Literature circles

Literature circles differ from other small group instructional approaches like guided reading in several ways:

Guided reading:

  • usually homogenous groups formed around students’ strengths and needs
  • teacher selected text
  • focus on reading strategies (for decoding and comprehension)
  • teacher plays central, guiding role in the lesson.

Literature circles:

  • can be heterogeneous groups formed around students’ interests
  • student selected text
  • focus on higher level thinking skills: author’s intent, writing style, characterisation, etc.
  • teacher is more of a facilitator/observer/encourager.

Expecting students to have the skills to sustain a conversation around a text they have all read is a big expectation (regardless of how much the text was enjoyed). As a result, different supports or structures have been suggested by different writers and researchers as ways that rich talk might be scaffolded. 

These would need to be explicitly demonstrated and modelled by the teacher before students work independently using these supports. Prompt cards or anchor charts (developed in collaboration with the students) would reinforce these scaffolds and supports. Some of these frameworks or scaffolds are listed below. 

Daniels (2002) literature circle roles

Briefly, Daniels’ (2002) role descriptions

  • Discussion Director: to develop a list of questions that will facilitate group conversations.
  • Literary Luminary: to locate sections of the text the group would like to hear read aloud.
  • Illustrator: to draw some kind of picture related to the reading.
  • Connector: to find connections or links between the book and something outside the text.
  • Summariser: to prepare a brief summary of the day’s reading.
  • Vocabulary enricher: to locate important or unusual words that appear in the text.
  • Travel Tracer: to track the action that takes place in a story and record as a diagram or map.
  • Investigator: to find out some background information about the book.
  • Chambers’ (1993) book talk supports

    Three Sharings:

    • Sharing enthusiasms
    • Sharing puzzles
    • Sharing connections

    Four Kinds of Saying:

    • Saying for yourself
    • Saying to others
    • Saying together
    • Saying the new
    Mills & Jennings’ (2011) conversation stems
    • “I noticed...”
    • “I wondered...”
    • “I appreciated...”
    • “I felt...”
    • “I made a connection...”
    • “I learned...”
    • “I was surprised by....”
    Keene & Zimmerman’s (2007) connections
    • Text-to-self
    • Text-to-text
    • Text-to-world

    The important thing to remember is that any scaffolds taught and employed for the purposes of literature circles are intended as temporary supports to facilitate rich, extended conversations around texts.

    As students become experienced in meeting in these dialogue-driven groups, the need for them will dissipate and the conversations will become more free-flowing and text responsive.  Daniels (2006) has himself noted that schools increasingly dispense with his roles – something he intended.

    Repetitive routines around texts, as the roles and other scaffolds can become, have been critiqued as reducing the intrinsic pleasure of reading. Gallagher (2009) has warned against readicide: “the systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools".  

    Three sharings

    In this video, the teacher uses Chambers’ practice of the ‘Three Sharings’ to facilitate a Literature Circle discussion with students.


     Literature Circles - The Witches

    In this video, the teacher leads a literature circle to engage students in deeper understanding of the text. Each student has a specific role to play when it is their turn to lead the discussion.

    Focuses across age groups

    While literature circles are often seen as more suitable for older students, rich conversations, observations and wonderings about texts are possible at all year levels, even as early as Foundation to Year 2. 

    Teacher support and involvement needs to be adjusted to reflect the students’ abilities and needs. Apart from familiarising students with the roles or scaffolds, teachers could introduce the books and gently suggest aspects of each that the students might focus on. 

    Sample texts are provided and all propose a way that a teacher might introduce a text to a group of students who are to form a literature circle to read and discuss that text. The different scaffolds and frameworks above are then linked to these sample texts to illustrate what  conversations might arise from these texts.

    What follows, in lesson plan form, are ways that different scaffolds for rich literature circle discussions might be drawn on. They are not intended to be viewed as scripts in any way, but more an indication of the student-led conversations that might arise.

    Teacher assessment

    Because the talk and the engagement in the texts are central to literature circles, teachers need to be close observers of the interactions that take place. Student interactions can be assessed both quantitatively (who spoke? How often?) and qualitatively (what kind of comments were made? Did these reflect accurate readings of the books? Is there evidence of student thinking beyond literal levels?). Observations can be recorded anecdotally by the teacher and can contribute to the array of assessment data collected that, in total, provide a rich and multi-faceted picture of the students as readers and – more generally – learners. 

    There may be some work sample artefacts that can be collected from the literature circles, though being dialogic focuses, these will be few. Teacher-student conferences and student self-assessments will also provide valuable insights into how the students feel about their reading and how they view their contributions and interactions in the different literature circles that they join.

    Refere

    nces

    Chambers, A. (1994). Tell me: Children, reading and talk. Newtown, NSW: Primary English Teaching Association.  

    Daniels, H. (2002). Literature circles: Voice and choice in book clubs and reading groups. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

    Daniels, H. (2006). What’s the next big thing with literature circles? Voices from the Middle, 13, (4), 10-15. 

    Gallagher, K. (2009). Readicide: How schools are killing reading and what you can do about it. Portland, ME: Stenhouse. 

    Graff, J.M. (2010). Reading, readin’, and skimming: Preadolescent girls navigate the sociocultural landscapes of books and reading. Language Arts, 87 (3), 177-187. 

    Keene, E. O., & Zimmerman, S. (2007). Mosaic of thought: The power of comprehension strategy instruction. (2nd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

    Krashen, S. (2004). The power of reading : insights from the research. Westport, CN: Libraries Unlimited.

    Krashen, S. (2011). Free voluntary reading. Westport, CN: Libraries Unlimited.

    La Marca, S. & Macintyre, P. (2006). Knowing readers: Unlocking the pleasures of reading. Carlton: SLAV. 

    Matar, H. (2017, March 16). Books can take you places Donald Trump doesn’t want you to go, The New York Times.

    Mills, H. & Jennings, L. (2011). Talking about talk: Reclaiming the value and power of literature circles. The Reading Teacher, 64 (8), 590-598. 

    Nodelman, P. & Reimer, M. (2003). The pleasures of children’s literature. Boston: Allyn & Bacon. 

    Thomson, S., Hillman, K. & De Bortoli, L. (2013). A teacher’s guide to PISA reading literacy. Camberwell, Vic: ACER. 

    Thomson, S., Hillman, K, Wernert, N., Schmid, M., Buckley, S. & Muneme, A. (2012). Highlights from TIMMS and PIRLS 2011 from Australia's perspective. Melbourne: ACER.