Literature circles are group meetings in which students get together to read, recollect, reflect, and analyze the assigned reading/book. This concept works like a Book Club, in which people meet to discuss the book they have read, reflect on the themes, characters or plot, analyze them, and give their opinion based on their personal experiences (Harvey & Goudvis, 2000). Educators may use this activity to promote comprehension, as well as vocabulary skills. Literature circles may also benefit students who lack confidence in their reading skills as they allow them to have peer support to comprehend the material read. But most important of all: English language learners (ELLs) are included in literature circles and they have the opportunity to interact with English proficient students as they model appropriate language skills.
Working in groups provides ELLs with an opportunity to reflect and relate elements from the reading back to their personal experiences. ELLs may also benefit from interactive oral discussions, which allow them to gain a deeper level of understanding about the subject. Once second language learners have had an opportunity to listen to their peers discuss the book, they can begin to build knowledge and develop higher order thinking skills. Cooperative learning is an important component in literature circles, and this model is most beneficial to ELLs as they begin to participate and expand their vocabulary. Students begin to become active learners as they receive support from their peers and learn English as their second language (Bottini & Grossman, 2005).
Amanda Schutt has created literature circles that also require students to work in centers. She wanted to see her students working cooperatively, but was concerned that some of her ELLs would not be able to participate comfortably. So she decided to make her literature circles "active learning centers." She felt that allowing her students to discuss the assigned book using pictures, charts, and visual representations would benefit ELLs' comprehension of the book. Amanda Schutt allows students to work cooperatively and to learn from each other as she assigns specific tasks for each center, which students need to complete as a group.
- Vocabulary Center — “Definition Detectives” Students are responsible for finding unfamiliar words and describing their meaning, which they later share with the class. Students may choose to either create a presentation or a poster with the definitions they have found.
- Basic Story Elements Center — “Advertising Agents” Students in this group need to find the main idea, characters, and story line to create a movie poster advertisement for the story.
- Summarizing Center — “Cartoon Creators” Students are responsible for summarizing the main parts of the story. They need to write a summarizing sentence for each page or chapter and need to create cartoon frames for each of their sentences.
- Research Center — “Research Wranglers” Students in this group are responsible for looking up information related to the book on the Internet or the school library, which they later present to the classroom in a poster form.
Amanda Schutt also creates groups where ELLs are provided with peer support during these activities. Specifically, if one of her students is having difficulty finding the main idea or plot of the story she will purposely assign the student to the basic elements center or "Advertising Agents." In other words, students are strategically placed in groups in which they can learn from each other and gain confidence. She also highlighted the importance of providing students the opportunity to work in different groups as they read a variety of texts and stories.
The National Council of Teachers of English has posted a variety of literature lessons plans on their website for grades K-12.
This activity posted on ReadWriteThink.org offers educators a step-by-step lesson to begin using literature circles in the classroom. Downloadable worksheets are available to compliment the activity.
This site offers a large variety of literacy center ideas for the early learner in grades K-2, clearly describing each suggestion in a brief sentence or paragraph. This site is an excellent tool for primary grade educators and parents who are seeking activities that promote literacy.