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 “Flash Fingers” and its focus is the big idea and an illustration of it. Similar to day one’s task, this job requires students to think about the main idea of the selection. As they read today’s passage, are they able to pick out what is important? Can they determine what events are meaningful to the plot as a whole? Can they explain how this selection builds upon others that came before? Have they learned more about a main character or did they meet someone new? Does this selection provide foreshadowing about what might come next?
When they are finished, they must write a sentence or two that explains what they believe to be the big idea. Then, they are to show that big idea in a detailed illustration. I explain that students cannot simply draw a stick figure or two and move on. Instead, the illustration should be detailed enough that someone else could look at it and know exactly which characters were involved and what was happening without reading the big idea.
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 how well students illustrated the big idea. Of course I’m not judging their artistic ability. If this were true of my own work, I would surely fail! Rather, I want to make sure students’ illustrations reflect thought and understanding of the selection. I’m interested to see how illustrations differ between students and the specific events they’ve chosen as most important.
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 one 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.