Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum
Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum
Literature circles are small discussion groups that focus on reading selected texts. Circle members read their texts together and then plan a way to share the highlights of their reading with the rest of the class.
When introducing students to literature circles, it's important for teachers to ask students to take turns playing assigned roles in the group. One student, for example, should act as the discussion director, developing a list of questions for the group and helping group members discuss the main ideas in the reading. Another student should act as the connector, finding analogies between what the group is reading and what is going on in students' own lives; connectors may also draw analogies between the group's reading and other texts, or ask students to list and share the ways in which they relate to the characters and situations in the reading. Finally, one student should act as a summarizer, preparing a brief synopsis of the text and bringing together the main points of the group's discussion. It is important that students take turns playing each of these roles because each encourages a different cognitive perspective on the text; in trying them all, students experience a variety of ways of analyzing and organizing their reading.
In the classroom, teachers should meet with each small discussion group once a week. That way, while each group has its meeting with the teacher, the other groups can work on their own, reading independently and preparing for their meetings. It is often useful to schedule these meetings over the course of three weeks. During the first week, each group can be introduced to their reading material, and during the following two weeks, each group will read and discuss their materials separately.
Literature circles work well because they are student-centered. They afford students an opportunity to guide their own discussions and to focus on those issues that matter most to them. Also, since literature circles involve cooperative learning, they encourage students to practice communication skills through discussion in their groups and in the final presentation. Moreover, the experience of reading literature in a group can subtly show students how communities are drawn together and changed by cultural texts.