Yesterday we started literature circles in my 8th grade ELA classes. This is one of my FAVORITE days all year, and I was so excited to come to work! I posted on IG about it, and someone asked me about how to get started. I thought this would be a great place to outline my process for posterity, and it will be a handy reference for me if my memory gets any worse. 🙂 I will say, lit circles are a ton of work for me up front, but once the kids get started, they take ownership of their learning. It’s a great way to end the year and send them off to high school.
The first hurdle is to choose and acquire books. I have been curating a lit circle hoard for a few years, so I have quite a few books to choose from now. The problem is that I bought paperbacks, and they don’t last very long. For the books next year, I actually started a DonorsChoose, and I plan to buy hardcover so they last longer. Just a tip from someone who has done this for quite a while.
The optimal group size for the materials that I have is four students, but I have some groups with 3 or 5 depending on my class size. Any bigger or smaller and it gets a bit dicey when you assign them roles for each meeting.
I also choose books for each class based on the overall reading level of the students. For my higher level classes, I will pull books that are a bit more challenging. For my lower level, I make sure the books are still engaging but maybe a tad shorter or on a lower lexile level.
Here are the books I have for circles this year:
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
- Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
- Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
- Lord of the Flies by William Golding
- Full Tilt by Neal Shusterman
- Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt
- Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor
- Downsiders by Neal Shusterman
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
- Animal Farm by George Orwell
- Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac
- Nothing but the Truth by Avi
- Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins
- Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
- Confederation of Monsters by David Harrell
- Cinder by Marissa Meyer
- The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Luckily for me, I used to teach a comparative literature elective, so I had several copies of a few different books, then we had the sets of the classics that teachers have taught in the past. Because of this, I’m able to offer many genres, reading levels, and topics. I also used this many because we didn’t have enough of 6 different titles to do the same books in each class. It was quite an undertaking to organize, but it’s all worth it when the kids start reading!
The next step I take is to have a Literature Circle Novel Tasting. Download this freebie! I set up tables with the 6 books I’m offering, and I tell the kids a little about each. Then I tell them they can only visit 5 of the 6, so they get to nix one right away. Then they spend 5 minutes with each book answering the questions as they go. Just a tip: Remind them to write the name of the book they are looking at next to the course (Appetizer, Salad…etc.) so they can remember which ones they liked. At the end of the 5 rotations they get to list their top three choices in order of preference. I have always been able to give them one of their top three choices with no real problems.
I take their menus and begin writing down their choices. I make sure I write a 1, 2, or 3 next to their name when I write it under the novel name so I can try to give them their first or second choice. The greatest thing about this part of the process is that I get to make the groups. That means that I can head off any possible problems before they start. Then I finalize and write down a master list.
Then I make a master Job Chart for me to keep for reference and individual job charts for their folders. By making the job charts myself, I can make sure each person does each job at least once in the process. I can also start out the first meeting with a stronger leader in the Inquisitor role, someone who won’t be afraid to speak first.
Each folder has:
- A Welcome to Literature Circles sheet
- Job descriptions
- Job Chart
- Question stems reference sheet for the Inquisitor role
- A bookmark with meeting dates, pages to read, and jobs to do for each section that the students fill out when their group breaks up the book into five sections of reading.
The Big Day
On the first day of literature circles, I put the students in their groups and give them their folders and books. I explain all the materials and ask them to spend 10 minutes breaking the book up into sections. Before they do that, I have given them all the meeting dates so they know if there are certain sections that should be longer or shorter due to time limitations.
After they break it up, they fill out their bookmarks. They can keep this reference in their book and always know what jobs they should be gathering information for as they read. Then the group fills out a Literature Circle Contract and writes their names and book numbers on the back so I can check the novels out to them.
And that’s all she wrote!
After all the sorting and writing and planning and organizing, the workload transfer from me to them. The schedule usually allows for a work day and then a meeting, a work day then a meeting, and so on. That way they get reading time in class and they have an opportunity to ask me any questions or get any supplies they might need to complete their assigned jobs.
If you have specific questions or any comments, I’d love to hear them!