Literature Circles

In literature circles, small groups of students gather together to discuss a story they have read. Students talk about events and characters in the book and personal experiences related to the story. Literature circles provide a way for students to engage in critical thinking and reflection as they read and discuss books.  Students may change and add to their understanding of the story as they discuss the story with other readers.  Literature circles help guide students to deeper understanding of what they read through structured discussion and extended written and artistic response.

I implemented literacy circles in a fourth grade classroom last year, and it was a very  successful experience.   Each student was allowed to choose a book from a group of books.  After they chose their book, they  joined their group.  Each student took a turn filling different roles.  The five roles were illustrator, discussion director, summarizer, word finder, and connector.

•  The illustrators were responsible for drawing a picture based on the chapter(s) they read.

 •  The discussion director wrote at least two open-ended questions for the group to discuss.

 •  The summarizers wrote a summary of the pages that were read.

 •  The word finders would find vocabulary words that were significant to the story.

•  The connectors would connect what they read to their own lives.

There was usually four to five students in each group.  I had a chart on the wall that the students could check to see what role they were filling each day.  I acted as a facilitator and walked around the classroom each time the groups met.  I made sure that the students were on-task and they each had a chance to share their information.  I changed the roles at least twice a week.  The students liked some roles more than others, but they all seemed to like the chance to try them all.  The groups met on a regular schedule to discuss their reading.  They used what they created to guide both their reading and discussion.  The topic ideas came from the students.

Literature Circles fall within UDL guidelines because they provide multiple means of

•  representation –  The variety of ways that the information is represented by peers provide options that customize the  display of information.

•  action and  expression – Students have different options on how they can give responses.

•  engagement – Choice of books can enhance relevance, value, and authenticity for the students.

A video of a literature group in action:

One of my favorite things about the literature groups was that I had the time to go around and ask questions like the teacher  did in the video.  It was fun to join in the conversations with each group.  The enthusiasm that the students had for the books was contagious!  During the last week of reading the book, I let the students pick the role they wanted for that week.  It was interesting to see the variety of choices they made.  One wonderful result of using the literature groups was that the students did very well on comprehension questions about the books.   Many students with reading disabilities do not enjoy reading because they don’t comprehend stories because the vocabulary is too difficult for them.  Giving these students extra support while they fill their roles helps them feel comfortable in the groups.  One of the challenges for me was making sure that the books were appropriate for the reading levels of the students in the groups.  I had one student who really wanted to read a book that I thought would be too challenging for him, but I let him choose the book.  It worked out very well because the other members of his group were very supportive, and he ended up showing an excitement for reading that I have never seen in him before.  I think literature circles really help students realize that reading can be enjoyable!


Allen, Jennifer. 2006.  Becoming a Literacy Leader. Portland, ME:  Stenhouse Publishers.

Calkins, L. 2001.  The Art of Teaching Reading. New York:  Longman.


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