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 “Green Guesser” and the focus is on making predictions and inferences. Before reading today’s selection, students must reflect on what they’ve read so far and make a prediction about what happens next. I’m looking for predictions that are grounded in evidence from the text rather than random or disconnected ideas pulled from students’ heads. To ensure this, students must write the pieces of the text that support their predictions and the page number(s) where they were found.
After reading, students make an inference about a character from today’s reading. At this point in the process, students have read several chapters and know the main characters fairly well. They’ve learned basic information about characters such as their ages, if they wear glasses, are married, etc. I’d like them to think deeper about the characters and begin to make inferences about their personality or character based on their actions. The obvious choice would be the main character, however students are free to choose any character in the book to write about. As with the first part of today’s assignment, students must back up their answers with evidence from the text and the page number(s) where it was found.
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 evidence of critical thinking. Making inferences can, at times, be difficult for my students and I was hopeful that they were successful with this task. I will begin my time checking in with students who I know have struggled to do this kind of work in the past. This will allow me extra time to provide support rather than simply stopping by and moving on.
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.