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Literature Circles











The power of working together to make meaning cannot be underestimated for challenged readers, whether their challenges are related to language, learning, or motivation. Katherine L Schlick Noe

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


"Looking into Literature Circles" with Harvey Daniels

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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, comcerns, 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.


One Teacher’s Experience.

Teacher Michael Pellegrin has used literature circles with his students for a number of years. Although there is no one way to use literature circles, Mike’s classroom experience and the teaching strategies that work for him provide valuable information and insight for teachers who want to give them a try. You can read more about Mike’s experience by clicking here


Additional Resources

For teachers interested in finding out more about the different models of literature circles, ways to organize groups, ideas for assessment, and more, the following have a wealth of information.

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

Teacher Laura Candler’s website Teaching Resources provides an excellent description of various literature circle models.

Laura also gives specific directions to setting up Classroom Book Clubs - a flexible, relaxed approach to literature circles.

Literature Circles : Getting Started for grades 3-6 explains how to incorporate roles into your literature circles.

"Learning to Question to Wonder to Learn" by Jamie McKenzie provides additional ideas for using essential questions.

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