Literature Circles in Action
- Grades: 9–12
- Unit Plan:
Students form cooperative groups to read, discuss, and respond to a novel.
- Form cooperative groups consisting of 3–5 members.
- Select a novel from offered choices or by criteria given by teacher.
- Review all role sheets together; then each student chooses a role not previously performed. Roles can be on an assigned rotation within the novel or last the duration of the novel.
- Read text and share completed roles with group.
- As a group complete the sheet titled Thinking Through the Levels of a Story.
- Write an individual literature response.
- Optional: Complete a culminating project on the novel from such choices as: creating a summarization storyboard, a graphic novel of the book (or selected section of the book), performing a scene from the book with a context book talk, or writing a character journal.
Five copies of each of the novels from which students will be allowed to choose.
- These could be chosen because they fulfill curricular objectives, are related by genre, literary style, author, or because they are just great books that your students will enjoy.
- I do a minimum of two Literature Circles each year (students always ask for more), one using my set of Scholastic Action books that are shorter versions of classic literature novels that my students are required to read in other English classes, and the other featuring popular novels that kids love to read. I fulfill curriculum objectives and state benchmarks (as well as national standards of both the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English) during both circles as everyone is reading and responding to a variety of literature.
- Role sheets for each group (see below)
- Copy of Thinking Through the Levels of a Story (PDF) for each group
- Rubric outlining expectations for literature circles' work and behavior
Set Up and Prepare
- Prepare the following role sheets for each group:
- Discussion Direction: writes questions to guide thoughtful group discussion and keeps group on task
- Connection Maker: writes own and group members' connections (Text-to-Text, Text-to-Self, Text-to-World)
- Summarizer: writes a Beginning-Middle-End summary, revises with group input, and creates final book summary
- Word Wizard: searches for unusual word choice or description or defines words the group may not know
- Passage Picker: selects and rereads important passages or descriptive imagery sections to the group and discusses author's style
- Make a copy of the role sheet for each group. I copy each role on a different color of paper for enhanced clarity.
- Make a copy of Thinking Through the Levels of a Story (PDF) for each group.
- Gather copies of the novels to be used for Literature Circles. Try to find books of near the same length if possible. Student choice is important, but sometimes we have assigned books for our curriculum and that will work in a Literature Circle as well. Check with your library for extra copies of a particular title or check with Scholastic Book Clubs. I've found great bargains in the Tab Book Club that my high school students love.
- Create a simple rubric that evaluates each student on performance of their role, comprehension of book, and cooperative behavior in the group. Go over the rubric with students.
Begin with a short book talk about each novel from which students are allowed to choose.
Have each student write their first and second choice of a novel and form groups based on what students want to read. You will have to balance the groups by the number of copies you have and such, but usually students are willing to compromise.
Once groups are formed, go over the role sheets and expectations and have each student select a role.
Have groups begin reading the novels. Either the teacher or the group may decide to chunk the reading so that everyone knows the expected pace. Some teachers assign chapters as homework and use the class time for discussion, but try to allow at least some class time for group shared reading. I've found that the more reading and response that is assigned as homework, the less involved students are in their groups, especially if a student comes unprepared. This situation could negatively influence both the effectiveness and the student enthusiasm for Literature Circles, so think carefully about how the novels will be read.
Day 2 and Beyond
As the novel is read, visit the groups to check progress, assess student comprehension, and evaluate the group cooperative behavior. I sometimes give an impromptu mini-lesson within a group if I find they are stuck on something in particular. Find something to praise as you visit each group and the focus on positive behaviors will increase. If you have a group or groups that are not working well, videotape their group and let them watch and offer suggestions for improvement.
Assign literature responses as desired to keep students accountable and to check comprehension of the novel. These could be done with generic prompts, such as "Explain how the main characters have changed" or with questions specific to each book.
Be certain to allow enough class time for discussion as the novel is being read. Ask each group you visit to update you with what has happened in the book since your last visit. I usually visit two or three groups per class period, but it depends on how the groups are doing. Adjust your visit pace to suit your students, but don't save all the assessment for the end of the unit.
After students finish the novel and their roles, give each group a copy of the Thinking Through the Levels of a Story sheet. Have each group choose three main events or important turning points in the book. Events that relate to a character's decision work well for this activity. Each group will have someone write these events along the left column of the sheet and then work their way across by discussing each column prompt in relation to each event or decision listed on the left. This sheet can easily be used with any story read in your classroom where you would like students to think about the bigger issues and ideas in the story.
Finish assessments of each group's work and assign a final literature response on the overall novel. Present the (optional) culminating project below or go on to lesson three where students respond to the novel with others who have read the same book.
Students choose between creating a summarization storyboard, a graphic novel of the book (or selected section of the novel), performing a scene from the book with a context book talk, or writing a character journal. These projects all demonstrate a connection and comprehension of the novel while giving students a choice in how they are assessed.
Supporting All Learners
This format allows for a variety of styles in the student roles within each Literature Circle group. I offer support for each group when I visit, making sure to scaffold concepts for my struggling readers or second-language learners to increase comprehension.
Students could write a letter to parents summarizing the book and recommending it if they so choose.
- Students will read primarily as a group with minimal reading assigned as homework.
- Students will complete the role sheets and "Thinking Through the Levels of a Story" sheet within the group, but may be asked to complete their literature responses as homework.
- Did you sense more enthusiasm for reading in your classroom during Literature Circles?
- How well did you handle the group visits?
- Did you feel as though you were able to guide each group appropriately or is that something that you would tweak?
Ask students for their reactions to the Literature Circle format. Most love it!
Create a rubric for the culminating project or the Literature Circle as a whole unit. Assess all assigned literature responses primarily for content rather than form. The "Thinking Through the Levels of a Story" sheet should be assessed only for completion the first time it is used. If you plan to use it regularly in your classroom, create a rubric or grading guidelines. I also use Scholastic's Reading Counts quizzes on my classroom computers for accountability and comprehension assessment.