Beginning Anew

A new school year has started and first quarter is a few days from being complete. A lot of things have been added to the plate, some welcomed, and of course, some not. However, I was excited to delve into a newly updated curriculum will new novels

My freshman classes are finishing our first novel this week, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, where we embarked upon Literature Circles. This is the first time I incorporated this into my teaching. It took a lot of preparation, creating the role sheets and making them fit into my teaching, creating a unit-long schedule (and sticking to it!), and encouraging students to keep discussions going for longer than 15 minutes.

What worked well with the literature circles:

  • The level of interest in reading increased from previous years
  • The level of engagement in discussions increased significantly from previous years
  • Conversations were driven by student inquiry
  • Helped students build relationships with each other

By doing the Membership Grid activity from Mini-Lessons for Literature Circles helped students get to know each other and break the ice before getting down to discussing the reading selection.

What I would do differently:

  • Choose a shorter novel– the students seemed to have become burned out from the long schedule
  • Add a “Researcher” role to the list of possible roles
  • Require that Discussion Director come up with more than five questions– and push them to come up with specific, yet thought-provoking questions
  • Not hesitate as long as I did to pull students from their groups who were refusing to participate
  • Institute reading quizzes from the very beginning. Students can very well complete the role sheets without doing the entire reading. (On Reading Days, students would read while in class, but if they didn’t finish the assigned section, they would not finish it on their own making them ill-prepared for discussions, which isn’t fair to group members.)

Two books I found incredibly helpful:

lit circles

Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in the Student-Centered Classroom by Harvey Daniels


Mini-Lessons for Literature Circles by Harvey Daniels and Nancy Steineke

I am currently considering my next moves in teaching The Book Thief, and am wondering if Literature Circles would be a good fit or if it would be overkill and decrease student motivation. Any thoughts on this? If you’ve done literature circles in your own class, I would be most appreciative for your insight and input!


3 thoughts on “Beginning Anew

  1. I think that with the things you learned the first time that a second time will be even more successful. I also think that as others in our department begin using lit circles in their classrooms that we can all be successful in utilizing this. I’m eager to start this when we begin reading a new novel.

  2. Jim Burke has some great direction on lit circles as well. I used his approach with Huck Finn one year with a class, and it worked pretty well. I LOVE the idea of “Researcher” role–some great implications for creating more relevancy with the novel.

  3. Do you have specific novels that your students have to read? If not, give students 3 or 4 options and put them in to lit circles with their choice book. With my students they tend to complete the reading if they had some choice in what they are reading.

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