Fiction, Nonfiction, Student Centered

Transforming Reading Groups: The Magic of Literature Circles

Literature Circles are a great way to have student led discussions. What is a literature circle? It is a small group of students that read and discuss a piece of literature. Literature circles have clearly outlined roles for each student in the group to contribute. Students get a sense of responsibility, accountability, and cooperation.

How do I start literature circles?

The discussion director is the role I like to start with. As I read and think aloud, I write down questions. I model thought provoking, open ended questions. There are question stems to help students write an open ended question. As a class, we discuss possible answers using text evidence when possible. I also model writing answers which reinforces strategic thinking. Through the whole group class discussions, students realize there is no one right answer for these questions. Rather, it is the students’ thinking and explanation that count.

Writing questions as you read is a great way to prepare for group discussions. Question stems help scaffold for meaningful conversations.

Making Connections

Good readers build on what they already know. We think about our own experiences and what we have seen or heard over the years. Media plays a role in what we know about our world. As we read, we have a plethora of thoughts. In our thoughts, we connect with our own experiences and relevant memories. These powerful connections help us process the text. The literature circles role of connector is a natural one to model with students. Often times in a group discussion when students share their connections with others, their peers will think of connections that they hadn’t before. Connections are made across texts, from the media, and from our own experiences.

We don’t want to force connections. We need to be flexible with this particular role. When a chapter doesn’t lend itself well to connections, then I wouldn’t assign that role. Rather than assigning a student certain pages to write a connection, I have them write at least one connection they had that week assuming they read at least fifty pages that week. For advanced students that are reading fifty pages a day, they could write a daily connection they had from their reading.

Word Finder

Figuring out unknown words is critical to comprehending text. Students need to use context clues and sometimes a dictionary to figure out the meaning of new words. This can be modeled in a read aloud and think aloud. I find that some chapters have more challenging vocabulary words than others. Similar to the role of the connector, I have my students learn between one and two new words per week. It doesn’t make sense to have students find an unknown word in a passage or short reading assignment if there are not challenging new words for them.

Vocabulary impacts comprehension. The word finder helps students use strategies for solving an unknown word.
Students Read With a Purpose

I love that literature circles give students a purpose. If a student has the role of a summarizer, he or she is summarizing what is read. The passage picker selects a part from the reading that resonates with them. This could be something surprising, interesting, funny, or just well written literature. The role of the character sketcher analyzes a character. The character sketcher writes down something the character says, does, feels, and thinks. All of these roles are aligned with the common core and give students ownership of their work.

These roles are a great way to start reciprocal teaching. There are literature circle roles for both fiction and nonfiction.
Be Flexible

Remember that some literature circle roles are more versatile. I find that the roles of discussion director, passage picker, summarizer, and character sketcher work across many genres of literature. The roles of word finder and connector depend more on the readers’ experiences and word knowledge.

You may also be interested in reading, 7 Strategies for Having Meaningful Academic Conversations.

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