. Once you determine the number of weekly meetings you can hold, move to step 2. Avoid having meetings on consecutive days, as this may not allow students enough time to complete the next assignment.
  2. Decide on how long you would like students to focus on one book (e.g., three weeks, five weeks…?). Again, this time period can vary depending on your answer to number 1 and the length of a book. You don’t want to choose too short of a duration, especially for more complex or lengthy books. However, you also don’t want to spread out the book too much, or else students may lose interest, and they won’t have much to discuss during their meetings. A typical round (completion of one book) of literature circles usually lasts around four weeks, but this is not an absolute for all situations.
  3. Now that you know how many weekly sessions you will hold and about how many weeks you would like to spend on a book, divide the books accordingly. For example, 2 weekly sessions x 5 weeks = 10 sections of the book. You can divide the book into 10 equal sessions, but if you are very familiar with a book, you may decide to create the sections based on the plot.
  4. Now you can schedule out meetings and reading assignments (sections from step 3).

Remember, you can change your schedule and text sections at any time! If students cannot complete their reading assignments, then break the book down into smaller parts and extend the duration of the literature circles a week or two.

Conducting Literature Circle Meetings:

Pre-Meeting Set Up

  1. Clearly communicate what you expect from students during a meeting. Consider providing a rubric that covers the areas of “job completion,” “reading” (Did the student read the selection?), and “discussion.” Make sure your rubric contains specific examples of expected behavior (i.e., “Responses are meaningful, relevant and supported with evidence from the text.” or “Makes enthusiastic contributions to the group discussion.”) THINK: What behaviors do I want to see when I am observing my students in their literature circles?
  2. Give each student very specific tasks that relate to their job. This can be in the form of a graphic organizer or question stems. Also, make sure that each student has a “role card” that includes a general description of his/her job and duties he/she is expected to complete.
  3. Share the literature circle schedule you created with each group. Make sure they know what sections are assigned for each meeting and what days the meetings will take place.

During the Meeting

  1. Visit with each of the groups at least once during the meeting. Make sure to bring your rubric to take notes if needed.
  2. Direct and redirect students as needed. During the first meeting, students will need a lot of your input and guidance. As the weeks progress, you’ll be more of an observer.

After the Meeting

Spend a few minutes with your entire class reflecting on how the literature circles went. This will allow you to determine common issues that may need your attention. Ask your students:

  • What went well?
  • What was a challenge?
  • How can we solve this challenge?
  • What areas of the rubric did they perform well on? What areas need some work?

Assessing Literature Circles

Use the rubric you created to assess students’ performance in their literature circle meetings. You may need to complete the rubric for students often when first starting out. However, once they learn what you expect, you won’t need to assess them as frequently.

Consider giving students rubrics so they can assess their group members as well.

Depth and Complexity Literature Circles

If you’d like to get started right away, check out my Depth and Complexity Literature Circles. This resource includes everything you need–just choose the books and set up a schedule!

  • 7 role graphic organizers with explicit prompts and tasks to guide students through the process
  • Detailed job descriptions for each role
  • A detailed rubric to assess Literature Circle performance.