Literature Circles

By Lin, Chia-Hui | Teacher Librarian, February 2004 | Go to article overview
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Literature Circles


Lin, Chia-Hui, Teacher Librarian


Literature circles are a topic of interest to various literacy educators, and their use has been discussed in a variety of academic journals, conference papers and workshops. Teachers at all grade levels utilize literature circles as a vehicle through which students learn to: think critically about literature, express their ideas in oral and written forms, and better enjoy their literacy experiences. The purpose of this ERIC Digest is to introduce some procedures for implementing literature circles and to review some recent findings regarding the benefits of literature circles on students' learning.

ELEMENTS OF LITERATURE CIRCLES

The form taken by literature circles varies according to the students' needs, their abilities and the characteristics of individual classrooms. However, all literature circles share the following three basic elements: diversity, serf-choice and student initiative (Daniels, 2002). Based upon curriculum goals or particular themes students are studying, the teacher selects a set of texts which are either thematically related books of various genres or a body of work by a single author (Brabham & Villaume, 2000; Gilbert, 2000). Learners then are either assigned to a "circle" by their teacher or they may form their own groups, based on students' reading interests or book titles they have selected (Burns, 1998). Within each circle, students are in charge of their own learning and have responsibilities, such as leading discussions and deciding the volume of material to be read for each meeting (Farinacci, 1998; Peralta-Nash & Dutch, 2000).

PROCEDURES FOR IMPLEMENTING LITERATURE CIRCLES

This section will discuss a procedure for implementing literature circles, which includes: reading material selection, community building, number of students in each circle, preparation for discussion and sharing and discussion.

READING MATERIAL SELECTION

The reading materials used in literature circles are important to lively and meaningful discussions (Farinacci, 1998). According to Brabham and Villaume (2000), fiction is the most commonly used reading material in literature circles, although other types of texts, such as nonfiction, picture books and newspaper articles can also be used with great success. Some authors, including Farinacci (1998) and Peralta-Nash and Dutch (2000) have suggested the following criteria for selecting texts to use in literature circles:

* comprehensible to students of different abilities and interests;

* retied students' language needs and skills;

* address issues/topics relevant to students' lives; and

* provoke students' thinking and discussion

After students have selected the reading materials they wish to read, the literature circles are formed in accordance with their reading interests or book titles they choose.

COMMUNITY BUILDING

One belier is that a primary function of literature circles is to create a classroom community in which students and teachers can learn from and with each other (King, 2001). For learners with limited literature circle experience, the teacher may wish to design guidelines that will facilitate activities in the circles, thereby helping the students understand the meaning and importance of the learning communities (Gilbert, 2000). Farinacci (19981 recommends that the teacher discuss the following topics with students:

1. how to handle unknown words;

2. how to respond and provide feedback to circle participants;

3. how to select topics for discussion; and

4. how to get along as a group.

Once students are familiar with the process by which literature circles operate, the teacher can then provide a brief book talk to introduce the characters, plots, length and complexity of each title in the set of texts chosen for students (Farinacci, 1998; Peralta-Nash & Dutch, 2000; Burns, 1998).

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