My book discussion project is a real life project that has
sprung out of my library job at the junior high. We are working on
developing literature circles, using the novel sets that we have in our
library. We are fortunate to have many novel sets at different reading
levels. Our school has a diverse population, 20% non-English speaking
and 3 rooms with severe physical disabilities so we need to provide
reading material at a great variety of books to insure success
Our goal is to create literature circles with different
levels of difficulty within the grade level. This will lead to success
in reading the books, and create a welcome environment to encourage
discussion, and further exploration of other novels in the same genre.
For our first literature circle, we chose the theme of
alienation, since young adults rarely feel like they fit in. They are
always concerned with whether they will be liked by others and will
have friends, much less find a kindred spirit or be accepted as they
The students' choices will be:
What are Literature Circles?
In literature circles, groups of students gather together
to discuss a book or books in depth. Discussion is led by students
rather than the teacher. Students are encouraged to talk about
characters in their books and compare them to each other, as well their
own personal connections to the stories by their own experiences.
Literature circles provide a perfect venue for critical thinking as
they read, discuss and respond to their books. The linchpin to the
success of this program is the collaborative effort of the students.
They have to feel confident in their freedom to absorb and exchange
ideas about their book(s). By sharing their thoughts on their book,
they expand the way they think about their own book(s) and allows them
to look at their book in a new light. Literature circles guide readers
to a deeper understanding of what they've read through structured
discussion. Frequently, literature circles are not assessed in standard
means through tests and quizzes, but by short and/or extended written
responses and creative artistic responses.
Literature circles are vibrant, changeable entities. The appearance of
a circle one day may change vastly from day to day. The teacher
provides the skills for the circle to grow, change, and perhaps mutate
all within the guidelines provided. A gentle hand guides them from
outside to keep them on task if they should stray. Bringing the groups
together to discuss their findings for the day keeps the groups
Literature circles take their place in a comprehensive literacy
program. It is not the only way to approach literature. It nests well
with read aloud time, shared reading and writing segments, independent
reading and writing opportunities and guided reading and writing
sessions when the teacher gives them tools with which to analyze what
they are reading. Learning to read critically is a skill carefully
developed that will serve a reader well there whole life. The skills
attained in literature circles are useful tools that will give students
the edge to truly become lifelong readers. And what more lofty goal can
a teacher have than to create a classroom full of hungry readers?
Embracing literature circles and the changes in the classroom is
difficult for teachers who are used to being in control and knowing
what will come next. Frequently they are coming from the idea there is
only one way to teach reading and it has to be done the "right" way.
The teacher has to open their mind to the many options available for
literature circles and be willing to try different ideas, trying them
out and weeding out the ideas that don't work with the individuals in
the group. By trying different approaches, they can be evaluated, notes
taken for the next circle as to what worked and what didn't with angles
to what might be tried next for greater success. Teachers have to keep
in mind that both they and the students are learning. Since this
is a living, changeable experience, we have to be more malleable and
willing to adjust on the fly if we see a strategy isn't working.
How to begin
Since the concept of literature circles in foreign to the
students, we will introduce the concept through a one book, one school
experience. All the students will read one book and we won't form small
groups until we teach them how to engage and discuss in a meaning way.
Initially, the teachers will lead the large groups, modeling how to
form questions that lead to discussion rather than just extracting
Our literature circles are limited to the novel sets we have on hand,
so we need to be familiar with the literature and meet with the other
teachers to book talk. The information we gather at these book talks
will be synthesized into brochures for the students to peruse to choose
the books they want to use for the circles.
After the groups have been formed, the teachers will present a booktalk
on each of the novel choices, making sure the students understand that
they don't all have to choose the same book within their class. The
teachers will pass out a brochure
showcasing the titles we're using for our circles. Allow
an opportunity for the students to look the books over for themselves.
They should be invited to read over a couple of pages to get a sense of
the plot and characters. Successful young adult books grab the reader
right away and the students should feel the connection to the book.
Students can then vote for which books they want to read and the groups
are then formed accordingly.
Since we're embarking on a new system of learning, our first goals
must be modest:
After you've run your
first group, you need to revisit your goals:
- Learn the structure of literature circles
- Choose a piece of literature to focus on
successful for everyone
- Timeline must be flexible as the learning
- Take notes on the experience as the circle
After a subsequent circle, think about:
- Refine your structure, review your notes
- Keep working on your discussion skills
- Add on more components as the students feel
- Keep working on expanding the students'
of the literature
- Explain and model how to engage with the
- How can we elicit more meaningful responses?
- How can we trigger higher levels of
- How can we integrate literature circles
subjects and with themes?
Initially the teacher will set the schedule because
the students will have no concept of how a literature circle works.
Perhaps a week will unfold like this to begin with:
Monday: Read together
Thursday: Prepare response to discussion
Friday: Present responses to other groups
After first literature circle, the schedule may be developed with the
students and circle may decide to meet at different times. Of course,
there are limitations based on the curriculum demands.
Tips to get things going:
- Brainstorming: Use
brainstorming to get things going. After the students have read several
chapters of the whole-class novel, prepare for discussion with a short
session. Ask the class what things could you talk about to stimulate
discussion in your groups.
- Fishbowl: Students
need to have a model of a good discussion in order to understand what
is expected of them.Students also need to see and hear examples of
discussion in order to begin to understand what to do. Choose students
you will think will be active in a fishbowl discussion. Make sure the
students have read the assigned chapters before the sample discussion
is to take place. When the discussion is over, ask the observing
students to identify what happened. What made it a good discussion?
Have the items recorded on a poster, display the poster in the
classroom and revisit the poster and modify the poster as needed to
reflect what is going on in the classroom.
- Size of
the Groups: Groups
shouldn't be larger than 4 or 5. Larger than 5 often have a problem
with side conversations cropping up. Smaller groups are more
self-conscious. Smaller groups also often lack the energy or the
spontaneity that larger groups have. You also need the larger group to
get different ideas going.
- Float: Initially
the teacher should float between groups to insure they are on task and
help faltering groups along.
should form the groups to be balanced by personalities, gender and
- To insure
discussion: students need to be far enough into a book to care
about these characters but not so far away from the material that they
would forget details of what they read.
- Activities to promote the
books: Show the students a videotape of an Ebert and
Roeper Review from
TV. Offer them the opportunity to present a TV review of their novel.
The group will be responsible for covering plot, character reviews,
chapters highlights and whatever else they choose to include. Create a
poster, flyer or tri-fold brochure to promote their book.
a bookmark with Who,What, When,
Where, and Why? on one side with space
to write the essentials and on the other Characters and blank lines for
them to write their impressions of who the people are as they read.
- Keep the energy going. If the kids are
the above titles, refer them to this web
page to consider other titles that have similar themes.
To wrap up the project and discuss all the books we read,
we're going to have the students design a village and build it so all
the protagonists in their books will be comfortable. Their designs will
be assessed according to their attention to details in the books. They
will meet by committee to layout the town on paper deciding what they
need to build and where to place everything. They will also plan what
the town needs to function as a real town.
circles are not just for fiction. Circles are particularly compelling
for social studies where different books about the same topic can
different perspectives to the subject. You can also mix historical
fiction with the non-fiction to add another slant to the topic.
Mini-Lessons for Literature Circles by Harvey
Daniels & Nancy Steineke (2004) New Hampshire, Heinemann
Revisited; Learning from Experience, Moen, Christine Boardman,
Booklinks, May, 2005
Moen, Christine Boardman, Booklinks, December 2001-January, 2002