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The role of Talk in Literature Circles

A Literature Circle is an effective, research-based literacy strategy that provides opportunites for purposeful classroom talk. With a focus on genuine, thoughtful 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.

Strategies That Make a Difference

Helping students engage in the kind of purposeful talk that supports learning may require careful scaffolding.

  • Ask students, what they think an effective literature circle should look, sound and feel like?
  • Generate a list of qualities of effective literature circle discussions.
  • At the end of the literature circle ask students to discuss what worked well, what strategies they used, and what needs improvement.
  • Show students video clips of successful literature circle groups and ask them to observe, take notes and later discuss what they noticed and what they would like to try in their own groups.
  • Introduce response journals as a way for students to record their thoughts, questions, understandings about the text they are reading in preparation for the literature circle discussion.
  • Teach response starters such as, I wonder..., I noticed..., I was surprised by..., I made a connection..., etc.
  • Teach strategies for taking turns, building on others’ ideas, active listening, respect, etc. 

Adapted from an excellent article by Heidi Mills and Louise Jennings (2011) Talking about Talk: Reclaiming the Value and Power of Literature Circles.

Additional Resources

You can find more about getting started with Literature Circles in the Reading section of the Literacy Today. 

Give Them a Hand: Promoting Positive Interaction in Literature Circles from ReadWriteThink provides practical suggestions to help students improve their participation in literature discussions.

Let’s Talk About Stories is another resource from ReadWriteThink. In these lessons, students participate in partner, small group and whole-class discussions to respond to a text. 


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