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One Teacher’s Experience

I really enjoy having my students take part in literature circles. Many students feel stifled by traditional one-size  fits all novel units. This teaching practice offers students choice, active involvement in learning, and validation of their opinions and thinking. Motivation and engagement soars with literature circles. Mike Pellegrin

Getting Started

Before students can lead their own literature circle discussions there are certain conditions that must be met. It is important to remember that our expectations need to be appropriate to the age and needs of the students.

Students should :

  • be exposed to interesting and/or thought-provoking texts that spark a response or reaction in the reader
  • have a repertoire of strategies for responding to the texts they read 
  • learn to ask questions that matter e.g. open-ended questions that lead to interesting discussions rather than just literal recall
  • understand and use collaborative strategies for listening and responding to others

Teaching the Process

Before expecting students to work in their groups, I model the way  literature circles work, and have students practice the strategies that make for an effective discussion.

When modeling a literature circle discussion I ask students to:

  • listen to a short story or picture book that I have chosen as a read aloud
  • keep track, while listening, of their questions, discussion points and/or responses e.g. in a response journal, using sticky notes, etc.
  • take turns sharing their responses, posing questions, etc.
  • listen and respond respectfully to others
  • reflect on the elements that lead to a good discussion

After this introduction, students are ready to use the Literature Circle strategy independently. My role is to provide on-going support to ensure success. I have found the following ideas to be effective:

  • conduct short, focused mini-lessons at the beginning of each session
  • listen in on group discussions and making sure that students are on task
  • asking questions or making suggestions to facilitate groups in their discussion
  • monitoring progress
  • providing feedback

Choosing Books

Although student choice is a key element of literature circles, the teacher can facilitate and guide the selection by providing choice within a limited range of possibile texts.

To ensure wide appeal: I try to make sure to have books that are engaging, meaningful and of interest to the students in the classroom. Over the year we might read and discuss a variety of different genres such as science fiction, adventure and fantasy, as well as some interesting non-fiction.

I like to foster enthusiasm for books by reading aloud and giving book talks. I feel it is important  to introduce my students to new books and genres, to show my love of books and hopefully to instill that love in my students.