Literature Circles in Elementary School

Instructor: Frank Clint

Frank has been an educator for over 10 years. He has a doctorate degree in education with a concentration in curriculum and instruction.

Adults enjoy book clubs because they have the opportunity to have thoughtful discussions about works of literature with like-minded readers. This joy for reading began in elementary school. In this lesson, we will explore literature circles in an elementary school setting and discuss how to run one effectively in your classroom.

Running Effective Literature Circles in Elementary School

Mrs. McSwain, a 3rd-grade teacher, wants to excite her students about reading! She wants an energized classroom engaged in quality, open-ended discussions that will boost comprehension skills. Her colleague has her convinced that supplementing her reading instruction with this research-based method will bring her classroom to life with critical thinkers. Mrs. McSwain is ready to try literature circles!

What is a Literature Circle?

Literature circles are exciting and incorporate cooperative learning and independent reading in your classroom. Based on adult book clubs, they spark deep comprehension and analytical thinking about a text. Groups of about three to five students read the same text. Each student has a discussion role based on comprehension strategies.

Students read a predetermined amount of text, usually set by the teacher, and each prepares to discuss based on the assigned role. Groups meet daily, and when the book is finished the group shares out to the class. Roles can alternate each day. Once students get good at having quality discussions, the assigned roles can be eliminated. Students will begin naturally to recognize the strategies practiced in class.

Selecting Books

Students who choose their own books, at their interest and reading level, become stronger and more engaged readers. Give students freedom within limits. You don't want students picking randomly. Students might choose a book that is above their ability level. This will hinder comprehension. Mrs. McSwain took the following steps when selecting book options for her students:

1. Find students' interests and use diagnostic data to learn reading levels.

2. Group your students by reading level to start and assess this for changes as the year progresses.

3. Provide a selection of three leveled, high-interest books to choose from for each reading group.

Remember that book selection is flexible. Consider the resources available to you. Maybe you have a treasury of resources that you have bought throughout the years and can do this very easily. Perhaps you are at the whim of your school or district and may not have the ideal books that you would like. Do what you can with what you have.

Student Discussion Roles

Each student discussion role is based on one of the reading comprehension strategies commonly taught in reading classrooms to help students think critically about texts. They are flexible, and you can select roles that best fit the needs of your students. Mrs. McSwain has settled on the following common roles for her classroom:

Summarizer - Prepares a short description of the key points in the chapter or text

Visualizer - Illustrates a scene, character, diagram, chart, or some other depiction of the chapter or text

Inferencer - Reads between the lines to interpret events in a chapter or text and draws conclusions or makes inferences

Word Detective - Identifies unknown words and finds the meanings to share with the group

Connector - Finds similarities between his or her life, another book or text, or something in the world that is similar to the events or facts described in the reading

Teacher Role

As a student-centered activity, literature circles make you a facilitator of literary group discussions. Aside from short lessons to teach reading skills and comprehension strategies, Mrs. McSwain gives her vocal cords a rest, and let students lead discussions. She probes only when discussions hit a snag. Some will delve into deep conversations while others may not. That is where you, their mentor, steps in. When you start, set clear expectations and model for about two weeks.

Assessment

At the end of each discussion, assess students for comprehension. Sometimes, Mrs. McSwain assigns a graphic organizer where students identify a character's traits. Another day she may issue an exit ticket with an open response question. Whatever you decide, keep it flexible, open-ended, and relevant to what you have taught. You will discover that after having a good discussion with their peers, students perform better on these assessments than if you had assigned the reading and the assessment immediately after.

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