How to Launch Literature Circles in your Classroom
Something that has become kind of a buzz word around my school lately is
. I think it's common this time of year for teachers to start to feel a little 'over' their standard guided reading routines. I know when I was in the classroom that things always started to feel a little stale in the spring and I wanted some ways to jazz it up!
For our struggling readers, it's hard to step too far away from the structure routine of small groups, because there is still so much that they need your guidance for. For some of those babies, you could just be one solid guided reading lesson away from a breakthrough, and we know we can't loosen the reigns just yet!
But, we can recognize those kiddos who can stray from our nest a little bit and are ready to apply those reading skills on their own! And that's where many of us decide that it's time to introduce novel studies, book clubs, or literature circles.
like the perfect solution to our problem from a distance, but once we get into them, many of us get overwhelmed and just let them fall apart. OR
take over and turn them in to guided reading lessons with novels, which isn't the purpose of a literature circle.
So, the million dollar question is...
how can we actually work literature circles into our classrooms in a way that facilitates growth in our students, but does not disrupt the classroom routines we have worked so hard to set up??
Friends, I have some ideas for you. I am certainly NOT an expert, but I have years of trial and error on my side. Literature circles have eluded me over and over again, and I have had an embarrassing number of groups of students that
have been able to handle the work of a lit circle on their own, but instead had no success because
teaching fell short. I let them run off with a book with not enough structure or not enough guidance.
I gave a rundown of the list in my Insta stories, if you want the fast version! ;) My husband comes home in the middle of it and I panic a little, so there's some entertainment mixed in there for ya!
1.) Make sure your classroom environment can support literature circles.
The number one mistake I made the first 5 times I tried to start literature circles with my students was I tried to overhaul my classroom to make them work. Instead, you need to make them work with the classroom you already have. Your students still need to be able to move around the way they need to to complete center work, you will still have students meeting with you for reading groups, and you can't have all of that go out the window for one group of students. That's not fair to the rest of your class! Try designating a meeting spot for your students who are in the literature circle. Make this spot known to the rest of your class. This way the other students don't try to use that space to work on other assignments, and your lit circle babies won't be wandering around wasting time trying to find a good spot. Just pick it for them!
Also, make the expectations for gathering supplies and getting started the same as the rest of the centers happening in your room. The actual work of literature circles is complex, and it will overwhelm both you and your students if they have different procedures than what they are used to. If you have a paper tray where things are stored in every other center, do the same for lit circle papers. If students store unfinished work in a particular folder, make those rules apply here, too. It will make the transition much smoother for both you and your students!
2.) Group your students wisely
When you are planning to send your kiddos off to work on something independently from you, you probably consider both the behavioral aspects of the group as well as the academic. That's no different here. Your students may be automatically grouped together if you are trying literature circles for the first time, because you may want to pilot one with your "four highest" kiddos according to a particular piece of data. If you have 4-6 high-achieving kiddos whom you are wanting to put into a literature circle, but you have some behavior issues in there, as well, don't be shy to break the group into two small groups to start out with. You can have them complete the same assignments at the same pace, but it will allow you to all get your feet wet before you dive into a group of six fifth graders all trying to discuss a chapter of a book at the same time! If you need to baby step them, do it! You can join them all together after a few weeks, when the routines have been established. But nothing will interrupt your guided reading groups faster than a bunch of silliness happening in the back corner of your room. The purpose of this is for your students to grow, not to get a break from working, so make sure they understand that by putting them in purposeful peer groups. :)
3.) Know what you want them to do
There are DOZENS of literature circle jobs out there, and they are not all created equal. You have to do a little research about which types of jobs your students may respond to and how the jobs will work with the text. For example: the researcher will have very little work to do if your students are reading a fantasy novel. I never recommend blindly assigning jobs to kiddos, because not all jobs are applicable to every text. Additionally, I haven't found it successful to let the kids choose the jobs for themselves to start off with. They have to experience several different types of jobs to know the roles that they all play within the course of one group. Letting them choose can come later, after they have experienced several jobs within one text, or maybe not even until you get to the second book you are going to have them read that year. My recommendation is to choose 4-6 jobs (depending on how many kids you have in the group), and have them try each of the jobs for no less than 2 chapters of the text (if your text is long enough for that!) This allows them to really learn the way the job works, and to see the value in each piece of the puzzle. If you can, keep those jobs the same for book 2...and then you can maybe let your students cast votes for which jobs they enjoy more. You don't want them to dislike the work they are doing for their group, so you don't want to force them into one job for the length of an entire book, but you also don't want the same kid to be illustrator week after week and never try their hand at anything else! That's not going to promote the growth you are looking for!
4.) Have an idea of how the routine is going to work.
This is where you do the heavy lifting to ensure that you AREN'T doing more work than the students when the time actually comes. You need to decide a few things and be prepared to lay it all out for the students before they meet for the first time on their own. Map out:
-How often you are going to meet with them
-Where their meeting place is going to be
-How you want them to share their work (the order they will speak, etc)
-Accountable talking stems to guide them through their discussion
-What materials they will need to take with them
-What jobs they will do
Knowing all of this ahead of time will help your students be successful through the length of their book. If you try to figure things out as you go, you will have inconsistent behavior and work put forth from the kids, because they will be trying to navigate what their expectations are from you! Take the guess work out of it and plan ahead!
5.) Keep things moving smoothly when you're not there & 6.) HAVE PATIENCE
You're gonna want visual reminders of what to do around every corner. Basically, make it as if you WERE sitting right there with them, even if you aren't. ;) Put those accountable talk stems where you can see them. Give them a contract with rules and procedures that they need to read before they can begin. Give them checklists. Give them cues. AND be prepared to model a whole, whole lot through that first book...and probably the second book...and maybe a little bit of the third. This whole "I'm going to read something and be asked to state my opinion AND listen respectfully to everyone else's opinions" thing is not going to be natural or easy for your babies to do. ESPECIALLY if it's their first time trying it. Think about how many adults you know who still haven't mastered listening respectfully to others! It's hard stuff, y'all! You have to have so much more patience than you think you're going to need. You can't take over and throw it out and turn their book club into a guided reading group 3 weeks in...you need to see it through! Your students will love that you trusted them, and you will feel so proud when you see how much they've grown in their comprehension and their listening skills in just a few short weeks!
I promise it's worth it. But you've gotta be patient. :)
Whew! Y'all are rockstars if you stuck with me through all of this! I really hope you found something in this that you can take back with you.
If you want, my Literature Circles Starter Kit has several handy resources in it that can make set up as simple as pie! Click on any of the pictures in this post to see the listing in my TPT Store. Otherwise, please reach out to me with any literature circle questions, or any other ideas that have worked well for you that you want to share!