Using Literature Circles in the Classroom

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If your students have not taken part in literature circles before, or even if they have, it would be a good idea to provide them with some training. You can start by reading a picture book to the class and assign different groups of students one of the literature circle jobs. Rotate jobs between the groups and by the end of the week, your students will be ready to begin with their own novel.

Before starting with literature circles, students should have an understanding of story elements. See the link below for a “crash course”. Summarizing is an essential skill and its good to have students do this across the curriculum and frequently.

What are the literature circle jobs?

1. Summarizer: The summarizer writes a short summary of the section of the book that was read. Summaries should include beginning, middle and end as well as touch on Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. The summarizer should read their summary to their group during the lit circle meeting each week.

2. Word Wizard. The word wizard should select 4 words from the reading selection that was assigned. The word wizard needs to share why they chose the word, where it was found in the story and a dictionary definition during the literature circle meeting.

3. Connector. This student connects his/her own life to the story. This student may compare the book to another book, a movie or something seen/heard about on TV or another resource. This student is expected to share their connections with the group during the weekly meeting.

4. Illustrator. This student should select a scene from the reading that was assigned and draw a picture of the “picture in their mind” that was generated from reading the selection. The student should be able to explain their drawing and tell what aspect of the book it is supposed to show. The drawing need not be extraordinarily detailed. Stick people and simple drawings in pencil are just fine. Illustrator is typically the job I eliminate if I only have 4 members in a reading group instead of the more typical 5 or more.

5. Discussion Director: It is this student’s job to come up with 4 questions that will make their group THINK. The questions should NOT be simple yes or no or one word answer type questions. They should be questions that encourage their groups to predict and infer. I refer to them as THICK questions. This should certainly be discussed in detail during the literature circle training.

Each week, students will rotate through the jobs. It is important that students write down what their own job is and the jobs of their group-mates. During the literature circle meeting (once a week) students should expect to share their jobs as well as check any comprehension questions that needed to be done for the selected reading.

The Questions :

Teachers can make up their own questions (recommended for lower grades and lower level readers) or use pre-made questions found in a teacher’s guide or on www.edhelper.com. Edhelper has many popular lit. circle novel units already made up. Teachers that subscribe simply select the appropriate novel and print questions for assigned chapters. Teachers can even request that particular novels be added to the list of novel units. More and more novel units are added all the time. It is a wonderful time saving resource!

Teachers may also opt to include a weekly self-evaluation for the students to complete.

Organization:

Students should be reminded at each meeting to keep their lit circle work in their binder or folder. I use binders so I usually give each student a manila folder in which to place their work so they can pass it in when the book is over and the last meeting is finished. You could also collect the work at each meeting and store it in a file box for each group if you suspect organization might be an issue.

Saving Paper:

Many of us struggle with a limit of how many copies we can make or paper we can use. To solve this problem, I made one copy of each job description sheet that I used for each student. I laminated them (for durability) and punched holes in them for students to keep right in their binder. Students complete the work on plain looseleaf paper instead of a new “job sheet” each week.

The Teacher’s Role:

1. The teacher should provide several sets of books for students to choose from for their lit. circle. Either fiction or non-fiction books can be used. Its a good idea to vary the genre throughout the year. Teachers should divide their class by reading level and allow those groups to discuss the options and choose the book they want to read.

2. The teacher needs to decide what day of the week each group will meet and help the students be ready by that time. Students should have time in class (perhaps while other groups meet) to read and do their literature circle work.

3. When it is time for the weekly meeting, the teacher should call the group up to the table or to the carpet. I usually start by asking each student to take out their red pen and their questions and going over the questions. They can correct their own work with the red pen and then store their work in their folder or binder until the end of the book.

4. The teacher needs to keep a record of participation. Is each student prepared? Did each student contribute to the group? The teacher should keep some informal notes or have a pre-made checklist to fill out to describe what happened during each meeting.

5. When the book is finished, the teacher needs to collect all the student work (stored in the folder or binder) and evaluate the work. Making a rubric is a good idea. Giving a copy of the rubric to the students ahead of time is ideal and allowing students to grade their own work according the the rubric is also helpful. I find that this really allows students to reflect on their own work and also helps the teacher grade the work more quickly. I find that most students have been very honest in their self-evaluations.

Grading:

Make up a rubric and assign a point value to each requirement. I usually count self-evaluations as one point per week that the group met. The jobs and the questions are typically and even split as far as point value. Weekly self evaluations and participation make up the rest of the points. I sometimes include the Accelerated Reader test score (if there happens to be one for the book). In the past, I have used a final multiple choice test on the books (also available from edhelper) but didn’t find that it was that useful. Seeing the students jobs and questions in addition to participation and other aspects of the rubric seems to do the job just fine without using a final test.

There are many ways to do Lit. Circles. Linked below are some other alternatives with jobs different from what I do. As a teacher, you should consider what you want your students to do and use whichever resources will work for you.

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