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What is the purpose of literature circles? How do you structure a literature circle? How long should Literature Circles last? What is the teacher’s role in literature circles? How do you differentiate a literature circle?

If any of those questions sound familiar or you are looking for ways to shake up your literacy block, Literature Circles (also called Book Clubs) just might be what you need!

I fell in love with literature circles when I first tried them. It is such a great way to make learning more fun and engaging for students while also making them more accountable for their work. Are you interested in learning more? Let’s start with a quick look at the basics.

What are Literature Circles?

Literature Circles, or Book Clubs, are when small groups of students read the same book. Periodically, they meet to discuss what they have read, their understanding of the text and their thinking about it.

These discussions are student-led and generally involve each student having a specific role to play to ensure participation and work completion.

What are the Benefits of Literature Circles?

There are so many reasons why you should introduce book clubs in the classroom.

  • Engagement – Students are reading novels that are of interest to them and are at an appropriate reading level.
  • Accountability – Students are motivated to complete tasks in order to not let down their group members.
  • Learning Skills Development – Independent and group tasks require students to work together, support each other and take on leadership roles.
  • Reading Comprehension Strategies – Students learn and practise reading skills in new and interesting ways
  • Differentiation – Literature Circles are, by their nature, modified to suit the group. All elements of the unit can be altered to accommodate varying levels and ages of students.
  • They’re fun!

NOTE: Our experiences with Literature Circles have been from grades 4-8 (upper elementary and middle school) so this is what the information below focuses on. They can definitely be used in younger and older grades but you may want to make a few changes to fit the age a little better.

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Implementing Literature Circles In The Classroom

How do you run Literature Circles in middle school? To have the most success with literature circles in middle school, have as much as possible organized and prepared from the very start. As students will be working at their own pace to an extent, you will find it so much easier if everything is ready!

Top Tip: Have everything planned, printed and photocopied right from the start! I like to keep all the papers ready-to-go and organized in a file folder organizer like this one. I can simply label a file folder for each category of papers (i.e., one for meetings, one for roles, one for journals, one for assessments, etc…)

Choosing Novels for Book Clubs in the Classroom

First and foremost, the most powerful thing about literature circles is that the students should have voice. This begins with them having choice in the book they will be reading. Please, please, please do not assign specific books to your students!

How many novels do I need?

The number of novels you provide as options will depend on the number of students in your class. I recommend keeping each literature circle group between 4 and 6 students (closer to 4 when possible).

A quick calculation will tell you how many novels will be needed for this round of literature circles plus add a couple more. This way, everyone should be able to read a book they are interested in.

For example, if I have 28 students I know that with groups of 4, I will need 7 books (28/4 = 7). Therefore, I might give my students the choice between 9 or 10 novels.

What novels should I choose?

When selecting novels to use for literature circles, consider your students’ reading levels. You should have novels that cover the range from your weakest to strongest readers.

Additionally, make sure the novels you select provide choices within your students’ reading interests. Do your students enjoy mysteries, funny, heartwarming or historical genres?

Later in the year, you will likely have a good idea already about this, but you could also do a quick reading interest inventory or just poll your class about their favourite book genres.

Finally, while others will say this isn’t necessary, I believe you should have read each of the novels your students are reading. You don’t have to have read them already, but be sure to read the chosen novels BEFORE your students. It is the only way to truly help when needed and accurately check their comprehension.

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Getting Literature Circles Started

Organize Groups – Have students give you their top choices for novels and then make your groups. I like to have *fairly* homogeneous groups for this project. It prevents anyone racing too far ahead or falling behind, allows for a better novel selection AND promotes a feeling of a ‘safer’ place to share their ideas.

Divide Novels – Decide how long you would like the unit to last. I find around 4 weeks is usually good but it will depend on the length of the novels and how much class time you are willing to dedicate. Each group will divide their novel into equal sections (one per week) without breaking chapters.

Assign Roles – Have groups decide who will complete which role for each section of the novel. While students will not complete all roles during a literature circle, they should not complete the same role twice.

