Literature circles and book clubs are a text discussion strategies that supports student-led facilitation and discussion in small groups. By creating roles within each literature circle or book club group and specific tasks for the group to accomplish during their text discussion time, teachers can modify the work to make it more student-centered. These strategies give students the opportunity to engage in and lead deep conversations on the text they are reading.
Engage students in the concept of a Literature Circle by explaining the purpose, the reason and the procedures that make up this activity. Consult the Literature Circle Roles Powerpoint resource below for guidance.
Determine the roles for students within the literature circle group and then explain the different roles and their importance to the students. Use this resource to get started with developing literature circle roles or consult the Literature Circle Role cards resource below to determine and develop roles.
Optional: Consider developing literature circle roles with students by having students brainstorm roles on an anchor chart and the narrowing down that list as a class.
Model a literature circle discussion with a few students using a sample text, Then be sure to debrief the modeled discussion and the roles played by participants in the Literature Circle.
Introduce clear objectives to the Literature Circle and consider displaying them on an anchor chart. To learn more about Anchor Charts, consult the Anchor Chart strategy. For example, some objectives could be that students should:
respond to questions and discussion with relevant and focused comments.
respond to a question with textual evidence
identify and analyze literary elements in text.
ask relevant questions to clarify understanding.
Before engaging in a literature circle, have students meet in their groups to assign literature circle roles. Each student in the group should have one role, so be sure to develop groups so that there is a clear role for each student in the group.
Once students know what their role in the group will be, give them time to write out their thoughts and prepare for their role (e.g., if a student is assigned to be in the role of discussion director, they should write out questions they want to ask the group in advance of the group's meeting).
Give students an allotted period of time in their literature circles. Consider giving each student a certain amount of time in their role before moving on to the next person in the group to share out on his or her role.
After engaging in the literature circle, run a debrief so that students get a chance to share their Literary Circle discussions and learnings with the rest of the class.
Like a literature circle, book club discussions should be structured so that students have clear goals for their discussion and roles in their discussion.
1. Determine the roles for each member of the book club (consult the literature circle roles above for ideas) and put students in groups for their book club discussions.
2. Determine if all students will be discussing the same text or if each group will be reading and discussing separate texts.
3. Provide time for students to meet in their book club groups in order to determine their roles and what to prepare for their upcoming book club meeting (see resource below for an example of a tool to guide the planning process for students).
4. Before students meet in their book clubs, be sure to review with them what a book club should look like and sound like (to learn more about this, consult the Anchor Chart strategy in the Better Lesson Lab).
5. As students are engaging in book club discussions, make sure that each group member is participating equally.
6. After the book club discussion, provide time for students to reflect on the book club discussion via an exit ticket or whole class discussion.
Students can engage in literature circles and book clubs in distance learning either synchronously or asynchronously.
Consider what text(s) students will read and how they will access this text in a distance learning setting. Some resources and ideas to consider:
Many books are available online through Epic books, the National Emergency Library, CommonLit, or Open Library. In addition, Audible is offering students many free books.
Consider a nonfiction book club based on texts from a variety of online sources. Resources like Newsela, Tween Tribune, and Breaking News English make it easy to assign texts using students' individual reading levels, including by their Lexile level.
Consider having students choose their books or text topics and create online literature circles based on student interest. Students can read a series of nonfiction texts on a theme or topic of their choice.
Consider having students listen to a series podcast or watch a few videos as the "text" that they will discuss.
Establish norms, expectations, and student roles for the literature circle. See the BetterLesson strategy "Developing Norms to Support Productive Group Work in Distance Learning" and "Student Roles during Distance Learning." For distance learning some ideas include:
Norms and Expectations: All participants read the agreed upon text, all participants approach the text with an open mind, all participants have their video on during live meetings etc.
Student Roles: Student facilitator/discussion director, notetaker, "chat monitor" (if using Zoom for synchronous meetings), timekeeper etc. For asynchronous meetings, you might designate a student to reach out to all students in the book club to remind them to post by their deadlines.
Be sure to introduce and model the roles for students if these are new.
Determine if you want students to participate in a book club/literature circle that meets synchronously or asynchronously. Consult the resource below to help inform your decision.
For synchronous book club/literature circles:
Consider using the breakout room feature in Zoom to place students manually into their book clubs. For a tutorial, see the Zoom Breakout resource in the resource section below.
