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Group Work: How to Use Literature Circles

written by: Lenzi Hart • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/9/2012

Literature Circles can encourage discussion and solidify understanding of what is being read in class. But how do you make them truly effective? Find some tips here.

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    What is a "Literature Circle"?

    I'm sure at some point in your educational upbringing you were subjected to the torturous practice of reading a novel aloud in class. Either you had to listen to your peers read aloud like a robot, or better yet you had to listen to your English teacher read aloud who didn't attempt to hide his/her own boredom with the novel they have been teaching for thirty years! Literature Circles are an excellent way to spice up the way you teach and analyze novels by encouraging students to actively discuss and break down the literary works.

    Assign Groups

    Many teachers shy away from group work, because they feel it creates classroom management issues. This could be the case if your group work is not organized, but if you follow the Literature Circle steps below, you will find this to be your most pleasant group work experience! Having smaller, teacher-selected groups also help control the mayhem. You need to comb your roster and create groups of students that not only work well together, but who will also complement the other’s learning styles. Especially at the middle school level, it is essential that teachers assign the groups if you want Literature Circles to be successful in your classroom.

    Assign Jobs

    Doesn’t everyone function more efficiently when they understand their role in a group? Predetermine the “jobs" that each group member must perform. If you type “Literature Circles" into google, you will find tons of suggestions on how to set up a literature circle and different responsibilities to assign to each member. I usually assign a discussion director, vocabulary guru, illustrator, and summarizer for groups of four. After reading the assigned text, this is what each group member is responsible for completing in their Literature Circles:

    • Discussion Director – this group leader is in charge of formulating questions to discuss at the end of the reading. While the discussion director is reading the text, they jot down possible topics the group can discuss as a whole. The discussion director should formulate three or four questions to share with the group.
    • Vocabulary Guru – The guru identifies words that might cause other readers difficulty while they read the text. Selecting five to ten words (depending on the length of the assigned reading), the group will formulate definitions for the words by analyzing them within the context of the sentence.
    • Illustrator – The illustrator draws one or two symbolic pictures that represent the events occurring in the reading. As a group, students discuss the drawings and decipher the illustrator’s deeper meaning behind the drawings.
    • Summarizer – In one or two paragraphs, the Summarizer will do exactly what its job title entails – summarizes what they read. The group reviews the summary and adjusts or adds any details it sees fit.

    Hold Groups Accountable

    In order for any type of group work activity to be productive, you must hold students accountable for their activities. You can grade them based on participation, or print up individual job sheets that the groups fill out during each session and turn in for a grade. If students know that their job will be graded, they will actually do it according to your specifications. Group work is futile and pointless if you do not maintain some sort of accountability.