I start the class by reminding students of the process. I talk to them about my perception of what a lit circle is. A lit circle consists of a group of people coming together as they read a novel, to build a collective understanding of what they read, as well as to help one another delve deeper into analysis of the novel. Each individual does his or her best to dig into the novel and then share their findings, interpretations, and understandings with their group mates. There will be 4 lit circle discussions in the time frame of this unit. At each discussion, each group member completes a task associated with a role in the discussion that will facilitate meaningful discussion, as well as deeper analysis. Regardless of the skill level of the students, each role and each discussion should take them further than they would get with simple independent reading.
After having this "heart to heart" chat with the kids, I announce the novels and groupings. I remind them prior to doing so that I did my best to honor their wishes, but life is life, and I can't make everything happen all the time. I let them know that the groupings and novel assignments are not up for discussion or negotiation, and are final.
Once the groupings are announced, I ask the students to move into those groups and talk with one another for a couple of minutes. I don't just let them have casual conversation, I ask them to focus the talking on the book they have been assigned and the things they are looking forward to about that specific book. For kids who got their third choice, this helps to build enthusiasm as they hear about the things their group mates are anticipating.
As the groups are talking, I take the opportunity to pass out the copies of each novel. When a student gets his or her copy, they are expected to check it for damage and/or graffiti. Each copy is numbered and I write down the number of the copy each student was given on my list for future reference. It comes in handy when kids lose their copy and have to replace it, or if it gets damaged, or if they accidentally leave it behind somewhere.
Once all of the novels are distributed, checked, and signed out, I lead the students through the next part of the process: calendaring. In order to effectively plan a calendar of events, organize the reading schedule, and assignment of roles, the students need to really understand the roles. They also need to understand how to most effectively determine what sections to read at which point in time in the process.
The roles I use when doing lit circles in my classroom are:
As I introduce each of the roles, I talk about the official expectations for it. I believe the students can not hear it enough, so I plan to do a shortened version of this chat each time I hand out the role sheets in preparation for a discussion. The idea here is that the kids will continue improving each time and rising to the occasion. The more effort I get each student to make, the better the discussions will be, and the better the process will be overall.
The final step in this portion of the process is for the group to work together to determine a calendar to follow. They are charged with determining which sections or chapters of the book need to be read each day in preparation for the four lit circle discussions. I tell the students which day those will take place, and allow them to determine the rest. Once they have this part completed, they call me over to review it and provide feedback if necessary. I want them to be as independent as possible while still helping to ensure they are set up for success.
When a group gets my approval on their calendar, I collect it to make copies for them to glue into their ISNs the next day. They are then expected to determine the jobs that each member will have at each discussion. The only caveat I provide them is that no person may do the same job twice. This ensures that each student will complete four of the seven jobs. The group is required to write these assignments down and submit that to me as well. I will also make copies of this for them to glue into their ISNs. I find that each student having the role assignments and calendar in his or her possession drastically decreases the number of times I hear "I wasn't sure" or "I didn't know" and the like.
To conclude this lesson, I have each student respond to the following question on a sticky note they post on the door when they leave:
Which of the roles you have been assigned are you most excited about completing and why? (YES, you must pick one)
Which of the roles you have been assigned are you least excited about completing and why? (YES, you must pick one)
There are a few ways to look at these responses. One way is simply that the students are making commitments and putting them in writing. The other way, the way I choose to look at it, is that I can better anticipate when certain students may need a little extra prodding and support. In order to easily keep track of this, I recommend keeping a spreadsheet.