Literature Circles: “Let’s not reinvent the wheel, Rachel.”

The above maxim was often quoted to me by my student teaching co-op, Mrs. Johnson. I was fortunate enough to have her as my co-op for pre-student teaching classroom observation in addition to a semester of student teaching. As per my workaholic nature, I have a tendency to obsess over documents and creatively re-invent a lot of my content. 

Those of you who are older and wiser teachers than I know exactly why this poses a problem in reality (“ain’t nobody got time for that!”). 

You should all be very proud that after only eight months of contracted teaching, this lesson finally hit home. And thus, in the last full month of school, I decided to do literature circles with my critical reading students without reinventing the wheel. 

Here are some sources I used (after scouring the Internet like I usually do for printables): 

Individual prep. (each student completes for each chunk/assignment of reading):

Group roles (each student “specializes” in an area for each meeting and rotates roles):
Daily Journals (have not used these yet, but may still do so):
Question prompts (I am keeping these on hand if students are still struggling with discussion):
Student contract options (p31)- I would like to purchase this whole book, but found this selection efficient for reminding me of how important it is to set-up and scaffold student learning in lit. circles:
Reminder to self: upload my student contract and Role Schedule (the latter looks like the one in this link). 
Another site I found and enjoyed that uses lit. circles for a whole class book:
And finally, I consulted reliable RWT, although I did not like the hand-outs as much for my audience (may be more helpful for lower level ELD students):
Eventually, I’ll get smart and just upload my packet I put together, but I thought I would break down my process in case anyone else is looking around for resources. What I love about literature circles is that they give an opportunity for students to collaborate, practice setting/meeting goals, discover areas of expertise, and even learn how to fail in group work in a safe environment. 
Let us make no mistake; many companies are moving toward collaboration in the workplace. Although this is troubling for natural introverts (who usually have the best things to say, even though they are said the least), I want to encourage my students to adapt to the problems of conflicting personalities, flaky group members, and gaining a greater understanding corporately. 
Here is how I set them up (feel free to ask for clarifications as necessary): 
  • Spend a week introducing the structure and modeling/guiding practice of the different roles within the group. I made them into mini-lessons and combined them with some writing instruction. Bear in mind that we have already done Socratic seminars, mock interviews, reading in different contexts, and enough participation that everyone is familiar with one another at this point in the year. I was surprised at how many of my students are unfamiliar with this format. I recall literature circles as early as the fourth grade!


  • Allow students to choose their book selections by ranking. Play up the student ownership early in the game! I have a lot of leveled books left over from the Edge curriculum that I used for this purpose.
  • For one class period, students roamed around to different tables to preview and rate all of their book options from favorite (1) to least favorite (8). Each class had eight choices which were selected based on the variety of reading levels in each section. I reminded them how we preview books (look at cover, flip through, read a page, finger-check reading level), and let them go with half sheets of notebook paper.
  • I told them I would try to pick one of their top choices, but made no guarantees (which allowed me some judicial power in selecting groups). Everyone ended up getting one of their top three choices, even though some of those students had been careless in making selections and were sometimes dismayed with their group assignment. I was pleasantly surprised at how many students placed themselves with a book that was almost exactly appropriate to their reading level. 


  • Day 1: Give out group assignments, books, and have groups create a reading schedule. I made a Google calendar for the month and included start date, school items (days off, finals, etc.), and date everything is due. It was easy to print off and include in packets. My students are doing their semester final as projects based off of the book they are reading in groups (for some added incentive and accountability), so those dates were on the calendar too. I also included an agenda for the first group meeting and subsequent meetings. 


  • The rest of the month, I am informally observing, coaching groups as necessary, and awarding individual participation points. Ultimately, I would like students to see how much attendance and reliability in groups matters, but until we’re there, I’m reminding them to use their time wisely by giving points without telling them. They can earn up to 5 points a day, but I am not going to reel them in repeatedly. This is a much longer leash than they have been given the entire year, and while some days are really painful, it’s already starting to work. I am printing out grades on Fridays so they can see their performance from the last week. If they are absent and it is excused, they are excused from participation. Otherwise, an absence means a zero for points. I have group contracts on hand if they are struggling to be cohesive and productive. Most groups have already said that if a group member is unprepared for discussion, they should lose points for the day and have to take notes quietly during discussion. 

We will see how this goes. It could either go well or blow up in my face, but I am willing to risk it for the sake of teaching real life skills. Stay tuned! Two more weeks of lit. circles (one down), and a week and a half of school after that!


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