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Literature Circles: Purpose & Best Practices

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will discuss the purpose of literature circles and best practices for implementing them in classrooms to engage readers in discussions with their peers about literature.

Definitions

Comedian and actor Will Rogers once said, 'A man only learns in two ways, one by reading, and the other by association with smarter people.' Literature circles combine reading and association with peers to improve learning. Literature circles are a system for students to engage in formal discussions with others who are reading the same book. This helps the student connect to the learning experience.

The Purpose of Literature Circles

What can literature circles do for your students? Literature circles teach students to work together and to view each other as a source of information as they discuss and clarify information for one another during a shared reading experience. Students become engaged in the reading process and learning in general because they are able to make choices about reading materials. The social nature of literature circles makes reading assignments more meaningful.

Students use critical thinking skills as they reflect on the characters, events, literary devices, and personal connections to the story. Responding to the text through structured discussions help students gain more thoughtful insight about the story.

Best Practices

While there is some flexibility in the approach to initiating literature circles, there are certain practices that provide a richer student experience. Since literature circles are student-led, rather than teacher-led experiences, a collaborative and warm classroom culture is necessary to make the literature circle a safe learning environment.

Literature circles are not formed from reading levels or teacher assignments, but are based on book selection. It is important that each student is provided choice in reading materials so that he/she stays engaged.

Students need to be explicitly taught the roles and processes that ensure that everyone is given an equal opportunity to participate. Some of the roles that might be assigned include: discussion director, word wizard, literary luminary, connector, and checker. The roles are rotated at the end of each meeting so that all participants become familiar with each role.

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