Use the initial meeting to develop familiarity with the video platform (use of video, microphone, mute, and chat feature if available).
If students are responsible for developing their own discussion questions, make sure they have done this. Ask students to share questions into the chat feature, into a shared Google document, or have a student share his or her screen with the questions.
Give students an allotted period of time in their literature circles and use an online timer. Consider giving each student a certain amount of time in their role before moving on to the next person in the group to share out on his or her role.
For an asynchronous book club or literature circle:
Create a shared Google document for students to reference that includes the norms and expectations, student roles, number of pages to read, due dates, etc.
Consider using the Google document for students to share their reactions to the book or answer questions. Students could also post on FlipGrid, Padlet, or Verso. Also, consider giving students deadlines to post and requiring students to respond to peers' comments.
Consider providing a video model using Loom or Screencastify of a good book club discussion. Students can watch the video and reflect on what makes the discussion successful. Use the Y-Chart for clear expectations strategy found below. The Y-Chart can be a shared Google document that students add to as they watch the model discussion.
For students with limited technology, you can modify either a synchronous or asynchronous discussion by holding a 1:1 phone conversation with the student. If the book club is synchronous, the student can be on speakerphone or call in, if you are using Zoom. If the book club is asynchronous, after talking with the student, you can post what the student said.
After each meeting of the book club or when the book culminates, have students reflect on the process. Use a Google Form or Survey Monkey to gather feedback from students.
By designating roles to help ensure that all group members take ownership of the group's work, teachers can effectively help support students with disabilities in literature circles and/or book clubs. Building engagement in group work for these students is a good avenue to helping them build overall engagement and investment in their learning.
Assigning and executing roles for literature circles and/or book clubs requires significant executive functioning (task initiation, prioritization, working memory, etc.), emotional regulation, reading, and verbal skills. In order to support students with disabilities in these areas, consider the following modifications:
Teachers who assign student roles for literature circles and/or book clubs should be mindful of learner disability types and needs when designing roles.
Teachers should thoughtfully plan modifications for any roles planned. A variety of modifications should be considered for each role’s responsibilities, i.e. allow students with disabilities in a group access to read aloud for a text or provide sentence stems to write responses to a text for learners with writing impairments.
Use structured handouts that help students with task initiation as well as provide clear benchmarks (bolded words, bulleted lists) to assess task completion when assigning and executing group roles in literature circles and/or book clubs. See the "Team Roles: Accommodated Handout" in the resource section below for more information.
Use visual timers and verbal reminders to help students with task initiation and task completion when assigning and executing roles in literature circles and/or book clubs.
Depending upon the number of students with disabilities present in a classroom, teachers should consider increasing the amount of time they spend on explicitly teaching norms for executing roles in literature circles and/or book clubs. The first few rounds of assigned group work roles in a classroom should be followed by explicit individual and whole group feedback on engagement and task completion.
Literature circles are an excellent way to get learners engaged in reading critically and using their academic language skills in discussion.
English learners participating in literature circles need to read and respond to text in writing. Learners are also required to listen to and share ideas verbally with their peers. In order to support English Learners consider the following modifications:
Approach Literature Circles with the understanding that it's a process and not a one-time activity. Be patient with students are they begin to grasp this task, and repeat the process several times so students internalize it. Be sure to switch students' roles at each literature circle so that all students have a chance to be responsible for each role.
Flipgrid is a video discussion platform great for generating class discussion around topics, videos, or links posted to the class grid. Students can video record their responses to share with the teacher or class.
Set up Flipgrid and students can record the video of their Literature Circles and upload them for the whole class to see. Or, students can engage in a virtual literature circle where they each post their comments and feedback on flipgrid.
Padlet is a digital corkboard type tool that students can use to gather information or reflections. Teachers can easily access each students' Padlet with a shared link.
Set up a padlet for each group and have a column for each group member to share their thoughts electronically. The padlets can be saved and shared with the class.
Explore the Preparing For Our Literary Discussion lesson by 7th Grade ELA teacher teacher Julia Withers included in the resources below to see how students can be prepared in advance of Literature Circles.
Explore the First Day of Lit Circles! lesson by 6th Grade ELA teacher Simone Larson included in the resources below to see how the Literature Circles can be introduced to a classroom with diverse learners.
Explore the Using Diamante Poems as Formative Assessment in Literature Circles lesson by 12th Grade teacher Glenda Funk included in the resources below to see how assessments can incorporated into Literature Circles.