Literature Circle Strategies for High School Classrooms

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Literature Circle Strategies

for High School Classrooms

How To Set Up Literature Circles

Best Time of Year for Literature Circles:

Literature Circles work  well ANY time of the year.  Honestly, though, I use them the last six weeks of school.  The students feel confident of the "safety" of  the classroom environment as a place for writing and reading analysis by then.  Students and teachers are ready for a change of pace at that point in the school year. 

Offering literature circles at this point helps me, as a professional, to "fill-in-the-blanks" for college preparatory high school students.  Because of potential censorship issues, a lot of books are unofficially "off limits" for use as whole class books.  Literature circles allow small groups of students to self-select books such as Grapes of Wrath  and A Lesson before Dying, get parent permission to read them, and then set off to explore the more contemporary or mature books that otherwise never grace a classroom setting where a teacher is close by to help with questions and interpretations.

Forming Groups:

Literature Circles can be formed by students themselves agreeing upon a book to read, but teacher-chosen groups prevent problems such as the students no one wants in their group getting excluded, off-task behavior, and groups formed with all high or all low ability students.

I ask students to give me the names of several students (both male and female) in the class that they would work well with.  I look these over and form groups so that everyone has at least one person they asked for.  It takes time, but makes for stronger groups.

Literature circles with 3-5 members work well. 

Choosing Books:

Before announcing the groups, I give book talks to arouse interest in the titles I've chosen.  I ask everyone to list their 1st, 2nd, and 3rd choice.  Then I announce the group members and ask them to compare their choices with others in the group and come to an agreement.  I usually offer  2 more choices than the number of literature circles I am planning to form.  If I am planning for  5 literature circles, I usually offer 7 books in book talks.

Offer books that have a strong plot, several characters, imagery and figurative language, strong vocabulary words, a strong climax, and  at least one theme.

If I have a mixed group of abilities on the middle school or high school level, I always offer at least one Young Adult fiction selection as a choice even though my school is heavily oriented towards "classics."  The shorter length and simpler plot line helps encourage reluctant and slower readers.

Preparing Students for Literature Circles

Advance  preparation is crucial!  Literature circles are most successful when students have been prepared for the various roles and the meeting procedures.  Prior to the first meeting of the groups, you will want to go over:

1. an explanation of each role you will be using

2. how to write fat questions

3. how to choose appropriate passages

4. summarizing a chapter

5. how to write an excellent sentence for a vocabulary work

Prior to starting the novels, my classes practice with short stories or picture books.  The entire class reads the story, then they practice all of the roles we'll be using.  We discuss various questions and passages the students find, then write about them in the journals. It may take several short stories before the class feels comfortable with the system.

It is beneficial to practice the skills of summarizing chapters, writing fat  (higher-order level) questions, and choosing passages in a text BEFORE  I start a rotation of literature circles.  To practice these skills, the entire class reads the same novel.  A common reading helps the less able students hear good questions and passages that stronger students have come up with.  In addition, the more summarizing students do, the better summarizers they become.

Organization:

The more organization a teacher puts into the program, the better the literature circles run.  I do the following:

  • provide a two pocket folder with brads for each group, labeled with the title of the book
  • provide a sheet for role assignments, which students fill out to show the rotating roles
  • provide a sheet of reading assignments for particular days.  I usually allow each group to decide on the number of pages to be read for each class session, but I give the class a (tentative) date by which I want the entire novel completed.  This helps all the groups to finish about the same time.
  • if you choose the vocabulary words for each segment of reading, provide a list of these for each folder
  • provide a Daily Group Record Sheet to each group for self-evaluation of the roup members
  • I  include a simple research project (usually internet-based) for each novel
  • each folder usually contains several writing ideas.  Literature circle members may choose from the list.  Some choices will be individual; some will need the cooperation of the entire group.  These are due the last day of the unit.
  • you may want to include a listing of possible journal topics or assignments to give variety to the journal writing

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