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.
I ask students to collect their notebooks, pencils, Titanic books, and head to their meeting tables. 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.
Today’s job is “Selection Spinner” and its focus is on fictional elements. Students are asked to record details they find about where this part of the text takes place and where. I’m expecting students to find specific details from the text rather than responding with details such as, “on the Titanic” or “at night.” Most of the book takes place on the Titanic and much of it takes place at night. These types of answers aren’t specific to today’s reading and don’t reflect students ability to locate textual evidence. Instead, I want to see students paying close attention to their reading to locate not only explicit details about the setting, but inferred details as well.
Second, students are looking for clues about the text’s main conflict and theme. We are still very early in the text and so there may not be a great deal of clues about either quite yet. However, coupling what we’ve learned in our non-fiction research about the Titanic with what they’ve read so far in the text, students should be able to have some clue as to at least one major problem the characters will face.
Theme is a concept students have struggled with all year long. Again, it is probably too early in the text for students to have a definitive answer as to its theme. Yet I want students to be on the look out for hints about lessons the character or they as readers can learn from the story.
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. Today I’m looking to see if students were, in fact, able to find specific text evidence to support their ideas around three fictional elements. As is my habit, I typically start with the one group that struggles most with this concept. I listen in to their conversations first rather than directing it myself. I try to limit my voice in the discussion as much as possible so that students break their reliance on me as the leader. I step in only when I see them struggling to the point of stalling or to highlight and praise exceptional work.
After spending a few minutes with this group, I move on to the next. It is my hope that this “check and connect” time will jump start meaningful conversations that continue well after I leave.
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.