Literature Circles: Article, Printable Role Sheets, Harvey Daniels Interview, MORE!By Teachers.Net News Desk
by Jan Zeiger
During my first couple of years of teaching, I was required to teach reading the “SFA” way. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, count your blessings! “SFA” stands for Success for All. It’s a reading program that promises “success” for every student. I taught the this rigid, scripted program for two years until I could no longer be a part of it. But that’s another article.
When I changed schools, I was so excited about being able to teach reading using an approach that would excite my students while enabling them to grow as readers. However, I didn’t know where to start. I began my research by reading Guiding Readers and Writers by Fountas and Pinnell, and I was truly inspired. I also spent hours online doing research about reading instruction.
In September, I decided to try using Literature Circles with my students. I read that they were temporary reading groups in which students had the opportunity to choose the books and discuss them with their peers. I also read about a magnificent book by Harvey Daniels on this approach. However, I was so busy with my fifth graders that I couldn’t find time to read the book. (I have it on my summer reading list.) Instead I went online and found some incredible resources. I was able to use those sites to get started with Literature Circles in my classroom. This is my fifth month of using this approach, and I am very happy with the results. In addition to Literature Circles, I’ve been doing shared reading and guided reading with my students. They are also reading their own books at home and keeping reading logs about those books. In this article, I will discuss how I manage Literature Circles in my classroom and how these reading groups have had a positive impact on my students.
I begin setting up my Literature Circles by choosing 5 books for my class. I try to choose award-winning texts with a wide-range of difficulty. I stay away from books like Harry Potter because most of my students will read them on their own. I try to choose classics such as Where the Red Fern Grows and other books that lend themselves to good discussion.
After choosing five books, I obtain five copies of each one. It’s been easy for me this year because we received a large supply of wonderful books to use with our fifth graders. We have about 10 copies of each book. Therefore, I haven’t had to do much searching in order to find 5 copies of the books I’m using for Literature Circles. If you don’t have access to such resources, finding the books you need can be time-consuming but well worth the effort.
After the students choose their books, they are given a reading assignment and a role sheet to complete by the next week. The role sheet has a place for the pages assigned and the date due. They are to keep track of this sheet over the next seven days. I use half sheets, so many of my children use the sheets as bookmarks in order to keep from losing them.
The amount of reading assigned depends on your group of students. I usually give my fifth graders 50-70 pages to read each week. This gives them time to continue with their own reading. When I first started Literature Circles, I did a page check each day. I would simply go through my list and ask my students what page they were on. I had to do this to get them used to breaking up their reading in order to be prepared for the meeting. I found that the “page check” helped to hold them accountable by having them spread their reading throughout the week rather than trying to get it all done the night before. Time-management is an important study skill that most of my students are still trying to develop.
I hold all of my meetings on one day. Some teachers meet with one group each day of the week. I tried that, but it didn’t work for me. I found that having all of my groups meet on one day helped them remember the day they were supposed to be prepared for the meetings. I can simply write on the board “Literature Circle Meetings Wednesday” and most of them will be prepared. When I met with a different group each day, it seemed that they always forgot it was their day to meet. In addition, scheduling a quiet time for the meeting each day was sometimes difficult. Holding all of the meetings in one day takes me from an hour and fifteen minutes to an hour and a half. I simply schedule this block in my lesson plans as a quiet work period for my students. This way I can meet with all of the groups and pass out new roles for next week’s meetings without interruption. I keep the rest of the class quiet by giving team points after every meeting.
When I first started using this approach, I was about to create my own student role sheets when I found Laura Candler’s site. She had all of her role sheets online, and they were based on the book by Harvey Daniels. I was elated! I used the sheets she developed for several weeks, and then I created my own based on the needs of my students. I made a few adjustments, and I’m happy with the results. I made one major change: I replaced the role of the Illustrator with that of the Reporter. Here are the five roles I use for Literature Circles along with a description for each role:
Discussion Director—This child is responsible for coming up with the discussion questions for the selection. Writing questions that incorporate higher-order thinking can be difficult for many children and requires a lot of practice. I give the children lots of examples and I do several minilessons on writing effective discussion questions. The Discussion Director uses the questions during the meeting to encourage discussion among the members of the group. These questions should not limit discussion; other issues may be discussed as they arise. This child serves as the leader for the entire meeting, making sure that every child has a chance to participate.
Word Wizard—This student is responsible for analyzing unfamiliar or especially challenging words in the selection. The student is to identify three difficult words, guess what they mean, and then actually look them up in the dictionary. The student also includes the page numbers where the words can be found so the members of the group can discuss the words in the context of the selection.
Literary Luminary—The person who has this job is responsible for choosing two passages from the reading selection to share with the group. These passages may be chosen because the Literary Luminary finds them interesting, humorous, or notable in some way. The Literary Luminary can share these passages with the group by choosing someone to read them aloud or by reading them aloud to the group. He must explain why he chose the passage, and the other children are given the opportunity to make comments or ask questions.
Reporter—This student is responsible for summarizing the selection read. This can be difficult because the reading for the week will often consist of several chapters. The Reporter has to summarize the main events that happened in the story. After sharing the summary, the Reporter encourages group discussion and clarification if needed.
Teacher as Facilitator
My main role is that of facilitator rather than participant. However, I did act as a participant more [continued]