Better Late Than Never: I Finally Try Lit Circles

Today my class started literature circles. It's something I've always wanted to try, but haven't until now. In my first two years, it was a mix of fear of letting go of so much control and in the last two years, it just felt like there was never enough time. Luckily, the last days of school provide the perfect freedom for experimentation.

We spent the last week or so practicing each individual role of the literature circle - Discussion Director, Summarizer, Story Connector, Real Life Connector, Word Wizard and Illustrator - so the kids would be ready. These roles vary a bit depending on your resource, but they're more or less universal. I used these worksheets from Super Teacher Worksheets, my current favorite web site, when the kids practiced, but today the students used their reading notebooks.

I can definitely understand my hesitation toward literature circles after today. First of all, it requires a fair amount more planning than a typical lesson. You need to group the students by level, and possibly by interest depending on the students in your class. Then you have to find an appropriate text for each group and multiple copies of each text. That was a tricky step for me, because my school's library didn't have many group sets of books at second and third grade reading levels.

In addition to the planning, you have to make sure the kids are familiar with the roles and protocols of lit circles. I tried to set this up over the past week, but still spent some time today reviewing the roles, establishing the protocol and brainstorming lit circle rules with the students.

After all this we were finally ready to go. I was nervous at first, because my students had been held in during lunch because they weren't listening to the lunch aide. Were they ready for lit circles if they couldn't even line up quietly long enough to go outside and play? Knowing that my management is a little tighter than the school aide's, I opted to forge on. In spite of my worries, the kids did pretty great.

One of my higher level readers was of course overly talkative, and didn't want to do his assigned role. Two of my lower students got confused about their jobs, because they weren't listening carefully during the three times I explained the jobs and asked if anyone had questions. And of course, The Scowler aka Living Inertia, didn't get any of his work done as the Story Connector. All of these were expected bumps in the road though, considering this was the first attempt at lit circles for the students and me.

In some ways I regret not doing this earlier as a teacher or earlier in the year. At the same time, this was a perfect way to help the students establish some independence and try something new for our final days together. I was proud to see the kids staying focused, following directions, doing their different jobs, and most of all, having fun.


Anonymous said…
What were the students responses and thoughts to the literature circle?

Did their reactions show that that it was a meaningful experience?

Were the students that were assigned to each group reading the same book? What were each student's roles? How was their first collaborative team work experience?
Ruben Brosbe said…
My students loved them! That was the favorite part of the whole lesson was how excited they were to be taking part in something that required so much independence.

I believe they had a meaningful experience with the lit circles, and we're going to continue developing them over this next week.

I tried to explain how I ran the lit circles in the post, if you re-read you'll see that the students were grouped by level and given a book and they each had different roles. Some groups worked better than others depending on a few individuals who had trouble following the directions they were given.
Anonymous said…
It seems to me that literature circles take a lot of time and modeling in order for children to really understand the concept of literature circles.

Example: In my pre-k class, I go over the classroom rules/reminders every single day. After 30 days, the children were reading the rules for me. (I used pictures to help them read and understand their classroom reminders).

Second example: Every day I read a story for story time (the child-friendly way to call a read aloud). I read the title, author and title page. After about 35-38 days, the children were reading along in their own books (the book basket that I provided for transitional purposes to keep 4 year olds engaged for those 5 minutes that they need) and said, "Look Ms. G. I found the title page."

How do you really know that they had a meaningful experience besides going on your instinct? Did you monitor the students responses by listening to their conversations or using 'authentic assessment measures'?

How can literature circles be 'fully developed' in the last full week of school? I am sure practically every student in school does NOT have academics on their mind, especially in buildings with no a/c.
Ruben Brosbe said…
Sweet Girl,

I based my decision that the students had a meaningful experience on class discussions we had afterward and by listening to their discussions during the course of the lit circles. Even though the students are carrying out the lit circles pretty much independently, obviously the teacher needs to be actively involved, asking questions and pushing their thinking a bit.

Like you said, it does take a fair amount of set up, which is why I spent more than a week prior to launching lit circles just acquainting the students with the roles. In 3rd grade though the students are a bit more ready for this type of independent work than pre-K, so you might be surprised how well my students have taken to it. It helps as well to have a process chart listing the protocols, rules and roles of literature circles available for my students to reference.

To respond to your comment about students not being focused on academics, that's the surprising and amazing thing! The kids are really into lit circles which is why in some ways it's a great way to end the year because it's made our reading block fresh and engaging. In science and social studies and math I'm also using projects to try keep the kids interested and engaged, so even though we only have 7 days left, the students are surprisingly focused on academics.

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