Training Students for Literature Circles
- Grades: 9–12
- Unit Plan:
Students will form cooperative groups and read a short text as they learn about the roles and expectations in a literature circle.
- Form cooperative groups consisting of 3-5 members.
- Select a picture book or short text for this practice literature circle.
- Go through all role sheets together; then each student chooses a role.
- Read text and share completed roles with group.
- Variety of picture books, short texts, or student access to library. See booklist for suggestions.
- Role sheets 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 book final 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.
- Copy enough for each group. I copy each role on a different color of paper for enhanced clarity.
- Gather a stack of picture books or short texts for the practice literature circles. Ask your school Media Specialist or local librarian for ideas.
- Create a simple rubric that evaluates each student on performance of their role, comprehension of book, and cooperative behavior in the group. Go over rubric with students.
Introduce the unit with a short book talk about each book that a group may choose or talk about what type of short text students will select.
Explain the role sheets and your expectations for behavior in literature circles. Allow students to choose groups or assign groups with 3-5 members per group.
Each group chooses a text and each group member chooses a role sheet for the practice round. Let students know they will choose a different role when you begin the novels.
Even high school students need a reminder about voice volume levels as each group reads aloud. Circulate as students read the book or short text as a group. I do not force any student to read out loud, but most in each group will want to take a turn reading.
After the book is read, students complete role sheets and share with the group.
Point out what is done well in a group and offer suggestions for improvement as needed. Consider having a great group do a "fishbowl" where they sit in an inner circle and model their group discussion while the rest of the class sits in a surrounding outer circle and takes notes of their positive group behaviors.
As a class, "debrief" the Literature Circle experience. What do students think went well and what could be improved? Not a chance to point fingers, but to help all students understand what to do to improve the experience.
Supporting All Learners
This trial Literature Circle lesson has worked extremely well with all learners because:
- the text is short, but full of rich ideas
- no one is forced to read aloud to the group
- each group member has a different role, so there is little chance for negative comparison of each students' performance
Have students ask family members if they belong to a book club. How is it structured? How do they choose what to read and how do they use the club meetings to get the most understanding and enjoyment from the book? Invite family members to share their book club experiences or to talk about other ways to share books - even Oprah's Book Club could make for an interesting class discussion.
After the group reads the book, each student will complete their role sheet and share with the group.
You will notice as you circulate to each group how involved each student is — or should be —during Literature Circles. If someone is not involved, discuss it with the student or temporarily join the group and draw that student into the discussion with a thoughtful question. Remind all students of your expectations as you begin Literature Circles with a novel. Most students love working with others so much that behavior issues are easily dealt with by simple reminders. If Literature Circles are brand new to you or your students, understand that this is only a training session. Everyone will handle this more comfortably once you get into a good novel.
I made a quick rubric, but you could also assess by assigning a short literature response page where students could summarize the book and write their reactions.