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Literature Circles: A Different Way of Teaching Reading for Children and Adults

Literature Circles

reading circle

“Reading brings us unknown friends” – Honoré de Balzac

The traditional model of the teacher standing in front of the class leading a discussion about a work of literature has been a valid method for literary analysis in the primary grades through high school. This teacher-centered approach has in the past worked for students that already know how to read well and who thrive in such learning environments. For the student that lacks good reading ability and who is bored or antagonistic toward books, the teacher-directed style has not always been ideal to teach critical reading skills and literary comprehension. With the inclusion of special-needs students in the classroom, or for those requiring extra assistance in reading and studying, a new system was needed. Literature circles developed in response to these concerns.

Literature circles evolved from the psychology and education disciplines. Carl Rogers, the 20th century American psychologist, researched and published about learner-centered teaching. Concepts in education such as Reader-response Theory evolved from Roger’s premise in the 1960s. Reader-response theory states that cultural background impacts how a reader perceives and interprets a text. Collaborative Learning, Scaffolding Theory, Independent Reading, Reader-Response Criticism and Student-Centered Learning are some of the influential educational practices that led to this multi-disciplinary approach to teaching reading. Loosely based on book clubs, literature circles are structured activities that occur during the school year. Used in primary grades to high school, literature circles instill love for reading and stress critical evaluation skills that extend to other school subjects. With the advent of technology, virtual literature circles comprised of members in all parts of the world are growing. Webinars and tablet-based formats of literature circles are popular with adults and home-schooled students. Literature circles that previously worked with only printed books are now conducted on electronic devices such as I pads, e-readers, phones, tablets and laptops.

Several small groups of four to six students are formed within the larger class. Students have the responsibility of choosing the reading material and forming temporary groups that last during the reading and study of that work. They also are responsible for regular meeting times and for managing the success of the circle. The structure of literature circles allows students to play roles, thus ensuring that all members participate. The teacher is the facilitator, not the instructor. Assessment and evaluation of work produced in the circle is used for each student’s final grade.

Using role sheet templates designed by the teacher or educational websites and manuals, each student chooses an initial role. The roles are Conversation Captain, Literary Critic, Word Wizard, Summarizer, Concept Connector, Quote/Line Finder, Historian and Summarizer. These titles are not rigid; schools may have different names of the roles, yet the main tasks are the same. The circle may use visuals such as mind maps, graphic organizers or web outlines. This allows students who are not comfortable with writing and analyzing to participate in the circle with the goal of taking on more visible roles. Students acquire greater appreciation of literature in a community of readers.

Kay Castaneda

Bibliography  for further study

Cameron, Sheena, et al. “Engaging Fluent Readers Using Literature Circles.” Literacy Learners: The Middle Years. Feb. 2012. Web. 28 July 2013.

Daniels, Harvey, and Marilyn Bizar. Teaching the Best Practice Way: Methods That Matter, K-12. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse, 2005. Print.

Day, Jeni Pollack. Moving Forward with Literature Circles: How to Plan, Manage, and Evaluate Literature Circles That Deepen Understanding and Foster a Love of Reading. New York: Scholastic Professional, 2002. Print.

“Educator Resources Literature Circles.” Web. 28 July 2013.

“Good Books for Literature Circles.” Literature Circles Resource Center., Web. 28 July 2013.

Hill, Bonnie Campbell, Nancy J. Johnson, and Katherine L. Schlick Noe. Literature Circles and Response. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon, 1995. Print.

Katz, Claudia, and SueAnn Kuby. Literature Circles. Chicago, 2000. Print.

Lamb, Annette, and Larry Johnson. “Literature Learning Ladders.” Web. 28 July 2013.

Perenfein, Deborah, and Brooke Morris. Literature Circles: The Way to Go and How to Get There. Teacher Created Resources, 2004. Print.

Pierce, Margo. “Apps and Ideas for Literature Circles on IPads.” The Journal: Transforming Education Through Technology 28. 12 May 2012. Web. 28 July 2013.

Shelton Strong, Scott J. “Literature Circles in ELT.” ELT Journal 66.2 (2011): 214-23. 18 July 2011. Web. 28 July 2013.

Smith, M. K. “Carl Rogers, Core Conditions and Education.” The Encyclopedia of Informal Education. George Mason University, Web. 28 July 2013.



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