ERIC Identifier: ED469925
Publication Date: 2002-10-00
Author: Lin, Chia-Hui
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Reading English and Communication Bloomington IN.
Literature Circles. ERIC Digest.
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 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, self-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,
PROCEDURES FOR IMPLEMENTING LITERATURE CIRCLES
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.
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
Reflect students' language needs and skills
Address issues/topics relevant to students' lives
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.
One belief 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 (1998) 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).
of Participants in Each Circle
In each literature circle, learners need time and opportunities to express
their ideas and respond to other members in thoughtful and probing ways (Brabham
& Villaume, 2000; Burns, 1998). Brabham & Villaume (2000), as well as
Farinacci (1998) and Burns (1998) suggest that four to eight participants are
the ideal number for a literature circle, although effective discussion may also
occur between as few as two learners or as many as an entire class. Because each
circle is formed according to students' reading interests or book titles they
selected, each group will contain learners of varying reading abilities and
levels, a situation which some authors have found to be beneficial to students'
learning (Brabham & Villaume, 2000; Burns, 1998). When circles are formed,
students will begin to read the materials they have selected and to prepare for
the discussion to follow (Peralta-Nash & Dutch, 2000).
Preparation for discussion involves the students not only becoming familiar
with the text being read but also prepared to fulfill roles in the discussion.
These roles may either be assigned by the teacher or selected by the students,
themselves. Among the roles commonly assigned are: questioner (developing
questions to discuss), illustrators (drawing and/or sharing interesting sections
of the text), literary luminary/passage master (identifying interesting sections
of the text for reading aloud), and connectors (making text-to-text and
text-to-life connections) (Daniels, 2002). Each student is given an assignment
sheet based on his or her role. Students complete their own assignment sheet
before sharing their ideas with other members during their literature circle
discussion and sharing. Alternatively, students may simply write down their
reactions, reflections, questions, or parts that either fascinated or were
unclear to them (Brabham & Villaume, 2000; Farinacci, 1998; Peralta-Nash
& Dutch, 2000; Burns, 1998). In addition, circle participants can prepare
for discussion by creating character webs, using drawing to respond to the text,
and locating different literary devices employed by the authors (Brabham &
Villaume, 2000; Peralta-Nash & Dutch, 2000; Whitin, 2002).
After all members in a circle have finished their reading and role
preparations, they should assemble and begin their discussion. Students should
bring their written responses or assignment sheets and use these as guides for
discussion, but some believe the discussion topics should not be limited by
these (Gilbert, 2000; Peralta-Nash & Dutch, 2000; Burns, 1998). When working
with students having little experience in literature circles, teachers may need
to model appropriate discussion behaviors, including thoughtful responses
regarding the readings, respectful feedback to the interpretations of others,
and good listening and questioning skills. When students have come to understand
the routines and skills of discussion, the teacher can step back and become a
facilitator while students take the primary responsibility for the discussion
(Farinacci, 1998). In addition to discussing and sharing among the members in
the same circle, each group can present their books to the members of other
groups as a final project. Students will thereby have opportunities to learn
about other books of possible interest for reading in future circles
(Peralta-Nash & Dutch, 2000).
of Literature Circles on Student's Learning
This Digest will focus on benefits of literature circles which some studies
have identified. These include: (1) stronger reader-text relationships, (2)
improved classroom climates, (3) enhanced degrees of gender equity and
understanding, and (4) a learning environment more conducive to the needs and
abilities of English language learners.
and Text Relationship
Some studies identified skillful readers as those who not only recognize
words while reading, but for whom the text resonates through association with
related life experiences or literary experiences which are familiar to other
members of the same learning community (Brabham & Villaume, 2000;
Peralta-Nash & Dutch, 2000). Vygotsky (1978) theorized that effective
learning takes place when learners recognize their own needs and are in charge
of their own learning through collaboration with more competent peers and
adults. According to these studies and theory, in literature circles students
have opportunities to create connections between texts and personal experiences,
to listen to various interpretations presented by others, as well as to monitor
and take ownership of their own learning through discussion and sharing with
each other, thereby deepening their understanding and heightening their
enjoyment of the texts.
