Literature Circles in High School

Instructor: David Raudenbush
Literature circles teach students to read and think together. These structured group lessons allow all students to play a role in building deeper reading comprehension. Read to learn how literature circles are applied specifically to high school classrooms.

Book Clubs for the Classroom

Student-led group discussions are a hallmark of good teaching practice. Literature circles are small groups of students who meet to discuss reading following an established format. They are a particularly effective tool to use in a high school English language arts classroom.

Literature circles are a cooperative learning strategy, a means for having students work together in small groups to share thoughts and ideas. Basically, a literature circle is a cross between the book clubs many adults enjoy and old-fashioned elementary school strategy of reading groups. Literature circles create authentic, yet highly-structured, student-centered conversations about reading choices.

Reading can be a group activity.
Students reading

Choose Your Literature

Literature circles can revolve around almost any type of literature: poems, plays, short stories, or novels. Students can read fiction or nonfiction. The key is that students choose what they read. Students who are reading the same title will form a group, continuing to read and sharing their ideas in the literature circle format.

For example, in a 9th-grade class, one group of students might be reading Romeo and Juliet while another group reads To Kill a Mockingbird. Other groups would read Great Expectations or Of Mice and Men. Students may read aloud in groups or independently at home or in school. They take notes as they read so they can participate in the literature circle discussions.

Team Building

High school students will probably enjoy the independence they feel leading their own discussions. However, as teenagers, they may struggle to stay within the boundaries of a highly structured activity.

They will need team-building lessons that teach them how to work together cooperatively. Team-building lessons teach social skills as students learn how to respond to take feedback and criticism constructively. These lessons should encourage quiet students to speak up more frequently and outgoing students to temper their tendency to dominate discussions.

Everyone Has a Job to Do

Literature circles are structured small group discussions. To ensure that everyone participates, each student has a role that's either assigned by the teacher or selected by the group. There is a set list of jobs and every student has one:

  • Discussion Director - Generates questions that enrich reading comprehension. Questions might include, 'Why do you think the character did that?' Or, 'When do you think the character will figure out what's going on.
  • Vocabulary Enricher - Helps the group learn new words and clarify meaning. The vocabulary enricher may need to look up some words as the group reads and discusses the book.
  • Literary Luminary - Leads the oral reading of the book or passages from the book and helps the group interpret figurative language and draw inferences based on descriptions.
  • Checker - Ensures group members complete assignments and everyone participates in discussions.

There are any number of jobs that might be assigned to a literature group, such as a group summarizer (who keeps written records of the group's discussion) or a text connector (who guides conversations that compare two or more written works). Depending on the project or the book your class is working on, you might incorporate any number of jobs to your class' circles.

The Teacher's Role

The teacher should play no direct role in literature circle discussions. The teacher's job is to facilitate, not administrate. In other words, the teacher makes sure students get into groups and makes sure students are on topic. Possibly the most important contribution the teacher can make is to establish procedures and classroom environment that assure literature circles function smoothly and effectively. That includes teaching students how to perform each group role when establishing the literature circles.

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