5 Tips for Planning Literature Circles that Work


Literature circles are engaging, meaningful, and lead students to deeper levels of understanding. Implementing literature circles effectively can lead to powerful learning experiences for your students. Here are five tips that will help you to create literature circles that work:

1. Set Clear Expectations

We often expect students to automatically know how to function in different settings. The fact is, sometimes they need guidance. With literature circles, students are in the driver's seat leading conversations and working more independently than they might be used to. In literature circles, students are often working with friends, and they have lots to talk about that has nothing to do with books! Literature circles are successful tools because they are such a social experience for our kids; we need to harness that energy by teaching them and modeling for them how to use their skills for learning.

Spend the first day of literature circles establishing expectations with students. Set up a chart paper with a list of Dos and Don'ts and ask students to share their best ideas--it's as simple as that. Display the list throughout your literature circle study and refer to it or add to it as often as needed. Kids can also keep a copy of the expectations in their binders/folders. Since the expectations are student created, they have more ownership and drive to follow through on them.

2. Give Every Student a Role

My favorite aspect of literature circles is that they are student driven. Students are doing the work of learning with a little facilitating by the teacher.

Giving each student a role helps to ensure that all students are participating in literature circles, it helps each child to feel essential to their group, and it helps to, once again, set clear expectations for students.

I give my students the following roles for all literature circles we do throughout the school year:

LITERARY LUMINARY: Your role is to help your group to find strong quotes and relevant text-based evidence to support answers.

  • Lead your group in finding quotes from the text that will work to support your answers.

  • Monitor the quality of text-based evidence that your group finds.

​DISCUSSION DIRECTOR: Your role is to lead group discussion.

  • Read through the day’s task question by question.

  • Keep the discussion focused on the day’s task.

TASKMASTER: Your role is to make sure each group member is aware of their role and stays on task.

  • Begin each group meeting by reviewing roles.

  • Keep group members on task with gentle reminders.

  • Keep an eye on time.

QUESTIONER: Your role is to record your group’s questions. You will use these questions to create one page responses at the end of the week.

  • Record questions related to that week’s topic.

  • Group related questions together.

  • Encourage your group to ask questions related to the topic of study.

3. Create Routine

Our first literature circle is usually a little rocky. By the second week, I could stand back and drink coffee and my students wouldn't even know that I'm there. Setting up a routine and sticking to it helps students to master the art of talking books.

Here's our routine:

  • Students start class with a five minute meeting about the previous night's reading. Students complete reader's notes each night (see the foldable reader's note pages I use with my students here). They review their notes and discuss any parts of their reading that had an impact on them. As group members share their ideas, students are encouraged to add to their own notes. In groups, students determine how many pages they have to read each night to finish their novels in a set number of nights (for us this meant dividing the total number of pages by 21 nights/3 weeks).

  • Each day following our five minute meeting, students have set tasks that build towards the creation of a one page reading response on Thursday and Friday of each week. Tasks are most often graphic organizers where students find quotes from the text, explain them, and do an analysis through a certain standards-based lens. For example, when we are discussing the way elements of our story interact (standard RL 3), students find quotes that show they ways the setting impacts the character or the character influences the plot. Literature circles are the perfect place for students to dive deeper into their text. My students always read independently at home, but bring their text to class for closer analysis in literature circles.

  • In the last minutes of class, groups have an opportunity to share some of their best work. This provides motivation and model responses to the class. We end class by making sure students have their reader's notes in their novels and that each student knows the pages they are responsible for reading.

4. Use Timers

Keeping students on task is much easier with timers. YouTube has endless options (linked here), and you can search for specific time limits to fit your students' needs. Insert timers into Google Slides/PowerPoint to display instructions and the timer on screen. To insert a timer from Google Slides, click on Insert > Video and do a YouTube search for timers. Choose a timer and easily add it to your slides.

In each literature circle group, one student is the "task master." This student is tasked with keeping students on task and using the timer to pace group work.

5. Individual Accountability

Literature circles are largely made up of group work, but individual accountability is necessary in order to measure each student's understanding of the work and to help ensure that each group member is contributing to the work of learning.

In our three week literature circle study, each week is set up in a similar way. Monday through Wednesday, students complete group analysis of their novels. On Thursday and Friday, students complete one page responses individually. This allows me to see each student's understanding of the standards we're focusing on that week and of their novels. It also motivates student's work throughout the week. The analysis students complete in groups leads them to stronger individual responses.

Literature circles are one of the best ways to engage students in reading and careful analysis of their texts. Students learn from each other and are pushed to deeper levels of understanding. With these five simple tips, you can successfully implement literature circles in your classroom, too. Enjoy seeing your students reach new levels of understanding and fully engage in their novels.

Do you want to implement literature circles in your classroom without the hassle of creating them? Check out my literature circles for books about the Industrial Revolution here. Check out my Narratives as Mentor texts literature circles here.


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