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Literature Circles In Elementary Reading
What Are Literature Circles?
In literature circles, small groups of students gather together to discuss a piece of literature. The discussion is guided by students' and their response to what they have read. Students discuss events and characters in the book, the author's craft, or their connections to the story. Literature circles provide a way for students to engage in critical thinking and reflection as they read, discuss, and respond to books. Students in literature circles groups take on roles and prepare responses to share with their group on meeting days. Literature circles guide students to deeper understanding of what they read through structured discussions with their peers.
Support For Struggling Readers
The use of audiobooks can also keep those students whose reading level is below their peers can keep that student engaged in the group.Students who are struggling readers will still receive support and instruction to help them develop better reading skills.The purpose of Literature Circles is to help students engage in discussions which make them think about the story, to work on higher level reading skills such as evaluate and extend text. Giving the struggling reader this support will allow them to be involved in the discussions to develop
Literature Circles

Literature Circles are . .

Literature Circles are not . .

Reader response centered

Teacher and text centered

Part of a balanced literacy program

The entire reading curriculum

Groups formed by book choice

Teacher-assigned groups formed solely by ability

Structured for student independence, responsibility, and ownership

Unstructured, uncontrolled "talk time" without accountability

Guided primarily by student insights and questions

Guided primarily by teacher- or curriculum-based questions

Intended as a context in which to apply reading and writing skills

Intended as a place to do skills work

Flexible and fluid; never look the same twice

Tied to a prescriptive "recipe"

During Literature Circles the teacher's role is that of a facilitator or, with students who are skilled at discussions, a participant.  Students become much more engaged when they discuss what they are reading in small groups rather than full class discussions. Most students are more comfortable in a small group. If your Literature Circle groups are reading novels withing a common interest area they are going to be more motivated to read and discuss with their circle group. 
Getting Started With Literature Circles
Before having students involved in Literature Circles it is important to spend some time teaching students about discussion skills. Students will need to be shown how to exchange ideas in a discussion or you will have very short Literature Circles. What happens is that students will take turns, each sharing an idea and then stop. My experience is that very few students understand the difference between sharing and discussing. They will need to learn that discussion involves responding to each others' ideas and that there should be some exchange between group members. 
Teaching Discussion Skills with Fish Bowl Discussions
A fish bowl discussion allows the teacher to model a discussion so that student can see how it should look. In a fishbowl discussion the teacher and a few other adults form a discussion group in the middle of the room and the students sit in a circle around the discussion group. The group in the fishbowl will carry on a  discussion while students watch. The discussion should involve exchanging ideas, asking each other questions, and adding on to the ideas of others. After the discussion is ended have students identify the characteristics of the discussion group. Create a Sound Like, Looks Like, Feels Like Chart with students. This chart should be kept visible in the classroom so that students have a reminder about what makes a good discussion. Below is a model of what a Good Discussions Chart might look like.
Good Discussions
Look Like
Sound Like
Feel Like

People looking at each other, eye contact

Nodding head or other signals to show listening
sitting facing the entire group
there are no distracting motions made by group members
only one person talking at a time
each person's voice is heard
comments are on the topic

I'm being respected
having fun
I'm thinking  of new ideas
It's important that students come up with these ideas and they will. The teacher should not just create the list and share is as a "List of Rules" for Literature Circle. Students who are involved in creating guidelines will feel empowered and have a sense of ownership of these guidelines which will mean less time spent on classroom management issues during Literature Circle.
Provide Some Structure For Literature Circles
It is also important that students are given tasks to complete to contribute to the Literature Circle meeting. On the right are some resources and handouts you can give students to assign roles for their Literature Circle. This will give them some direction and structure for their Literature Circle meeting. Many of the role preparation sheets also reinforce reading skills being taught in other aspects of reading instruction such as asking good question, predicting, sequencing events, and describing story elements. We held Literature Circles once each week with Reading Workshop the other four days. This allowed me the opportunity to make connections between the tasks on the Literature Circle Role sheets and the Guided Reading Lessons covered in Mini Lessons or small group instruction during Reading Workshop. Students rotated the roles in their group so that all students had experience with each role.
Determining Literature Circle Groups
Students can be placed in Literature Circle groups in a couple of ways.
  • Homogeneous groupings based on reading level. Students in the group all read the same novel or novels based on the same theme or subject within their common reading level range.
  • Heterogeneous reading level groups. Students all choose a book based on a similar theme or subject at their independent reading level. If students are reading the same novel audiobooks can be provided for students who read below the level of the novel. This type of grouping allows students who are better readers a chance to model their reading skills for those who are reluctant or struggling readers.
In all cases I think that it is important that the group or individual student (depending on the grouping method) have a choice in the novel they will read. For example, during our Disabilities Unit students were grouped homogeneously according to reading level and the group was given a choice of 2-3 novels. In the case of our Animal Myth Busters Unit students were grouped heterogeneously and selected novels on their topic at their reading level. This provided an opportunity for students to practice how to select Just Right Books. 
Once you have your Literature Circle routines and guidelines set and students become familiar with discussing their reading you will find that they will become more engaged in reading. The teacher's role then can be to circulate between groups to help facilitate if a group is struggling or to participate in the discussions going on in the group. As the teacher, observing and participating in my students' Literature Circles gave me a lot of information about where they were as readers.  Check the resources at the right for more help with Literature Circles. 



















































Literature Circle Resources

Online Resources
Fun Lesson Plans- some free resources for reading and literature circles. resources and printables
Literature Circle information
and links to handouts.
Teacher Created Resources
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Last Update on 4/15/13