Literature Circles: Advantages & Disadvantages

Instructor: John Hamilton

John has tutored algebra and SAT Prep and has a B.A. degree with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics from Christopher Newport University.

In this lesson, we discuss the concept of literature circles and explain how they work. We also outline the advantages, disadvantages and potential issues for students and educators.

What Are Literature Circles?

Who amongst us doesn't love curling up in front of the fireplace with a favorite book, a warm mug of cocoa, and some fuzzy slippers? Books transports us across time and space and bring our minds and imaginations to life, all while educating us in the process.

Many of us like to read on our own, but sharing a love of reading and fine literature can be rewarding as well. In an education setting, this can be achieved through literature circles. A literature circle is similar to the concept of a book club for adults in that people get together in a group to discuss a book. The major difference is that literature circles tend to be more structured so that students have the guidance they need to focus their discussions and get as much as possible out of the experience.

In this lesson, we'll explore some of the advantages and disadvantages of literature circles from the perspectives of both students and teachers.


  • Students are often grouped in literature circles according to their level of reading ability. This usually prevents them from being intimidated by others that are at a higher reading level. It also increases the likelihood that they can gradually improve. Think of a table tennis player who improves by playing someone of equal or slightly greater ability. Playing someone much better would not benefit either player.
  • Participating in literature circles may benefit a student's reading comprehension. Some studies suggest that students actually understand and grasp the content of a book better and more easily when they discuss it. Perhaps this is because the student is learning from the input of the other students.
  • Literature circles are a lot of fun. Let's face it, being a part of a sports team or social club can be fun, and literature circles are no exception.
  • Like a sports team, literature circles encourage cooperative learning and emphasize teamwork.
  • Literature circles give students choices over their learning materials. Usually students are handed books and worksheets without much choice at all. In a literature circle, students can select from a wide variety of genres, including fiction and non-fiction.
  • In a classroom setting, with a teacher at the front and all the other students watching, a student might be too intimidated to chime in. In a literature circle (where the students indeed are often situated in a circle), students can let their guard down and contribute.
  • Students may use their imaginations more. In a traditional setting, the teacher may state the meaning of a work by Charles Dickens, but in a literature circle, students come up with their own theories, meanings, and interpretations.
  • Each person in a literature circle may be assigned a role, and the student can learn from each unique role and see the book from different perspectives. For example, roles may include a narrator (or discussion director), investigator (or literary luminary), summarizer, connector, vocabulary enricher , and educator.
  • By playing different roles, students can see history through multiple perspectives, whereas a teacher or history textbook may provide just one limited perspective.
  • Ultimately, a student may become so good at analyzing a book that she may even become the leader of her own book club, or become a teacher or professor.

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