Literature Circle Rules for Students

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Literature circle participation can be an invaluable experience for students, but it also requires oversight and guidance. The rules in this lesson will help your students get as much as possible out of literature circles.

Why Literature Circles Need Rules

If you have your students involved in literature circles, then you know that they provide an excellent opportunity for students to practice their social and conversational skills while engaging in deep, meaningful discussions about text. At the same time, literature circles can be challenging; they require cooperation and alertness from all parties involved. As a teacher, one of your jobs is to help your students understand the central rules for engaging properly in literary discussion with others.

This lesson offers a series of rules that will help literature circles run smoothly in your class. You might also consider involving your students in designing rules that make sense to them and are specific to the needs of your class. There are intentionally few rules offered here, because students tend to respond better to a small number of well articulated, lucid rules than to a tremendous array of very specific ones. Following each rule, you will find a brief explanation as to what it means and why it is so important.

Rules for Literature Circles

Come prepared for participation.

This is probably the single most important rule. Students cannot participate in literature circles if they have not done the day's reading assignment. Being prepared means doing the reading, coming to class with a book and notebook, and completing any specific tasks or assignments, such as journal reflections, question lists, or summarizing.

Listen actively to your classmates.

To help your students understand this rule, you might need to spend some time explaining active listening. When students participate in literature circles, they should make eye contact, remain quiet when a classmate is talking, and respond directly to the comments of others in their own comments. They should use body language that demonstrates their listening, and when they disagree, they should do so respectfully. Help your students understand that listening actively also means remaining aware of how much discussion airtime they are taking up and allowing others time and space for participation.

Take ownership of your ideas.

All students should take responsibility for participating in literature circle discussions and in articulating their own ideas. You might choose to have a minimum number of comments each student must make during every meeting, or you can leave this rule more open-ended and trust that all students will take up a fair amount of airtime during their conversation. This rule is especially important for students who tend to sit quietly and let others do the heavy lifting in terms of engaging with the ideas or assignments.

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