Literature Circles for Poetry Reading

Instructor: Katherine Garner

Katie teaches middle school English/Language Arts and has a master's degree in Secondary English Education

This lesson describes what literature circles are and how they can be adapted for poetry, and offers several strategies for using them in the English/Language Arts classroom.

What are Literature Circles?

Literature circles is an activity often used by middle and high school (and occasionally elementary) teachers where students work in small groups to read and discuss a text. Students often assume different roles when their group meets that can rotate to ensure that everyone participates and that each student is making a measureable contribution and showing comprehension. This strategy is often used for novels so that students have some degree of choice in which book they read, but this can also be an effective strategy when working with poetry. Students tend to work best in groups of three or four; your method for grouping them and which poems the students can choose from will depend on your purpose for the activity.


One reason to use literature circles for reading poetry is to differentiate, or adjust the material and strategies based on student need. You can group students based on their reading skills and give more challenging poems to more advanced readers and simpler ones to students who are still working on mastering more basic skills. If you have a co-teacher or assistant, it is easier for one teacher to help support one group or two groups of struggling students when they are all grouped together. One adult can work with the groups that need more help while the other can supervise groups that can work more independently, or that need to be challenged to think more deeply.

Literature circles for poetry can encourage students to be more active participants in reading and group discussion
Children reading together


Another way to use literature circles for poems is to create stations. Because poems are shorter than novels, students can have a chance to work with each poem by rotating the groups so that each group reads all of the selected poems. This activity may work best in a 90 minute block or over two days. If you have four or five poems that you want the students to read, you can give each group about 20 minutes to work with each poem, have an activity for them to do together, and then have the groups rotate to the next activity. The benefits of this are that the students are more active than if they were just reading all of the poems by themselves and have a better chance to contribute to a discussion in a small group rather than with the whole class.

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