Literature Circles can probably best be described as book clubs for the classroom. It is an effective, research-based literacy strategy that combines the principles of cooperative learning, independent reading and group discussion. With a focus on real conversations about good books, students meet in small groups to read, discuss and respond to the texts they are reading. As they put forward their thoughts and opinions, and listen to those of their peers, they become active readers who are practicing effective reading strategies and creating new understandings.
Literature circles help students :
enjoy reading and discussing texts
read with purpose and independence
generate and express ideas
ask open-ended questions
validate different interpretations
justify their ideas and understandings
reshape their understandings
Harvey Daniels explains the rationale for using Literature Circles in this short video: "Looking into Literature Circles".
Some features of literature circles:
Students choose their texts. Have students suggest titles, review new books and share them with the class.
Small temporary groups are formed, based on book choice.
Different groups read different books.
Groups meet on a regular, predictable schedule to discuss their reading.
Written or drawn notes are used to guide both their reading and discussion.
Topics for discussion come from the students.
Group meetings should be open, natural conversations about books.
Personal connections, digressions and open-ended questions are welcome.
Source: Harvey Daniels 2002
USING ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS TO SPARK DISCUSSION
One way to encourage engaging and thought-provoking discussions, is to reframe the Literature Circle around an essential question that is relevant to the text being read. Essential questions are those that spark our curiosity and make us wonder about the world. They are drawn from issues, concerns, interests or themes that are relevant to students’ lives. Students dig deeper and are more engaged when they are discussing a question or problem that has meaning to them.
are open-ended and thought-provoking
have many possible answers
require students to draw on personal experience and background knowledge
call for higher-order thinking, rather than simple recall
are recursive, e.g. "Who is a true friend?" can be discussed by first graders and secondary students
lead to other questions
Examples of essential questions include the following:
Why do people celebrate?
How can people overcome fear?
What makes a good friend ?
Is war ever justified?
What is the relationship between fear and intolerance?
How do people overcome obstacles?
What characteristics are essential for overcoming obstacles?
TEACHING LITERATURE THROUGH INQUIRY
In this short video clip, Jeffrey Wilhelm talks about teaching literature through inquiry.
SELECTING TEXTS FOR LITERATURE CIRCLES
Some things to look for:
a wide variety of texts (different interests, levels, genres, text types)
titles that are engaging and can encourage a lot of talk and excitement about reading
stories that allow for multiple interpretations and many different layers of meaning
titles that are suggested and reviewed by students
Select texts that can support learning goals:
thematic or topical literature circles such as emotional and romantic relationships, family dynamics, mental health, coming of age in the past, present, future, etc.
genre study literature circles such as historical, dystopian, biography, etc.
multimodal literature circles such as a study of verse novels, graphic novels, multimodal texts, wordless picture books, etc.
text structures, features and conventions such as alternating narrators, different story structures, use of textual elements such as figurative language, setting, characterization, point of view, etc.