Roles in Literature Circles for Middle School

During literature circles, students read independently and complete a role for each section of the novel. This provides them with a place to record their thinking while focusing on different reading comprehension strategies.

These roles may include summarizing the novel section, analyzing an important character, visualizing the setting, and many other ideas. You can vary these depending on what your students have been working on or need more practice with.

I have 6 roles plus Meeting Director. However, as I like to keep groups smaller these don’t all get used all the time. This is helpful in keeping the tasks fresh and interesting for the students as well as the circle discussions.

There should always be a student in charge of running the meetings. This can be a separate job or combined with a reading role. Perhaps the Summarizer or Questioner.

You want to make sure everyone has a chance to be the Meeting Leader at some point if at all possible. This is a great opportunity to demonstrate leadership and assess some learning skills.

How to Assess Literature Circles

This is where you can really let the students be creative! I love to let them choose, from a selection of options, how they will demonstrate their learning.

Make sure you are providing an opportunity for all types of learners to demonstrate what they understand about the novel. For example, some students might excel at a written summary while others would be more successful creating a diorama or performing a song.

Students can be given the choice or assigned 2 or 3 culminating projects that cover a diverse group of learning styles.

In our Literature Circles complete package, you get 10 culminating projects each with an outline and rubric plus an independent written assessment. They are ready to implement in your class for any reading assessments!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Teacher’s Role in Literature Circles?

This will vary depending on your students’ reading levels, age and learning skills. However, as much as possible, the teacher should act as a facilitator to allow the students to develop their own understandings.

Discussions should be student-led with the teacher helping to keep it focused. Ask questions where appropriate to deepen the thinking but don’t provide answers.

How long should literature circles last?

This really depends on a few factors. The length of the book and how much class time you are willing to spare are the main things to consider. Having said that, if the project drags on for too long students will lose interest.

I like to keep it around 4 weeks for the reading (breaking the novel into 4 sections with a meeting each week) plus a week or two for the culminating projects.

During the first weeks, students use their independent reading time each day then we use a good chunk of our literacy block for the actual circle meetings.

When working on the culminating projects, I would give most or all of the literacy block each day.

Can you do Literature Circles with Different Books?

Yes!!! Please do! This is the best thing about literature circles vs. a traditional novel study. Students are reading something they are interested in and at an appropriate learning level.

How do you differentiate a literature circle?

As mentioned before, done properly literature circles are naturally differentiated. Students should be reading a book that they are interested in and that is an appropriate level of difficulty, and length, for their reading skills.

Some other ways to differentiate might be:

  • Reduce the required work for each novel section
  • Scribe or allow text-to-voice technology to write responses
  • Give sentence starters for journals
  • Have students work in pairs to complete novel section roles
  • Assign specific roles to specific students
  • Give more (or less) time to complete tasks
  • Options for the culminating assessment projects
Our variety of culminating tasks provides an option for all students to demonstrate their learning according to their strengths.

Phew, that’s a LOT of information about literature circle roles and activities! While that may seem overwhelming, it is so worth it. My kids always love these projects more than any other part of my literacy program.

Honestly, it is a lot of work at the beginning to get it organized. However, once they start rolling, you really do get to sit back and observe the learning.

If it sounds like something you would love to do but still aren’t sure where to start, or have the time, check out our complete Literature Circles package. It contains all the handouts, rubrics and teacher guides you need to run successful groups from start to finish!

We also have it broken down into smaller sections if you just need a few things to get you started.

So are you ready to try literature circles in your classroom? Do you already run them? What roles or assessments do you like to use? We would love to hear your own book club experiences in the comments below!

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Claire

I'm Claire, a teacher who loves to travel! Together with my husband, we have a combined 40 years of teaching experience and 5 years living and travelling overseas! We're here to help with teaching tips and resources focused on Language Arts, Math and Assessment AND share our best travel ideas with useful itineraries and destination information. Do you teach, travel or both?

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