Literature Circles 2.0

The use of Literature Circles in High School and Elementary English Classrooms encourage students to take ownership over their own education by providing them with choice for both what they read, and how they choose to interact with their text.

Through the use of Literature Circles in your classroom student engagement will increase, while their ability to demonstrate their learning is strengthened.

Getting Started

On of the first pieces I ever wrote on this website was my Introduction to Literature Circles. While much if it still holds up, and while it is a great starting spot for those completely unfamiliar with the concept of Literature Circles, much has changed in my practice over the past few years.

A Quick Introduction

The key components of literature circles are as follows:

  • Students will choose from a selection of texts, ensuring that each student is reading something they can connect with.
  • Students will work independently, while also being granted the opportunity to come together as a group to discuss their readings.
  • Students will hold each other accountable for their learning during in-class small-group discussions.
  • Students will engage with the entire class in round-table discussions that engage all members of the classroom community.
  • Students will work on meaningful project-based tasks, will continuing to develop and demonstrate key literacy skills.
  • Students will be fully prepared for their culminating tasks through independent, and group learning.

Why it Works

At the end of the day, Literature Circles work because students feel respected, and understand that their time is being honoured. There are no “Why are we doing this?” questions, as everything is directly connected to their curricular expectations, while still offering them a freedom of express.

Freedom of Expression

Literature Circles traditionally run over the course of a month. A sample calendar outlining the use of each day can be found below.

Parts of a Literature Circle

There are a number of key components to a successful Literature Circle, as seen on the sample calendar above. Below you will find a quick introduction to each piece.

Full descriptions can be found in The FREE Literature Circle Guide.

Literature Circle Introduction

Students will require a full day for the introduction of literature circles.  The idea will be novel to a number of them, and they will need to feel free to ask questions.

The most important aspect of this day is Text-Selection.  As the students will be engaging with the text for an entire month, it is integral that they have an opportunity to engage with each possible text prior to selection.

Sustained Readings

Sustained reading days can seem strange to many teachers.  These are days where students are allowed to simply engage with their text, and read it at their own pace.  They should not be challenged to journal or engage with any other tasks on this day.

Writing Skills

Writing skills allows for direct instruction that will help students throughout the Literature Circle meetings, Topic Journals, and the Final Task.

As each of these days precedes a Literature Circle meeting, they are best structured in the following three-part format:

  • Part One (15 Minutes): Sustained Reading
  • Part Two (30 Minutes): Direct Instruction
  • Part Three (30 Minutes): Preparing for the Literature Circle Meeting

Literature Circle Meetings

Similar to the sustained reading days, students should have the opportunity to silently read for a full fifteen minutes.  Not only does this act as a Minds On activity, it also presents students with materials that can be used and referenced during their meetings.

The remainder of class should be spent hosting the Literature Circle meeting.  Students will arrange desks into a configuration that allows all members to equally contribute, while making eye contact with the other people in the group.

Topic Journals

Topic Journals allow students to write a reflection of their text focused around a single topic.  Students should be presented with a number of journals from which to choose.  These are communal journals, not their own to keep.  The cover of each journal will have one topic written on it. 

Roundtable Discussions

Roundtables are formal discussions where students discuss a variety of topics, relating them to their text.  Connections should be made using extremely specific examples, as well as direct quotations from their readings.

During Roundtable Discussions students should take out their previously provided Roundtable Discussion Sheet.  They will have used this sheet to collect a variety of ideas, examples, and quotations that they can use during the discussion.


Introducing the Essay

It is important that students fully understand the requirements of the essay assignment prior to working on it.  Ensure that enough time is set aside to go through each page of the The Thematic Essay assignment sheet.

Introducing the Final Task

Similar to Introducing the Essay, students will need time to unpack the requirements of the Final Task assignment.  Remind students that while it may seem complex, they will have ten days before they must present it.

The Differentiated Final Task assignment sheet is more complex than the essay, so an entire period should be committed to unpacking it.

The FREE Literature Circle Guide

This guide has everything you need to successfully run a literature circle in your classroom.

From full introductions…

To classroom ready assignment sheets…

To fully developed rubrics…

One thought on “Literature Circles 2.0

  1. Joanne says:

    Hi Michael, I just wanted to drop you a quick message to say thank you for sharing all this amazing info about Literature Circles. I am in Singapore, spending my Sunday morning writing an MA assignment about reading response strategies. I just stumbled across your website and it has been so helpful, so THANK YOU! I hope you’re having a more fun weekend than me 😉


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