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Literature Circles: The Simple Guide for Teachers

kids laying down in a circle reading books- Literature Circles: The Simple Guide for Teachers

What is a literature circle in elementary school?

Literature circles are small groups of students, usually 4-6, that meet weekly to discuss a book. Similar to book clubs, the small groups read a book at the same pace and use skills that they learned in guided reading to analyze the book. 

Students are given literature circle roles to practice their reading comprehension skills. Prior to starting literature circles in your classroom, you’ll want to teach the skills of the roles you want students to fulfill, either as a whole class or in guided reading groups. 

What is the goal of literature circles?

The goal of literature circles is for students to independently practice reading comprehension skills that they have learned elsewhere, such as guided reading. This is their opportunity to apply those skills on their own. 

Another goal is that students will learn interpersonal skills and how to work as a group. Literature circle discussions should be mostly student-led. The students will need to learn how to work together to stay on task and complete the group assignments without the teacher being there constantly. 

How do you run a literature circle in elementary?

You can set yourself and your class up for success in literature circles by preparing the framework ahead of time. 

Start by curating a book list for students to choose from. Depending on the size of your class, create a list of 10 or so books (you won’t assign all the books from the list). You’ll want all the books on the book list to have a theme, such as:

  • Author
  • Time period or historical event (colonial America, WW1, ancient civilizations)
  • Genre (science fiction, fantasy, mystery, narrative)
  • Important issues (mental health, homelessness, personal identity)

Give students an opportunity to learn a little bit about each book on your curated list. You can pass the books around your classroom for each student to flip through. I tell students to pay attention to things like the number of pages, the size of the text, and how many words they don’t recognize when they skim the pages. That way, they can get a rough idea of whether the book is on their level.

Or you can turn it into a gallery walk. I like to get a picture of the cover and hang it next to a summary of the book for students to read. If I have the space, I’ll put the book next to the picture as well.

From there, have students rank their top choices of books that they would like to read. Once you have their top choices, you can assign literature circle groups based on both the student’s choices and their ability levels.

Now that students know which book they are reading, you’ll give them a timeline with their weekly reading assignments.

Set aside a consistent time every week that your literature circles can meet to discuss their assigned reading. 

While students meet in their groups, assign each of them a literature circle role. Literature circle roles can include those of the summarizer, illustrator, connector, predictor, and questioner. Check out our Literature Circle Toolkit with posters, instructions, and worksheets for each literature circle role.

Literature Circles Roles 

Learn more about the literature circle roles that are included in our toolkit in the video below:

How many students should be in a literature circle?

There should be roughly 4-6 students in each group. This tends to be enough for students to have a good discussion about the book, but small enough for everyone to participate. If your lit circle groups get much bigger than 6, some students may not fully participate in the discussions.

What do students do in literature circles? 

Now that you have assigned book groups and literature circle roles, it is time to turn the time over to the students. 

Students should discuss what they read, ask questions, and make predictions about what is going to happen next. 

You want students to take ownership during the designated lit circle time, and the discussion should be led by their insights. 

What do teachers do in literature circles?

Lit circles should be student-led, meaning that the teacher should be facilitating discussion in each group but not necessarily leading it. The teacher can walk around and listen in on each group during the designated lit circle time but should be more of an observer, offering help when needed.

How long should a literature circle be?

Set aside 30–50 minutes for your weekly literature circle meetings. You’ll want this to be a consistent time every week so students can plan on it and know when they need to have their assigned reading completed. 

30–50 minutes is typically enough time for students to get into their lit circle roles, discuss the book, and complete any assignments that they need to.

What are literature circle activities?

I usually had a worksheet or something for each role to fill out separately, but then they had questions to answer as a group as well.

Keep students focused and accountable by assigning them jobs. The jobs can be consistent during the entire book or can be switched out every week 

Check out our literature circles toolkit inside Wife Teacher Mommy Club!

How do you make literature circles fun?

Allow the literature circles to be student-led. They should be leading the discussion. As long as it is on task, let the discussion flow where they want it to. By giving students the reins, they will have more fun! 

Rotate the literature circle roles each week. You can mix it up so that there are different roles each week and that a student never has the same role twice. This way, students are practicing a variety of comprehension skills throughout the book. 

How do you assess lit circles?

There are many options for assessing literature circles, from a comprehension quiz to worksheets to projects! You have a lot of options for assessing your students.

In our literature circles toolkit, there is a worksheet to go along with each student’s role. You can have your students fill out the worksheet during their lit circle meeting time and turn it in. This is a great way to see how each group is doing! Also, if you are switching roles weekly, your students will demonstrate a different skill each time.

You can have students do a self-assessment at the end of each literature circle meeting. They can rate themselves on their participation in the group, how well they filled their role, and their understanding of the assigned book. Finally, they can write a summary of the assigned reading for that week. 

Another idea is to not assess the literature circle itself but to do a culminating project when students are finished with the book. They can film a movie trailer to summarize the book, create a book summary poster, do a paper bag book report, or try one of these other creative book report ideas

Resources for Lit Circles:

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