3.05 – Hosting a Literature Circle (English Lesson)

Today is the day where everything comes together. All the work you have put in, since beginning Literature Circles culminates in today’s class: The actual Literature Circle! Now, throughout this unit, you will likely have at least four literature circles, though you can have as many, or as few as suit the needs of your students.

Having more literature circles allows students to focus their discussions on smaller sections of text, whereas having more puts the emphasis on larger sections of text, while reducing the number of opportunities for students to demonstrate and re-demonstrate their learning.

Remember, even though students will complete a written Literature Circle Planning Page for each literature circle, you should only be recording one evaluation in your grade book. This ensures that the student’s highest demonstration of skill is what you are aware of, and what they are taking ownership for.

There is some concern that students will only perform if marks are on the line, but the benefit of literature circles is that they know they will be stuck in a discussion with their peers, and that time will tick by very slowly if they have not prepared to engage with their groupmates. That alone is normally all it takes to ensure task engagement.

While the literature circles are taking place, remember to walk around from group to group. Do not engage with the discussions, if possible, simply hear what is being said, and consider how this allows for a demonstration of the overall oral curricular expectations. By the end of this class you will have three evaluations: reading and writing – from the sheet, and oral – from the discussion.

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.

3.05 – Literature Circle Day!

Step One: Sustained Reading / Last Minute Efforts (20 minutes)

At the beginning of class, you should provide your students with twenty minutes to practice sustained reading, or to finish completing their planning pages. Avoid the tendency to say “if you didn’t prepare, that’s on you!” because it’s not on them. It’s on their group-mates who will not be able to benefit from the ideas and views of their peers.

Once students have had twenty minutes to engage with their text, or their writing, you should ensure that they are sitting in small groups with their literature circles. This is normally a small group of individuals who have read the same text as each other.

Before we Get Started with the Discussions…

You are free to run the literature circle as a group-led piece, or you can control the pacing a little bit by presenting the attached slide deck on a class projector.

The timing for each step is a “this is how it often works” type of timing. But, each class is different. You may want to allow more time for some sections, and less time for others as you circulate to hear the conversations, and gauge the interest. While each group is engaged, you should work to ensure that pacing keeps everyone on track and active.

The final step – class discussions – is a way to ensure there is no wasted time in the class. That said, fully engaged literature circles might easily run out the clock on their own. This is where you come in: direct traffic, but don’t control it.

And remember, while ten minutes per role may seem like a lot, for groups of five, that’s only two minutes per student to share their ideas. It’s just as likely students will be upset their discussions have to be cut short, as they will be waiting for the next stage to begin.

Step Two: The Synopsis Summarizer (10 minutes)

When engaging in this roles, students will share their summaries of the section of text they read. This summary should look to bring together specific plot points, points of relationship growth, and other key details. The reason for running this role at the beginning of the section is two fold:

  • To allow students to understand the different lenses through which they approached the text, as different group members will have zeroed in on different sections of the text
  • To ensure that even those who are not caught up on the reading can engage with the class, and the discussion, by presenting them with a foundational understanding of everything that will soon follow.

Ensuring that all members of a group can participate is key to the success of this class.

Step Three: The Detail Detector (10 minutes)

This is the one section that most students will want to pay attention to. Why? Because they can use the lines that stood out to others to build their own collection of lines that stood out! As they grow their list, organically, though these discussions students will find themselves more and more prepared for the eventual essay that is in their near future! When looking to embed quotations, they’ll need look no further than this section right now.

If you prepare students engage with this section with meaning, they will be far more likely to listen to their peers and share their own ideas, as the discussion isn’t just occurring for discussion’s sake – no – it’s occurring for their sake, as they will directly benefit from the group-constructed list of key quotations.

During these discussions, it is important that students share their full explanation of why the lines stood out to them.

Step Four: The Cunning Connector (10 minutes)

This section is important because it allows for students to directly connect the text to themselves. If you have found yourself on your third literature circle, and still have not been able to record a strong oral communication mark from on of your students, then you should focus on ensuring you’re near or sitting with their group during this section.

Simply asking, “So, based on what you’ve heard so far, what does this make you think about your own life? Are any of the characters similar to people you know?”

While that is a basic connection, it will get the discussion moving and get them speaking. With any luck, once they start they will continue, or be more likely to continue for a few extra probing questions. People love talking about themselves.

Except for people who don’t love talking about themselves, which is why there’s also the text-to-world connection on the sheet. Asking students, “Does this remind you of something you’ve heard of in the news, or in a game you’ve played?” can be just the ticket to getting a reluctant speaker up and running.

Because of the different directions this piece can take, it is an excellent opportunity to center all voices in the discussion.

Step Five: The Quality Questioner (10 minutes)

Some students will not have read the book. Some students will not have listened to the discussion in their small groups up to this point. Let’s start at this realistic point, and move forward. With tempered expectations, we need to ensure that all students have an opportunity to demonstrate their literacy skills.

Even for those who have no idea what is happening in the book, they will be able to answer (if not ask) questions posed by their peers. As each question is thematic, rather than text driven – How do changing power systems create a vacuum for oppressive rulers to take over? Or Why do strong individuals feel the need to hide their emotions from others? Or What do people fear will happen, if women are granted equality and agency over their lives and bodies? – they will be able to participate. Note, that they do not have to tie their answers to the section of text being discussed. Instead, they just need to give their own ideas.

Students who were unable or unwilling to speak about textual connections can often be overheard providing interesting responses to this section. And, as each student in the group has their own questions to bring forward, there will be a wealth of topics to discuss.

Step Six: Everything Else (15 minutes)

This is the part of the class where you can admit four prescribed roles do not fully encapsulate everything that people might have wanted to mention. A directionless, free flowing discussion can transpire here. And, maybe it leads to people talking about the hockey game they watched on tv, or maybe it involves them talking about a comic book they’ve been reading, or maybe it involves questioning if the location of the upcoming semi-formal is optimal.

After a full class of focused discussion, it’s ok to go off topic a little. But, after the first five minutes or so, encourage students to use their off-topic discussion to make connections with their text – once more demonstrating how what they’re reading is more than just something “for English class” but rather something they can use to better understand and engage with the world around them.

Step Seven: Class Discussions (As Needed)

The slide deck includes a video that sets the stage for successful class discussions. Use it. Don’t use it. This section fulfills a number of different pieces:

  • It ensures there is learning until the end of the class
  • It allows groups to pose cross-group discussion questions
  • It provides opportunity for students to de-silo their text
  • It prepares students to engage with round table discussions

That last piece will be very relevant to their experience in short order.

The Impact

You have provided an opportunity for evaluations in three strands:

  • Oral
  • Reading
  • Writing

If you wanted to, you could work in a way to demonstrate media while you’re at it, and have a full demonstration of all strands in one class. This could be done by creating a new alliterative role:

The Analytical Artist
Create a visual depiction of a thematic or character driven piece in your text. You are free to select from one of the following options, or create your own that suits your learning needs:

  • A trading card
  • A movie poster
  • A painting
  • A mixed-media collage
  • A 8.5 x 11 full colour drawing
  • A diorama

Through all of this, you have proven to your students that you value them as leaders, and shown them that they are responsible for choosing to engage with their learning. While you are there to support them, they are there to make the most of the opportunities with which they have been presented. And, if they do not, class will be a whole lot less lively, and a whole lot less fun.

Next up? Round Table Discussions.

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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