Literature circles promote classroom climates which are cooperative,
responsible, and enjoyable because students are given the responsibility for
working with each other to make decisions in accordance with their needs and
interests (Burns, 1998). In addition, as students learn to work cooperatively
with each other, to be responsible for their own learning, and to respect
multiple perspectives on topics and issues, they also learn to be better
listeners and more honest with peers (Burns, 1998; Farinacci, 1998; King, 2001).
According to these views, the classroom then becomes a place that is conducive
to democracy and diversity.
Gendered issues, especially the "silenced" adolescent girls in language arts
classrooms, have been a concern among some literacy educators (Benjamin &
Irwin, 1998). Johnson (2000) studied the "girls only" literature circles in the
middle school level and found that adolescent girls in such discussion groups
are more likely to sustain their voices and maintain their sense of self
compared to traditional ones, in which boys often dominate the discussion as
well as draw more attention from the teacher (Orenstein, 1994). Johnson's study
also indicated that girls in such literature circles are more likely to
critically examine gender issues and to question extant female stereotypes in
the society (Johnson, 2000).
According to Peralt-Nash & Dutch (2000), literature circles provide a
low-risk learning environment for children who are learning English as a second
language. When the teacher selects both English and non-English texts to reflect
the needs and abilities of the learners in the same circle, students from both
English speaking and linguistic minority background benefit. Some authors
believe that these students are able to make use of the linguistic resources and
knowledge they possess in order to make sense of the text, to relate it to their
life experience, and to participate in the group discussion in meaningful and
functional ways (Peralta-Nash & Dutch, 2000).
Students' insights and reflections, rather than
ready-to-use questions from the teacher, drive the learning in literature
circles. Students and teacher work together to break away from the traditional
literature teaching methods. These learners also generate their own ideas and
contribute to thoughtful conversation about what they read. This kind of
practice helps to develop thoughtful, competent, and critical readers (Brabham & Villaume, 2000).
Benjamin, B. & Irwin, D.L. (1998). Censoring
Girls' Choices: Continued Gender Bias in English Language Arts Classrooms.
English Journal, 87 (2), 64-71. [EJ 562 364]
Brabham, E.G., & Villaume, S.K. (2000). Questions and answers: Continuing
conversations about literature circles. The Reading Teacher, 54(3), 278-280. [EJ
Burns, B. (1998). Changing the classroom climate with literature circles.
Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 42(2), 124-129. [EJ 573 341]
Daniels, H. (2002). Literature circles: Voice and choice in book clubs and
reading groups. (2nd ed.). Portland, ME: Stenhouse.
Farinacci, M. (1998). "We have so much to talk about": Implementing
literature circles as an action-research project. The Ohio Reading Teacher,
32(2), 4-11. [EJ 600 987]
Gilbert, L. (2000). Getting started: Using literature circles in the
classroom. Primary Voices K-6, 9(1), 9-16. [EJ 617 693]
Johnson, H. (2000). "To stand up and say something": 'Girls only' literature
circles at the middle level". The New Advocate, 13(4), 375-389.
King, C. (2001). "I like group reading because we can share ideas: The role
of talk within the literature circle". Reading, 35(1), 32-36. [EJ 634 509]
Orenstein, P. (1994). Schoolgirls: Young women, self-esteem, and the
confidence gap. New York: Doubleday.
Peralta-Nash, C., & Dutch, J.A. (2000). Literature circles: Creating an
environment for choice. Primary Voices K-6, 8(4), 29-37. [EJ 604 621]
Whitin, P. (2002). Leading into literature circles through the
sketch-to-stretch strategy. The Reading Teacher, 55(5), 444-50. [EJ 640 663]
Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in Society: The development of higher
psychological process. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.