LITERATURE CIRCLES

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.

Essential questions:

  • 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.

LITERATURE CIRCLES

In this video a Secondary English Language Arts teacher discusses the way she sets up literature circles in her classrooms. Click here to view a sample of the books used.

READING GRAPHIC NOVELS

A Secondary ELA teacher works with her students to make meaning of graphic novels. The class begins with an introduction to the common conventions of graphic novels prior to inviting students to read and discuss a short excerpt from a graphic novel. Click here to view the video.

STUDENTS TALKING ABOUT CRAFTING CHOICES

In this video Secondary Cycle Two students use elements of author/producer’s craft to make meaning of The Outside Circle by Patti LaBoucane-Benson in their literature circle group.

STUDENTS DISCUSS WAR BROTHERS

In this video Secondary Cycle Two students discuss War Brothers by Sharon E. McKay in their literature circle group.

STUDENTS DISCUSS ESSEX COUNTY

In this video Secondary Cycle Two students discuss Essex County by Jeff Lemire in their literature circle group.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

The Literature Circles Resource Center web site is based on the premise that there is no one way to do literature circles.

How to Create a Classroom Literature Circle and Classroom Literature Circles Expand Thought from Edutopia

LITERACY TODAY IS UNDERSTANDING THE WORD AND THE WORLD.

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