3.01 – Introducing Literature Circles (English Lesson)

Allowing students to self-select their text is at the very heart of literature circles. Lit circles encourage small groups students to read a text, working through its messages, meanings, and connections together.

Whereas traditional class novels force students to engage with texts that might not be relevant to their experiences, literature circles offer choice and pave the way for students to realize themselves as autodidacts.

Literature circles are a topic I original brought forward to my students a number of years ago with Lit Circles Version 1. I then refined my delivery and practice when developing Literature Circles Version 2.

This unit is based off of, and expands upon the materials in version 2. Constant revision is important. No matter how effective a lesson in one year, it can always be enhanced for the next. When teachers start thinking “this will be good enough”, that’s when you open your eyes one day and find your materials twenty years out of date.

Today’s lesson plan focuses on introducing literature circles to your students, while also offering an introduction to you, as well.

English Course Pack: Unit Three – Literature Circles

This assignment is part of the The Full English Course Park. This piece is part of Unit Three: Literature Circles, which focuses on reading a selected text in small groups. Student engagement with the text will revolve around topic journals, roundtable discussions, and the application of literacy skills.

If you would like to say thanks, consider buying me a coffee. But that is neither required, nor expected.

3.01 – Introducing Literature Circles

Step One: Explaining the Process

The best way to start Literature Circles is to take a period to explain all the different moving pieces. We can often find ourselves feeling like we need to constantly press forward, and that each seventy-five minute period is sacred. However, every now and then an assembly pops up and we have to reschedule. And we make it work.

Take some of that time back for yourself, to breathe, allow your students to breathe, and talk about what will be coming next, before flying forward.

Tell your students that there will be a few major parts of this unit:

  • The Introduction
  • Sustatined Reading
  • Writing Skills
  • Literature Circle Meetings
  • Topic Journal Writing
  • Roundtable Discussions
  • The Essay
  • Final Task

From this list, you will notice that The Essay is “Unit Five” of this series. I have slightly changed how I run Literature Circles, removing them from the essay – allowing them to focus on the final project based piece, instead.

Note: There is not right or wrong way to run a lit circle, there is the way that works for you and your current set of students.

Step Two: Looking at the Calendar

The calendar above is the way the package is lined up in the linked PDF. However, you do not need to stick to it. While entwining the essay and the literature circle may be effective for you, there are others who will consider it best to keep them apart.

I am one of those people who sometimes like to keep them connected, while at other times, I like to separate them.

These plans will walk you through Lit Circles as their own, distinct unit. But, feel free to use the above calendar to intertwine the units because – hey, who knows… next year that might be how I run it again.

What is important is that your students have access to your calendar that shows each step of the way. Because many students have never engaged with literature circles before, trying to envision how they work – without a visual – can be a challenge.

Step Three: Explaining the Different Pieces

Book Choices

This is a piece where students will be provided with an overview of their book choices, be allowed time to look through them, and then select one that they feel they will be most engaged with. This day will allow them to have plenty of time to make the best possible choice, as the text will follow them throughout the course.

Sustained Reading

A lot of teachers find it difficult to allow their students time for sustained reading. There is a feeling that if they’re not on their feet in front of the classroom, something is going wrong. However, providing students with time to engage with their text is just as valuable, and far more on par with the needs of this unit than trying to provide supplementary information all the time.

If your students have a difficult time reading for an entire period, challenge them to read for half a period, and then reflect. Try to honour the full time for those who need it.

Lines that Stand Out

This will work as a running record of what they will reading. It will act as a graphic organizer that will help them collect their thoughts, and best prepare them for all parts of the literature circle, including the essay that will likely follow.

Preparing for Meetings

This section will allow students to understand what they need to communicate with their group during the literature circle meeting days. There will be a graphic organizer that allows them to be ready to engage with their group, and take control of the discussion, focusing on self-selected areas of interest.

Literature Circle Meetings

Lit Circle meets are days when students will begin with their personal choice reading, and then shift into discussing their texts. 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.

During these meetings, they will discuss their planning pages, as the teacher circulates through the classroom, listening and evaluating their contributions.

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. 

Topic journals have been more fully explored earlier in this package.

Lesson: 1.13 – Topic Journals

Round Tables

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.

Text Information

This asks as a debriefing of the text, allowing students to consolidate their thoughts and provide valuable insight that educators can use to best chart their way forward when selecting future texts.

Final Task

Students will need time to unpack the requirements of the Final Task assignment.  Remind students that while it may seem complex, they will have time to work on it, in a scaffolded manner.

The Differentiated Final Task assignment can be complex, so an entire period should be committed to unpacking it before letting students begin working on it.

The Impact

Once students have a full understanding of where they are headed, they will be best able to engage with the tasks. Prior to beginning literature circles, it is important that both teachers and students understand how the different tasks will blend together, and work as part of a gestalt to make the most from the experience of reading a text.

For some students, student-led-learning may be a new experience. The shift from “Chapter Questions” and teacher-led reading of a class novel may strike them as a difficult concept.

By providing the time to fully communicate each step, all members of the classroom community will be able to find success.

English – Unit Three: Literature Circles

English Course Packs: Full Units

Unit One: Literacy Skills
Unit Two: Poetry
Unit Three: Literature Circles
Unit Four: Creative Writing & Choose Our Way Tales (In Progress)
Unit Five: Essay Writing (In Progress)
Unit Six: Culminating Tasks (In Progress)

Written by…

Michael Barltrop has been teaching since 2006, integrating comics, video games, and TTRPGs into his classroom. He has been the head of English, Literacy, Special Education, and Assessment & Evaluation and Universal Design. Feel free to reach out through Twitter @MrBarltrop!

Feel free to support the website hosting by buying him a coffee or sharing this post on facebook, twitter, or whatever social media is trending these days.

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