Literature Circles

Many teachers use some form of literature circles or book clubs, but many others do not and are even afraid to get them started. Literature circles are “small, peer-led discussion groups whose members have chosen to read the same story, poem, article, or book” (Daniels, 2002.) Some teachers worry that the kids will just fool around and not really run their own discussions. Setting up literature discussion groups in your classroom takes time, planning, modeling, as well as reflecting, reevaluating, and making changes when necessary.

One teacher I work with has decided to play around with book clubs now, at the end of the school year, then read and think more about them over summer break and get a great start with them next school year.  Previously her reading workshop looked like this: daily time for individualized reading, conferring 1:1 with her students, presenting mini-lessons on reading comprehension strategies, encouraging students to branch out and try different genres, having students write in response to their reading as well as keep a log of what they are reading, occasionally meeting with a small group with a non-fiction text, and so on.

Here are some of the ideas we talked about so that she can give book clubs a try.

1. Start by making a class chart with the students.  Make a T-chart and put “Interaction” on one side and “Interpretation” on the other side.  Tell the kids that interaction means ‘what a good discussion group might look like and sound like.’  The interpretation side means ‘these are some of the things we might be discussing in our group.’  The children make suggestions of what to put on the chart.  This acts as your anchor chart.  Here is what one class came up with.

INTERACTION

•Eyes/ears on the speaker

•Speak clearly, loud enough, slow enough

•Sit in circle; invite others in; make room

•Ask shy ones to share

•Don’t be the discussion hog

•Speak into the silence

•Ask for clarification

•Add on to another person’s thought

INTERPRETATION

•The plot

•Exciting, interesting, sad parts

•Predictions

•Characters thoughts, feelings, agree or disagree

•Reactions

•Connections

•Lines you like; author style

•Confusing parts

•Ask questions of each other

In Harvey Daniels second edition of his book Literature Circles he uses a similar chart, but the headings are “social skills” and “thinking skills.”

2. I tend to NOT use the roles that are sometimes suggested in certain books – for example, Connector (makes a connection), Literary Luminary (share words or phrases you liked), Summarizer, etc.  The ultimate goal is for kids to have deep discussions around texts and the roles sometimes sidetrack them.  They begin to think that the group’s purpose is to meet and have each person “do” their role job. (In my next post, I’ll share how Daniels clears up the misunderstandings about role sheets.)

3. Use picture books to model and practice the elements of a good discussion.  Read the book and break the class into small groups for discussion.  Then afterwards refer back to the anchor chart to see how the groups did.  Sometimes doing a fish bowl also works (a small group of students have a discussion and everyone else watches and makes notes about what the group did well).

4. Develop sheets for the groups to keep track of what they are reading, how far they should read between times, when the next meeting of the club will be,  and what to bring with you to the club meeting.

5. Allow groups to choose to read the same book or various books by the same author.

6. Suggest that the groups don’t OVER-meet.  Sometimes just meeting 2 times during the reading of the text is enough.  Then the club can have several meetings after the book reading is completed.  Once everyone has completed the book, the discussions are richer; students can return to various parts, develop theories about the texts, search for evidence of their ideas, and so on.  When students meet too often, after every chapter or every 10 pages, the book drags on and children loose interest.

In my next post, I’m going to review some professional books and their highlights. Perhaps you might want to read one over the summer if you wish to implement book clubs in your classroom next school year.

3 Comments

  1. I work in a small school where we have mixed grades 2-5 Literature Circles. One thing we created was a Literature Circle ladder – the lower step describing a begging group that uses role sheets/discussion prompts with guidance, and the top step is an independently functioning group that has meaningful discussions. It takes time to reach the top step. We have used videotaping the discussion so the children can see and hear what they did and said. For the groups that need assistance we have asked adults to join. We have had upper school teachers, a librarian, and parents as part of the circles. Usually it is the more experienced students whose example the others want to follow. This year the high school teacher requested to put lower school Literature Circle into his schedule. He enjoys it so much.
    I recommend Literature Circles because they help the young readers to learn to have natural discussions about texts and big ideas.

  2. Christina –
    I think 2nd is the youngest I would do. Kathy Collins gets great discussions out of her reading partnerships in grade 2 in her book “Reading for Real.” However, that doesn’t mean you can’t teach first graders to have great discussions around read alouds.
    Pat J.

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