Strategy: Literature Circles

“Yet education should disturb when possible; it should challenge students’ perspectives, inspire curiosity, and pose questions about why things are the way they are.”

Jim Burke, What’s the Big Idea?

It’s been a nice week. We had Monday off, so we only taught four days this week and grades were due, which I was already caught up on. That said, I got to try something new! Literature circles are a collaborative activity in which students get together, adopt roles, and read and discuss a text. I’ve tried similar activities in the past, but this is something I really want to bring into my classroom on a regular basis. It’s a really fun way of engaging students and holding them accountable.

I found some free worksheets through “Read Write Think” and adapted them to the activity I had in mind. I first explained each role and the worksheet that went with them: Discussion Director, Literary Luminary, Checker, and Vocabulary Enricher. The Discussion Director basically leads his/her group in a discussion about the text and then answers questions. The Literary Luminary finds four passages in the chapter and explains why they’re significant. The Checker ensures everyone is on-task and writes a group evaluation afterwards. The Vocabulary Enricher finds unknown words from the text and defines them. The roles are pretty simple, but it still might take a new teacher to make some adjustments or try again. I then gave my students their chapters. Because we’re a little behind on reading, I had them read four chapters. I have eight tables in my class, so I basically assigned each chapter twice. I tried to differentiate this as much as possible because I have a wide range of students in my classes. The students who have trouble focusing got the shorter chapters, and I checked on them often. The high-achieving students got the longer chapters and were able to stay busy the whole period. We will be jigsawing the chapters on Monday and share what happened in the text. They have a set of comprehensive questions for each chapter that they need to finish.

This worked out surprisingly well! My classes can be a little wild at times, but everyone stayed on-task for the most part! I also gave points for participation. They were able to get a total of 25 participation points by staying on-task and helping their group members. I had a tally system in which each tally they received was worth five points. No one received a zero for participation and most of them received 20-25 points. I was a happy teacher! So, here’s the break-down of the activity:

Pros:

  • Keeps students focused and motivated to get the work done
  • Relatively simple once you get it down
  • Assigns roles to the students and holds them accountable
  • Allows you to push through multiple chapters in one class period
  • Enables you to keep track of participation

Cons:

  • Can be complicated if it’s your first or second time
  • Students miss out on reading all chapters of the book
  • Needs adjustment for struggling readers

Suggestions:

  • Definitely do your research before you assign the activity. I got really confused about the Discussion Director role and will need to re-teach this to them.
  • Model for the class what to do if necessary. I didn’t really need to with my kiddos, but I can see how it would be helpful for some students. If you can’t model what to do, make sure you thoroughly explain each role.
  • Keep track of their participation. As we all know, it’s really easy for students to get distracted when they’re working in groups! Walk around, tally their participation, and remind them to keep working often. Once you’ve made this a routine, it should get easier.
  • Don’t assign really large chapters. It gets very difficult and boring the longer the chapters are.
  • There are many other versions of Literature Circles out there, includings ones that require a group member to draw. Do a little research and you’ll find a plethora of options.
  • Discuss expectations for Lit. Circles and post them in class. There are some good anchor charts out there as examples, or you can create one with your classes.

Overall, I really enjoyed it and I’m eager to try it again in a few weeks. I’m excited to jigsaw our work on Monday! Oh, I forgot to mention I can retire now. I have one student who says daily “this is boring” and he actually said “this was fun” yesterday for the first time ever! I’ve accomplished something rare! I actually made it fun for my eternally-bored student… There is always one, isn’t there?

Anyway, if you have other activities that make reading fun, let me know! Or if you have suggestions, I’d love to hear them. I’m always willing to adjust my teaching methods.

Upcoming posts include: ‘Zine Making for GSA, an analysis of Jim Burke’s What’s the Big Idea?, and more. 

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