One of the most important parts of a literature circle is the text selection. Students will be engaged with the text for a number of weeks, and in order to feel a sense of ownership over their learning, their lessons, and their expressions, they need to feel as if they were active participants in selecting the text.
While lit circles can be completed through the use of class novels, that detracts from the self-selected nature that makes them so beneficial for classroom learners. It is possible to go to the other extreme, and allow students to self-select any text they want, but then they miss out from some of the more shared connections that can be discussed when meeting with group members who have the same foundational reading.
By offering a selection of five to eight books, students will have a wealth of texts to choose from. This choice will help connect them to all the pieces that follow. However, choice without time to consider is not an authentic choice. For that reason, one period should be dedicated to text exploration and selection.
If you are looking for suggested texts, feel free to access the Books Lists section of this website.
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.
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3.02 – Literature Circle Book Choices
Step One: Consider Texts – A Mind’s On Experience
When students walk into the classroom, they should see the covers for all the possible texts proudly displayed around the room. If you have access to a colour printer, this can make more a more engaging experience, but if you only have a black and white printer, fear not – this can provide strong connections as well, especially if accompanied by the action text on a shelf below the print out.
Ensuring that each printed cover is spaced out in the room, another sheet of paper should be affixed beside it. A pencil hanging from a string on the wall can also ensure that this activity moves forward without lost time as students try to find their resources.
On the board the instructions should be made clear to students:
Judging a Book By its Cover
Walk around the room, and write your initials on the sheet of paper beside the two book covers that look most interesting to you.
A few things happen here:
- Students become aware of the different texts
- Students know where to find the titles of books, should they forget them in a future step
- You begin to notice what books you might not have enough of
- Students begin discussing the books, informally
- Inferring happens constantly!
Once an appropriate amount of time has passed, ask students to look around the room, and form conclusions based on the data. Perhaps they will talk about which books look interesting, which books look boring, why they feel they way they do, or – if you are lucky – a discussion might break out about why one cover looks great, but they feel the text will be terrible (or vice-versa)!
Once the discussion has run its course, it’s time to move on.
Step Two: Highlighting the Different Books
It’s time for some direct teaching, at the front of the classroom. Though you are now transitioning from lecture-based learning, to releasing responsibility and defronting the classroom, this one moment will provide a transition that serves to highlight that divide.
Let students know that most of the teaching from the novel will come from them, through the literature circles, and that your last main point is highlighting the texts, before they engage with them.
At this point, you should hold up each of the books that students can select from, and provide a brief synopsis of them.
Flip through the texts, show off the amount of words on each page, the font size, talk about a juicy section that might interest them.
If you are using graphic novels as part of the selection, highlight the art style as well. And, don’t fear using graphic novels as part of the novel selection. Or, don’t be afraid to run this entire unit using only graphic novels.
If you are looking for some suggestions of texts to use, suggestions can be accessed in the Suggested Graphic Novels by Grade list.
Step Three: Providing the Graphic Organizer
Once students have looked at the covers, and heard a little bit about the books, it is time to provide them the Graphic Organizer. This organizer serves two functions. It provides them with a memory aid, and reference to more information about each text – but, most importantly, it will serve as the sheet they use to rank the texts, and make their selection.
You will need to modify this sheet to suit your own class texts. I always try to include the lexile level, or reading level, as well as the page count. This information can help students self-select a text that meets their needs.
Additionally, I include a summary from Good Reads that supports what they have already heard in class. Feel free to follow me on GoodReads.com at https://www.goodreads.com/barltrop!
Finally, the cover images that are around the classroom are duplicated on this sheet.
Let students know that they will use the top of the first page to rank the texts, after they have had a moment to look through each of them, but that they can use the notes section under each text to keep track of their thoughts as they move from book to book.
Step Four: Cycling through the Text and the Classroom
Your classroom should be arranged into a number of groups, matching the number of texts you are offering for selection. In the Graphic Organizer exemplar for this lesson, there are seven books. This will mean you have seven groups of either four or five desks, depending on the number of students in your class.
Each desk group should have a number of texts, corresponding to the number of desks.
Students will start at one group, and have three to five minutes (depending on how much class time is available) to look at each book. I suggest using a timer, projected on the board, to allow students to pace themselves appropriately.
After the timer has expired, students should have thirty seconds to make notes on their graphic organizer, before standing up and moving to the next group.
You could rotate the books, rather than the students, but having students stand up and move creates a level of engagement and on-task commitment that doesn’t normally occur when it is the texts that are moving. Also, when the texts move, they often get thrown, which leads to unkind moments.
After each third rotation, students should be provided for two minutes to debrief with their group about what they think so far.
This process continues until students have had a chance to see, and respond to all of the texts. Once they are back where they started, one member from each group should bring the books up to you, and it will be time to move on.
Step Five: Consolidating Thoughts
Ensure students have three or four minutes to consider all the books they just looked at, and then rank them from one (being the one they most want to read), down. At the front of the room, space out one copy of each text. As students complete their rankings, ask them to place their list on the cover they selected for number one.
Encourage students to engage with each other, and discuss what stood out to them. The more insight and information students have, the more they will feel connected to their literature circle text.
Once students have consolidated their thoughts, they should be ready to submit their lists.
Step Six: Sorting the Texts
Provide a hard cut off for students to submit lists, if they want full consideration, and then recognize your brilliance for having them place the sheets on the text they most want. The sorting has already been completed.
At this point, you can quickly set aside books for students on the lower-selected texts, knowing there will be enough for those people to have their first choice.
When you get to the more in-demand texts, consider an equitable way to sort them out. Perhaps it’s by students who are not normally as engaged with reading, getting their first choice. Or, perhaps, it is by students whose second choice still exists. There are a number of ways to move through this, but make sure you’re honouring student choice, and not moving them because you think the book they chose is too easy.
Step Seven: Assigning the Texts
There are a number of ways to keep track of who has signed out what, but I like to keep a spreadsheet with student name, and book under, under a text-title heading. This allows my to quickly see who will be grouped together.
It is important that you assign the texts on the same day the students looked at them. This builds the excitement, and allows them to immediately jump into the book, before they’re even directed to begin reading.
That’s it. The die has now been cast. Students have buttered their bread. Now it’s time to lie in it, if you’re one to mix metaphors. Otherwise, you can just let them know these are the books they’ll be working with over the next few weeks, and that you hope they enjoy them!
There are so many occurances of students complaining about how they hate the book their teacher forced them to read. I was like this, you may have been like this, other teachers using class novels may be experiencing this. But, some of those books might have been returned to later in life, only for them to be discovered as gems.
Most of the resistance comes from being told you have to read the book.
In this case, there is no direction from the teacher, instead the selection comes from the students themselves. If they end up not liking the book, they recognize that it was they who chose it, and that they could have put more focus into the selection process.
When there is no teacher to blame, even if the text isn’t as wonderful as it may have been hoped to have been, there is still a connection,a nd there is still engagement, because it was self-selected!
Next up? the importance of sustained reading.
English – Unit Three: Literature Circles
3.03 – Lit Circles: Sustained Reading & The Lines that Stand Out (English Lesson)
When running a literature circle, one of the most important parts is the circle. The other important part, of course, is the literature. To fully…
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…
English Course Packs: Full Units
Unit One: Literacy Skills
Unit Two: Poetry
Unit Three: Literature Circles (In Progress)
Unit Four: Creative Writing & Choose Our Way Tales (In Progress)
Unit Five: Essay Writing (In Progress)
Unit Six: Culminating Tasks (In Progress)
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!
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