In a literature circle, students read novels in small groups instead of a whole group setting. Groups can read the same novel, but usually each group is reading different novels. Literature circles are an excellent way to introduce your students to new genres of books and get them excited about reading. Getting started with literature circles allows you to differentiate instruction and ensure all students are learning and building comprehension.
Choosing the Right Book
Find a variety of books to offer students. Some great places to get books are from novel sets in your school library. You can also get books in your local public library or borrow them from other teachers. Another way to collect books is to use bonus points from book orders. You will need about four to five copies of the books you are going to offer. Make sure to get books with varying reading levels that match the reading levels in your class. Try to find books that your struggling readers will enjoy as well.
Some great book choices include the first book in a series, like Lemony Snickets, Artemis Fowl, American Girl, or Bailey School Kids. To find other great ideas for books use your state’s book award list from previous years. It is a good idea to read the books beforehand if you have not already done so. If this is not possible, you need to at least be very familiar with the plot of the books you offer.
Determining Your Groups
Students will enjoy choosing their own books. One way to match students with the right book is to call students up with close to the same reading levels. Set out the books that are the closest reading level match. Continue to do this until all your students have chosen their book. Literature circle groups should be no larger than four or five students. Do not set out more than four or five of the same book, unless you are going to form two groups with the same book.
Allow students to read their books in a variety of ways. Allow partner reading, silent reading, and group reading, in which students read their books together. Make sure to monitor your students carefully when they read together to help them stay on task.
Small Group Instruction
Be sure to meet with each group at least once a week. Your literature circle group or groups that are reading below grade level should be met with at least twice a week if possible. Some small group activities to help build comprehension would be a think aloud with the daily assigned reading. When doing a think aloud, you simply model thoughts that help build comprehension. Start by activitating prior knowledge and asking if students have ever been in a similar situation or had similar feelings to one of the characters. Some great thoughts to express would be, “What is the character going to do next?” or “How did the character feel when this event happened?” Some other thoughts to express are questioning the meaning of unfamiliar words or stopping to picture the setting.
Modeling good reading practices for struggling readers helps give them strategies to build reading skills. Other good small group lesson plans would be to use the daily reading to teach mini-lessons on skills your students are struggling with. Some great skills to teach all of your students include main idea, summary, fact/opinion and character traits.
Reading Comprehension Activities
Some reading comprehension activities to try are to assign each student a job after reading. Jobs include a discussion director, summarizer, illustrator, and word finder. A discussion director is the leader for the group and writes four or five questions about the reading for the group to answer. A summarizer writes a summary of the reading. The illustrator draws a picture of an important part, and the word finder writes down five unfamiliar words, uses context clues to define the words and then looks up the meaning. These jobs are great for readers of all levels. Have students switch jobs daily or weekly. Your groups with struggling readers will need extra reinforcement during this time. This would be a great time to use an at risk facilitator or an inclusion teacher for extra help.
Other reading comprehension activities can be done during reading. You can have students journal as they read. Have them jot them down questions or ideas from the story that they have a hard time understanding. You can also have students make a character map and keep track of a character’s traits and actions throughout the story.
- Computer for publishing (optional)
Writing activities are a wonderful choice to end a literature circle. One writing option includes writing a sequel to the book that they read. Have students write a short story sequel. Have them go through the writing process, including publishing.
Another writing activity that will engage students is to let them become the author. Let them end the story the way they want it. Have them rewrite the last chapter of the book. Again, go through the entire writing process, including publishing. These writing activities help build writing skills.
When students are finished writing their stories, let them share the stories with their literature circle groups and the entire class.
Lights, Camera, Action
- Video camera
This activity will help enhance summary skills. Have students, as a literature circle group, write a script based on the book they read. Make sure they include major events from the story and that each student in the group has a part in the movie. Once the script is finished, give students time to practice. Then, film the movie. You can man the camera or allow a trustworthy student to do it.
Have a screening party once all the movies are done. Pop some popcorn and watch the movies!
- Construction paper (9×12)
- Scissors (optional)
- Glue (optional)
- Felt or fun foam (optional)
Have students create a story map. You can do this as an individual or group activity. This activity is a great teaching tool for story elements. Have students construct a story map using the construction paper that includes setting, characters, problem/solution, and five major plot events. Let students be creative when making their story maps. Allow them to use pictures instead of writing. You can even let them use felt or fun foam to cut out pictures to represent the elements on the story map. When they have finished, let them present to their literature circle group or the entire class.
- Shoe boxes
- Construction paper
- Fun foam (optional)
This is an art activity that students will thoroughly enjoy. It can be done as an individual or group project. Have students create a three dimensional diorama of their favorite part of the story. If doing this as a group project, have the students decide on a favorite part together. Allow students to draw and cut out pictures to glue in the shoe box. Students can even bring in plastic toys or objects from home to complete their diorama.
Rubrics make a wonderful grading option for these literature circle activities. Be sure to clearly communicate your expectations before the activities start. You can even give students a copy of the rubric to grade themselves.