Using Literature Circles to Foster Student Success
While there are many variations of literature circles, the goal of each is the same—to encourage students to read. This is a way for students to engage in critical thinking as they read and discuss the book together. As they spend time listening to each other, often their perspectives change about literature because of what they hear their classmates say. The advantages are clear.
What are literature circles?
Small groups of students read the same book and gather regularly during class time to discuss the book in a deeper way. The hope is that this method improves reading comprehension and critical thinking in a fun, interactive way. The circles can be comprised of a few students who have chosen a particular book, with 4-5 circles per class. Or, they can be used with a novel that the whole class reads, and they break into circles to discuss the theme, characters, plot and other literary concepts.
Literature circles have some very powerful benefits:
- They promote cooperation and collaboration among students.
- Through the assigned “jobs” such as “summarizer”, “question writer”, “story mapper”, and “vocabulary finder”, all of the students participate actively and contribute something important to the understanding of the participants.
- Literature circles promote independent learning and new understanding.
- The circle discussions are often a safer place to voice an opinion or thought than in front of the whole class, thus shy learners are drawn out.
- Requiring a literature journal to accompany the group work helps the students write their thoughts down, and reinforces writing skills.
The teacher needs to be prepared to manage any of the following potential drawbacks:
- The main drawback is the assessment—in what way will the students be graded? Will it be a letter grade for having completed the roles each week? Will it be a completion grade? Could it be a participation grade? These are the questions the teacher must answer.
- It is difficult for teachers to give students undivided attention while monitoring the rest of the class, too.
- It can be very easy for the group to get off track.
- Many students don’t know how to function in small groups and have to be monitored closely.
Encouraging students to read and think about the literature on a regular basis is always positive. Accomplishing this through a shared experience of literature circles with classmates enhances the comprehension and participation of each group member. In this way, students are able to take control of their own learning and interpretations in reading. Additionally, choosing the book and the group allows each student to exercise some independence.
Teachers can make this a great experience by focusing on staying adaptable and starting off slowly. Be careful not to assign too much as you introduce the group work, and then as students adjust the assignments can increase. Eventually, they should be able to navigate the roles within the circles themselves. In this way, literature groups can bring another dimension to reading for your students.