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What Is a Literature Circle?

By Meghan Perry
Updated: May 23, 2024

A literature circle is a strategy for reading most often used in classroom settings. This type of reading activity can be utilized in elementary, middle, or high school classrooms. This activity is guided by students in the group, and collaboration is one of the key aspects.

In general, literature circles are formed in classrooms by the students instead of by the teacher. Often, teachers will provide a list of book options for students to choose from. The literature circles are then formed by book choice; in other words, students who choose the same book to read will be in the same circle, regardless of their ability levels. The most effective number of group members for a literature circle ranges from four to eight, but the size of each circle may depend on the size of the class.

The difference between a literature circle and a discussion group is that literature circles are generally more structured, but at the same time, they allow for a degree of flexibility. For example, members of the group may be assigned specific roles. One role may be discussion leader. This person would be responsible for creating questions for the group members to discuss during class. Another role may be a summarizer, and this person would be responsible for picking out the most important points of the assigned reading and explaining them to the rest of the circle.

Another role in a literature circle is a connector. The person in this role would use real-life experiences or knowledge and connect them to passages in the text, which may make the text more meaningful for group members, thus enhancing understanding. The illustrator may draw or sketch scenes or events in the reading, which provides another way for the students to see and understand the text.

In addition to specific role assignments, teachers may also assign work to all members of the group. An example of this may be journaling, in which each student reflects individually through writing on the assigned reading. Bringing the journal to the literature circle and sharing some of the entries may provide other topics for discussion. Making note of unknown vocabulary words and finding the meaning of the words may also be tasks assigned to all group members, and the words could then be discussed in class.

While fiction is the most common type of reading material used in literature circles, nonfiction can also be introduced. The main purpose of a literature circle is to get students to think about the text they are reading and make critical judgments. Teachers have many options for how to structure the circles, which allows for flexibility.

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Discussion Comments
By indigomoth — On Nov 29, 2013

@pastanaga - That's not necessarily true. There are plenty of suitable books that are out of copyright these days and they are available for free online. You can print cheap copies through a bookmaking service or you can use computers or tablets to read them.

The Oz series by Frank Baum, for example, is in the public domain, and it's an extremely rich source of literature circle activities if you find the right resources on it.

By pastanaga — On Nov 29, 2013

@browncoat - The problem is that if you give them total choice over what they want to read then you will end up with extremely small circles, because no one will want to read the same book. And lit circles are supposed to broaden their horizons, rather than limit them to just what they have already experienced.

Which is not to say that you can't give them a real choice. Just do it in a form of discussion, where they decide as a class which books are worth studying. You're also going to be limited to whatever books are available through the library, unless you expect all your students to buy a copy of something.

By browncoat — On Nov 28, 2013

If you can, I think it's important to allow the students a real choice of what they want to read. Don't just give them three pre-packaged books, however tempting it might be for you. There's nothing worse for kids than being forced into reading something they aren't going to enjoy. It's better that they read a "shallow" book and enjoy it, than read a complex book and hate it.

And even the most shallow of books can be analyzed if you do it properly. There are so many literature circle worksheets out there, it's almost certain that you can find one for any book the students want to study, or you can make one up for them on the fly.

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