Using Literature Circles in the Classroom
This one can be difficult for classrooms on a tight budget and also for teachers who don’t have a large supply of books for their library yet. However, if used successfully, lit circles can be a great way for students to explore elements of literature themselves and is good for group work and teaching cooperation. If your school is willing to buy 30 copies of one novel, they would hopefully be willing to buy six sets of five novels for your students to use. Try to justify the purchase by stating the educational benefit of literature circles and common readers in smaller groups. If not, perhaps you can gather up enough duplicates of novels when building a classroom library to still set up literature circles in your classroom.
How they Work Essentially
Literature circles can be very rigid or they can be very free form, depending on how you want to set them up. Essentially they are a group of about 4-6 students who all read the same novel and discuss the book. They can and probably should be broken up into sections of a novel. These sections can be broken up by the students in the groups or can go by teacher recommendations. For example, they can meet and discuss pages 1-75 of their novel on Monday, then 76-150 on Tuesday and then the entire novel on Wednesday. The teacher should set an end goal for when all of the novels should be finished and the literature circles can present what they learned from the book or present some other form of project that they produced.
How to Use Them
One of the best ways to do it is to have students choose their own preferred book and create their groups based on which book they chose. The students should then decide how fast or slow they are going to go through the book. For sake of organization all groups should finish on the same day, so they should keep that goal in mind. They should also meet regularly to discuss their readings and take notes, ask questions, and create connections based on their discussions during class time.
In the article “Students Becoming Real Readers: Literature Circles in High School English Classes” by Sandra DaLie, she mentions having different roles for each student in the group. She lists these eight:
- Discussion Director: Creates open-ended questions for group discussion. Their goal is to get discussion going by everyone and if it stops to raise new questions. They should come up with several questions ahead of time, but if the group discussion is naturally flowing, they should know to just let it go wherever it goes.
- Illustrator: This job entails creating key scenes from the reading in some sort of visual media. This can help discussion and can even help more visual students get an understanding of what is going on. It also helps students who are more artistic feel like a part of the group
- The Literary Luminary: They focus on key lines, quotes and details from the text. They find things that are interesting or funny or important and bring it up for discussion to the group. This group member has to read closely in order to pick things from the book that actually are important to them.
- The Vocabulary Enricher: They look up definitions for important and unfamiliar words. This is a good position for a student who is less confident in the other roles but still want to participate. It is also handy because many kids don’t pick up on confusing words while reading and simply skip over them. They can give context for the word and give a definition which helps students get a deeper understanding of the novel.
- The Connector: This student draws connections between literature and the real world. They can lead discussions based on how the literature affected them and how it gives them a lens for looking at real life.
- The Travel Tracker: This student illustrates where characters are moving to and from in a story and what they are doing in each spot. It can help students get a grasp on the plot by tracking chronological and spatial order of the story.
- The Summarizer: This student extracts important details from the books and rewrites it briefly for the other students to go over and see the big picture before or after starting the circle.
- The Investigator: This student digs up any background information on the book, author, or anything else related to the reading. This can help students get a grasp of where the book is coming from.
All of these roles can be interchanged and removed at the will of the group. If they want to have more than one person doing one role or everyone doing separate roles (or even some taking on a couple of roles) they can decide as they please.
What are the End Goals of a Literature Circle
The end goals of literature circles are to get students talking about literature and exploring the elements of the literature that they are reading. Students should be getting how it connects to real life, how the literature helps them become better thinkers, how the literature helps them be more creative, and how exposing themselves to literature can help them become better writers. All of these are kind of the end goal of any sort of reading, but the discussion and thought processes that literature circles bring help foster an independent reader and thinker.
How to Assess
Literature circles can be a good way to judge if your students are reading while giving them a good way to really discuss the literature without digging directly for answers from them. The assessment can just be a simple observation to make sure everyone is participating all the way to grading students on what they brought to the discussion or an end project by the group. The choice is up to the teacher on how they want to assess. Rubrics may include group participation, respect, contribution, staying on task, etc. This rubric could also be adapted to be given to each student in the group to self assess how they are doing. This may lead to students keeping other students on task rather than the teacher being the be all end all of grading while keeping students accountable to their peers.
So, in conclusion, it doesn't have to be hard or expensive to start a classroom library. It also doesn't have to be hard to get students excited about your library. It just takes an understanding of your students, some minimal work and organization, and getting your students excited to participate in real world things to get them reading. Literature circles are a useful tool that teachers can work into self-selected reading time and really let the students become competent on their own through scaffolding them with just enough to get going and then letting them learn how they want.
DaLie, Sandra. "Students Becoming Real Readers: Literature Circles in High School English Classes."English Journal. 84-100. Web. 19 Apr. 2013. <https://secure.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Books/Sample/51868chap07.pdf>.
Layne, S. Igniting a passion for reading, successful strategies for building lifetime readers. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Pub, 2009. Print.
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