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How Literature Circles Benefit Reading Comprehension

Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

Literature circles: Are they a waste of instruction time or a worthwhile opportunity for student growth? This lesson outlines some great benefits to using literature circles in your classroom.

Literature Circles

How do we get students interested in reading? The more a student reads, the better reader he or she becomes, and also a better critical thinker, and more well-rounded in general. But is this enough to convince students to read on their own? Usually not. So then, how do we promote reading?

One strategy many teachers use is to create literature circles, or a structured group of students who gather to discuss a book. Literature circles are similar to book clubs, but to be useful, they need to be thoroughly planned and designed. Without this, students will merely sit silently in groups and accomplish nothing. Proper design includes guiding questions to lead discussions and student roles like discussion leader, timekeeper, scribe, etc.

This opportunity for thoughtful discussion about literature is clearly one of the main goals of using literature circles. Students will also be gaining reading comprehension and fluency skills. The rest of this lesson discusses several benefits of literature circles and how each helps to develop reading skills.

Choice

The first of these benefits is helping students develop choice, or deciding what reading material is best for them. Essentially, when students get the opportunity to choose what they read, they are more engaged in the piece and more likely to make a personal connection to it. On the other hand, when students feel forced to read a specific book, they are often less likely to enjoy it and, therefore, less likely to read on their own.

Students should be able to choose which book they prefer and join that group. Thus, students won't feel as forced into the reading. Providing this opportunity for choice gets students more engaged in the reading and helps develop fluency skills. Higher interest in the material leads to higher efforts. Students will try to define unfamiliar words using context clues, ask more questions at confusing sections, and relate the material to their own lives. This will all help students develop fluency and enjoyment in reading.

Exposure to Literature

The second benefit of using literature circles is to provide more exposure to literature. Select the available books with purpose. You want to provide a variety of reading genres and topics to ensure each type of student can have options of some interest to him or her. In addition, once the first book is read, you can even set up a system where the students decide which book to read next. This way, students can be exposed to material beyond what even you would have chosen.

This strategy will promote reading outside of class requirements, which has a major impact on a student's development of reading comprehension. The more exposed they are to various reading material, the better they will become at comprehension. Other students will understand new literature better or in a different way, which will help the group as a whole understand challenging material. Lastly, exposure to various readings will also help students become familiar with the various elements of literature (setting, character development, theme) since different types of books are reliant on different story elements. Overall, exposing students to various reading materials greatly promotes development in reading comprehension.

Response and Analysis

The final benefit to literature circles is response and analysis of literature, or how a student internally processes and expresses opinions on the reading. The more active in group discussion a student is, the more he or she will learn to analyze writing and create critically thoughtful responses. This has a direct connection to developing reading comprehension and fluency skills.

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