Literature Circles: Article, Printable Role Sheets, Harvey Daniels Interview, MORE!By Teachers.Net News Desk
The children run the weekly meetings themselves. I simply call them over to my table so I can be there with them as they meet. The Discussion Director is in charge and usually starts the meeting by sharing the discussion questions and by giving everyone the chance to respond. This is usually the longest part of the meeting. After the questions have been discussed, the Discussion Director chooses the next person to speak. They usually simply take turns by going around the circle. This makes the discussion run more smoothly. When all roles have been discussed, the children put their Literature Circle sheets in their reading portfolios, and I assign the reading selection and roles for the next week.
Some teachers meet with their students more often to discuss their current novels. I have found that meeting every Wednesday works best for my students. It simply depends on your students and the amount of time you have to spend on Literature Circles each week.
I take a grade for Literature Circles at each meeting. This grade is based on whether or not they are prepared on their meeting day. First, they are expected to be done reading the pages assigned. Second, they must have their role sheet completed thoroughly. Finally, they must have their book with them. (The children use the books throughout the meeting to discuss the text, so each child must have the book.) If I am convinced that a child is completely prepared for the meeting, they will receive a 100 for that meeting. In order to receive the 100, they must also participate by making comments and asking questions throughout the meeting.
I don’t do traditional paper/pencil tests for the books my children read in Literature Circles. I simply observe the meetings and read the sheets the children fill out each week about the book. My students also have reading logs that they complete as they finish a chapter in the book. This reading log consists of a two-sentence summary and a connection about the text.
Reasons for Literature Circles
I enjoy using this approach for several reasons. I feel that children need to have opportunities to choose their own books. I want my students to choose books that interest them and challenge them. I want them to be be truly engaged in their novels. Literature Circles give them the opportunity to do be challenged and engaged while holding them accountable for their reading. This student-centered approach to reading instruction has a positive impact on my students.
I feel that children need to collaborate with their peers about their novels. I want my students to have the opportunity to participate in “book talks” in which they discuss what they’re reading. By participating in Literature Circles, children have a chance to analyze what they’ve read with a group of their peers, and this discussion enhances their understanding and appreciation of the story.
In addition to raising the level of student engagement, peer collaboration, and reading comprehension, Literature Circles give my students the opportunity to develop important time-management skills that will help them in future years. Children need to learn what it means to be prepared for something on a particular day. At the beginning of the year, I found that many of my children were not prepared on the day of the meetings. Many of them were not breaking down the selection and reading it throughout the week. This would result in them being unprepared on the day of the meeting. Now many of my children actually finish their selections a day or two early. This gives them plenty of time to complete their roles sheets and prepare for the meeting. It was difficult for many of them at first, but now 90% of my students are prepared for their meetings each week. The time-management skills they are developing now will help them when they move on to middle school and have to balance numerous assignments and tests.
Finally, this approach gives my students the opportunity to develop the skills they need to be successful readers. The students gain valuable experiences as readers as they play one of the five roles each week. They begin to internalize the roles and strategies for comprehension because they become so familiar with them. I’ve seen some of my students sharing connections and discussing the text with their peers even when it’s not their day to meet. I’ve also noticed students using dictionaries to broaden their understanding of the text even when it’s not their turn to be the Word Wizard. I’ve seen these strategies spill over into the content areas as well. By mastering these five roles, the students learn to summarize, to make connections, to increase their vocabulary, and to appreciate literature while reading a selection. I will use my state standards for reading and language arts to list some of the skills that children can develop by participating in Literature Circles:
- Students develop vocabulary by reading independently.
- Students develop vocabulary by listening to, reading, and discussing both familiar and conceptually challenging selections.
- Students use resources and references and context to build word meanings (for example, dictionary, thesaurus).
- Students use a variety of criteria to choose own reading (for example, author’s style, themes, knowledge of genres, text difficulty, recommendations of others).
- Students understand the development of plot in grade-level or higher level story.
- Students understand how conflicts are resolved in a story (including but not limited to problem, solution or resolution).
- Students make inferences and draws conclusions regarding story elements of a grade-level or higher level text (for example, the traits, actions, and motives of characters; plot development; setting).
- Students know that the attitudes and values that exist in a time period affect stories and informational articles written during that time period.
- Students identify and uses literary terminology appropriate to their grade level (including theme, simile, alliteration, metaphor).
- Students understand how the author’s choices of language (for example, sensory words, vocabulary choice) and story structure (for example, rhymes, story patterns) contribute to the overall quality of a literary work.
- Students respond to literature by explaining how the motives of the characters and the causes of events compare with those of own life.
- Students use specific information from text to support ideas about content in literary texts (for example, advancing judgments; referring to text, other works, other authors, nonprint media, and personal knowledge to support ideas).
- Students listen attentively to the speaker (including but not limited to making eye contact and facing the speaker).
- Students use strategies to respond to speakers (for example, asking questions, paraphrasing to confirm understanding, summarizing, making contributions, offering feedback).
- Students ask relevant questions and make comments and observations (for example, giving feedback; drawing conclusions; reflecting on information; clarifying understanding of content, processes, and experiences.)
- Students use discussion strategies (for example, acting as a participant and leader; organizing information for a group; using evidence to support ideas).
As you can see, students are given the opportunity to develop many reading and language skills when they participate in Literature Circles. In addition to developing these skills, my students are also developing a love for literature. They are reading books that interest them and conferring weekly with their peers. From comments they have made, I gather that most of my students truly look forward to their weekly meetings. Of course, the first few meetings were difficult, but now they seem truly engaged as they discuss their reading selections. They seem to enjoy sharing their roles with their peers and “taking charge” of the discussion group while I sit back and observe. Literature Circles give students the chance to play active roles in their learning. By providing them with student-centered reading instruction, I feel that I’m giving them the room they need to grow as readers and thinkers.
In this article, I’ve shared with you one teacher’s approach to Literature Circles. I’m certainly not an expert; I’m just a teacher trying to do what is best for my students. I’m still adjusting routines and searching for ways to help my students improve their meetings each week. I continue to do research in order to improve as a teacher, and I challenge you to do the same. If you do an online search on the web, you’ll find many articles and sites on Literature Circles. (I’ll list my two favorites at the end of the article.) You can also read the book by Harvey Daniels that I’ll be reading this summer.
MORE Literature Circle Resources:
Printable Role Sheets for Literature Circles
Partner Book Talk Procedures – Kindergarten Precursor to Literature Circles
Teachers.Net discussion with Harvey Daniels author of Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs & Reading Groups
Focus Session Chat on Literature Circles with Kathy/5/IA
Literature Circles discussion thread on Literature Teachers Chatboard