From the very first time I learned of literature circles in college, I’ve always been a fan. My idea about what those “circles” should look like has changed dramatically over the years, but in some form or another they’ve always been an integral piece of my language block.
When I first introduce book groups to students, we all read the same book and have rotating jobs as in traditional literature circles. However, I use this method simply to teach routines and jumpstart conversations around the books that students read. I choose a short, simple title that all students in the room can read and one we can complete fairly quickly. Once students understand the process of being responsible for chapter book readings, responding to what they’ve read, and participating in meaningful conversations about their reading, the process changes. Students then have greater control by helping to select the books that they read, planning their reading assignments, and conducting their own conversations without the structure of assigned jobs.
In these few lessons, I give an overview of getting book groups/ book clubs/ literature circles started in the classroom. The book I chose to use is I Survived: The Sinking of the Titanic [Tarshis, L. (2011). I survived: The sinking of the Titanic. New York, NY: Scholastic Paperbacks]. It was chosen for several reasons including readability, interest among students, and it’s excellent tie-in with our nonfiction unit on the Titanic.
I ask students to collect their notebooks, pencils, Titanic books, and head to their meeting tables. I conduct a quick survey of the room making sure students know their jobs for the day and have the appropriate job sheets. Then I give students their selection assignment and ask that they begin working.
At this point in the process, students have choice in how they complete their reading. Within each group, they can choose to read with a buddy, read independently, or read with their entire table. Students can choose to remain in their assigned meeting area to read or move around the room.
As soon as students finish their reading selection, they are to complete their assigned job independently. Each day, students complete a different job with a specific focus. I whittled my usual eight jobs down to six this year in order to shorten the period of time that students are required to have regimented roles and conversations. As stated earlier, my intention for using these jobs is similar to training wheels on a bike. They’re a way for students to practice having meaningful conversations with the jobs as a guide through the process. They’re not meant to last forever – just for a short time. This year, I gave each job a superhero name to go along with our building’s super hero theme. The choices are:
- Green Guesser
- Captain Character
- Selection Spinner
- Flash Fingers
- Iron Investigator
- Caped Connector
Students have approximately ten minutes to complete their job sheets. If they finish before the rest of their groups, they should read independently.
When everyone has finished, students return to their meeting tables to share their work. They take turns talking about the selection, their assigned jobs, and connections they can make to each other’s work.
Today I will focus my attention to my green group. This group is full of fluent readers who are able to make connections and have great conversations about their reading. However, I’ve noticed recently that they’ve fallen into a sort of slump. Rather than build on what each member shares, they simply read what they’ve written on their pages and move on. I want to challenge them to get back in the habit of having great conversations and remind them that one day soon the role sheets will be gone! In order to be successful at having excellent conversations in the future, they need to be practicing now!
After all groups have shared, I bring everyone’s attention to the front of the room where we have a quick wrap-up of today’s work. I direct the conversation around today’s focus and point out examples of excellent work that I saw or heard while walking the room. Then I preview tomorrow’s assignment, have students collect their materials, and return to their desks.