What are Literature Circles?

"In literature circles, small groups of students gather together to discuss a piece of literature in depth. The discussion is guided by students' response to what they have read. You may hear talk about events and characters in the book, the author's craft, or personal experiences related to the story."
Schlick Noe, K. L. & Johnson. N.L., Getting Started with Literature Circles , 1999 Christopher-Gordon Publishers, Inc. p. ix.

What is its purpose?

"Literature circles provide a way for students to engage in critical thinking and reflection as they read, discuss, and respond to books. Collaboration is at the heart of this approach. Students reshape and add onto their understanding as they construct meaning with other readers. Finally, literature circles guide students to deeper understanding of what they read through structured discussion and extended written and artistic response."
Schlick Noe, K. L. & Johnson. N.L., Getting Started with Literature Circles , 1999 Christopher-Gordon Publishers, Inc. p. ix.

How do I do it?

  1. Select members for the Literature Circles (discussion groups).
  2. Assign roles for the members of each circle.
  3. Assign reading to be completed by the circles inside or outside of class.
  4. Select circle meeting dates.
  5. Help students prepare for their roles in their circle.
  6. Act as a facilitator for the circles.

Some roles may be:

  • discussion director - develops questions for the group to discuss
  • passage picker or literary luminary - chooses a selection that the group rereads and discusses because it is interesting, informative, the climax, well written....
  • vocabulary enricher - chooses words that are difficult or used in an unfamiliar way
  • connector - finds a connection between the story and another book, event in their personal llife or the outside world
  • illustrator - draws a picture related to the reading
  • summarizer - prepares a brief summary of the passage read that day
  • travel tracer - tracks the movement when the characters move a lot
  • investigator - looks up background information related to the book

The teacher will determine what roles should be used depending upon the age and ability of the students as well as the reading selections.

How can I adapt it?

  • Structured Literature Circles - The structured approach works well if you provide plenty of class time for reading and preparing assignments.
  • Basic Literature Circle Model - A flexible approach to Literature Circles that does not require the use of extensive handouts and assignment booklets.
  • Modified Literature Circles - This method can be highly effective with students who are not able to handle weekly assignments since the circle meets each day. However, it would be difficult to implement without a teacher assistant or reliable parent volunteer.
  • Literature Circles with Roles - You can find a simple version listed on this page, but if the model appeals to you, you would enjoy Harvey Daniel's book Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in the Student Centered Classroom.
  • Nonfiction Literature Circles - Literature Circles with nonfiction books!

Assessment and Evaluation Considerations

As teachers evaluate a discussion group, they should monitor that students are not only progressing in reading and writing strategies but also in discussion etiquette:

  • attending to the topic.
  • participating actively in the group.
  • asking questions.
  • "piggybacking" on others' comments.
  • allowing all members of the group opportunity to participate.
  • disagreeing constructively.
  • supporting opinions with evidence.

The discussion structures and strategies listed above should be modeled and practiced with students through focus-lessons that give students a chance to observe a group being coached in a discussion of a text, and that allow for guided practice of strategies.

Recording the group interaction is important and can be monitored in a variety of ways:

  • Anecdotal Notes taken on individual students (on "post-it" notes or stickers) can then be placed on each student's folder for record-keeping.
  • Seating Charts - Teachers record where each participant is seated, note the incidence of interaction among students, and take brief notes on comments voiced during the discussion. This record-keeping slows the pace of discussion and automatically allows for extended time for thinking and reflecting on participants' comments.

Teacher Resources



© 2004-2009 Saskatoon Public Schools, All rights reserved.