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 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 in 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.
Before today, I explained to students the premise of book groups. I wanted to prepare them for the process and not start completely “cold” today. They understand that book groups is one way to read with other students while making connections through texts. I’ve told them about the book they would be reading, gave book talks, and have them excited about the text itself. Because they’ve received so much information in advance, my introduction today is shorter than it typically would be for a new concept.
To begin the period, I remind students that today we begin book groups. I pass out the highly anticipated text and new bookmarks for students to use. I explain that our routine will be the same every day. We will work together for the first several days to get organized and talk about the day’s task. However, the routine will soon become students’ responsibility to manage.
Before explaining today’s task, I introduce students to their groups. I have twenty-five students in each class and have decided to divide each one into five groups. Again, this will change as students begin reading different texts. However, for now our groups are, what I would consider, large. I give each student their group assignment and assign each group a meeting area. Students take their binders, books, and pencils to their group’s meeting area.
As soon as students finish their reading selection, they are to begin their focus sheet of the day. I pass this out and explain it before they begin reading so that they are well prepared to complete it once finished or have the option to begin working on the task while conducting their reading.
The first part of today’s focus is on summary. After reading their selection, students first write a complete summary of today’s passage. I’m looking to see if students are able to pull out the most important ideas and events from a collective reading rather than one chapter. Can they evaluate events to determine which are central to the plot as a whole? Are they able to sift through the “meat” of a text and those details that were meant to support? And can they locate textual evidence to support their answers if asked?
The second part of today’s work is making connections. I ask students to make one connection of any kind about what they’ve read today. This can be a connection to a personal experience, another text, something in the world, anything! This quick check is meant to get them thinking about making links throughout their reading – not just today but every time they read.
Students have approximately ten minutes to complete their daily sheets. If they finish before the rest of their groups, they should read independently.
Within each group, students can choose to read with a buddy, independently, or with their entire tables. They also can choose to remain in their assigned meeting area to read or move around the room. I give students their reading assignment, ask them to write it on their sheets, and have them begin working. Once finished with their reading, students complete their focus sheets independently. They have approximately thirty minutes to complete both their reading and writing.
During this time, I walk the room checking in with groups that need extra support or conduct reading conferences.
As students complete their focus sheets, they return to their assigned meeting area as a signal that they are ready to share their work. If they arrive early, they simply read independently until all members arrive.
Once there, students take turns talking about the selection, their assigned task, and connections they can make to each other’s work. During this time, I continue to walk the room working listening to conversations and helping to spark connections when needed.
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.