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4 Essentials for Literature Circles in Google Classroom

I love literature circles. I love giving my students ownership of their learning and choice when picking their novles. I also know that humans are social in nature, and literature circles provide the perfect setting for what I call "dinner table talk" about books.

The challenge this school year was bringing the literature circle experience to the hybrid classroom. How could my students read books in groups when half of my students were home and half were in the classroom? How could we meet if we couldn't be any closer than 6 feet?

The answers were in Google (shocking!). Here are the four essentials for implementing literature circles in Google Classroom:

1. Use Digital Book Fittings to help students choose their books.

Book fittings allow students the time to carefully examine the different book titles in literature circles and choose a book that they won't mind being stuck with for a while--hopefully, they'll even love it! I share step by step details in this blog post, but here's the gist: Create a Google Slide deck with the titles and authors of each novel. Grab an image of the front and back cover of each book from Amazon and add it to each slide. Add summaries that you can also copy and paste from Amazon and a link to each novel's Goodreads page.

Post the slide deck to Google Classroom as an assignment. Give students a class period to peruse the books digitally. At the end of the class, ask students to comment in Google Classroom their top three book choices. If the stars align, each student receives their first pick. If you are short on titles or only one student was drawn to one of the books (you'll need at least 2-3 students per literature circle), you may need to ask students to read their second choice instead. I always start by asking for volunteers. Oftentimes, I have a student who was torn between two titles and is willing to switch.

2. Create a spreadsheet for literature circle groups.

Create a spreadsheet in Google Sheets with a list of the book titles and your class periods. If Google Sheets isn't your thing, you could create a simple table in Google Docs or Slides. Record the names of students who are reading each novel and create your literature circle groups of 2-6 students (ideally, groups are 3 or 4 students, but I usually end up with a few small and large groups!). Click here for a quick video tutorial for setting up your spreadsheet.

Keep this spreadsheet open in a tab during the school day--it will become your best friend! As you faciliate Google Meets and set up breakout rooms, this spreadsheet will be your guide so you can quickly add students to their literature circle groups (see next step!).

3. Use Breakout Rooms for literature circle meetings.

Breakout rooms are literature circle's best friends! Here's how I set up every class using breakout rooms in our Google Meet for literature circles:

  1. Students enter class (some students in person, some entering a Google Meet from home).

  2. All students answer an attendance question (usually something standards based that works as a warm up for the day's activity). When in-person students finish, they join our Google Meet. As all students finish, I use my literature circle spreadsheet to place students in breakout rooms.

  3. Student enter breakout rooms and review their previous night's reading. My students complete simple reader's notes for each chapter on the plot, setting, and characters. All groups complete the same notes for their different novels.

  4. I end breakout rooms and teach a mini-lesson focusing on a specific skill and task that students will compelte back in their literature circles. For example, I might discuss how elements of a story interact and ask students to go back to literature circles to find quotes and analyze how setting impacts character or how character's actions influence the plot.

  5. Students return to breakout rooms and work for the remainder of the class period.

You can watch my video tutorial for using breakout rooms for literature circle meetings here:

A tip for hybrid classrooms: to avoid feedback sounds when students join the Google Meet, ask in-person students to bring their own earbuds or headphones. If most students have headphones, you can avoid feedback sounds blasting in kids' ears. You can also ask students in the classroom to turn their volume down for the whole class portions of the lesson. They can turn their volume back up when they join their breakout rooms and usually avoid any feedback.

4. Mix in some individual accountability.

Literature circle activities and discussions help further student's understanding. It's important to measure that understanding using individual summative assessments. My favorite summative assessment for literature circles is a one pager. One pagers are generic enough that they work for any novel in our literature circles. They also promote understanding and are an accurate measure of student learning.

For example, after looking at how elements of a story interact, my students had to create a one page response that showed how the setting impacted one of the main characters in each novel. We were reading historical fiction novels in our literature circles, so students were able to write a RACCE style short answer supported with text based evidence AND find images that reflected the actual settings of our novels. The end result was awesome! I was able to see what students understood, and students were able to deepen their understanding of the time period as they researched accurate photographs to include in their digital one pagers.

The magic of literature circles is still possible in a hybrid or remote classroom. Not only are our students learning reading comprehension and writing skills that they can carry with them through highschool and beyond, they are learning new and important communication skills using technology that is not going away. This is just the beginning of what they will be able to do!

Check out my Digital Literature Circles for any novel where all the work of setting up literature circles is done for you. As always, post your questions and comments below. Let us know if you're using literature circles in your classroom! Happy teaching!

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