If you are considering using literature circles in the classroom, here are 5 essential must-do’s before you begin.
1. Get to know your students before starting literature circles in the classroom.
I wait for at least 6-8 weeks to begin my first round of literature circles. Why do I wait? I want some idea of student reading level and interest. You want to avoid frustration. When you match up a student with a book that’s too challenging, it ruins the positive reading experience that book clubs can nurture and it creates a lot of extra work for yourself.
There are several ways to learn more about your students’ relationships with reading. Here are a few that I use:
Watch and listen to students read their choice novel or class novel. This will give you a lot of the information you need. The first week of school I kneel down next to desks and ask students to read to me in a quiet voice. I also like to write down page numbers of independent reading novels at least once each week so I can track student progress through a book. Here’s a free Status of the Class page that’s perfect for tracking.
You can use a variety of fluency or comprehension assessments. Your school or district may have a particular program they provide. If so, use it! Additionally, your reading program may provide assessments in the text. There are also many quick assessments like the San Diego Quick or the 6-Minute Solution. Also, if you use Accelerated Reader, it may come with a STAR Reading Assessment.
Check student cumulative folders in your school office. Note previous test scores and report card grades & comments. See if there are district reading assessments to help you get a picture of your students as readers.
Whatever you use, the earlier you know this information, the easier it is for you to target the skills you need to teach and which students need modifications.
2. Find book sets you can use for literature circles in the classroom.
This means you’ll need one book for each student in the group and several extra for those who forget their books. You’ll also want to have one copy for a possible adult guest who may choose to participate in your book clubs. Here’s a blog post on finding adults to help with your meetings. I also have a complete blog post on how to find reading material for your literature circles. You can access this post here. Always have extra copies on hand. This will help things run smoothly and reduce the possibility that a student may not be ready to participate when meeting day arrives.
3. Know what you want students gain from literature circles.
You’ll want students reading at or close to their reading levels so that they feel like they get something out of book clubs. Perhaps your focus is different for certain reading groups. For example, I generally have 5-6 reading groups for my book clubs. These groups are organized by reading level. I don’t get too obsessed with exact levels (like 4.8). If I know a student is reading in the range of upper fourth grade, I may put them in a low to mid-fifth grade reading level or an upper fourth grade reading level. I don’t have the resources to hone in exactly, and I’ve never had an issue.
My lowest reading group’s goals are different from my highest reading group’s goals. I have had sixth graders begin their year in my classroom having never completed a novel. You can bet that my goal for this student is to reduce their frustration, support them in any way I can (like having an audio version of the book available), and have them complete this novel and ENJOY it. Generally, this is my goal for my struggling readers. I have a blog post on how to support struggling readers especially during book clubs. Find it here.
For my higher readers, my goals may be to work on their listening and speaking skills and to push them out of their comfort zone. Often these readers may stick to one genre when they have free choice. I like to give them the experience of mixing it up. Additionally, I support this group by encouraging deeper levels of discussion. This above-level reading group will often take longer to complete each meeting because the discussions are powerful and engaging.
4. Use a resource to support you and your students through the meeting process.
Each student should have a role within the group. This role will most likely change with each meeting. Provide engaging work that students do between each meeting day so that they can share their unique perspective and yet feel supported. Remember, many students may have never discussed a novel before. Providing structure and goals helps boost their comfort level. You can find the book club packet that I use here.
It has everything you’ll need for pre-book club set up, suggested novels, work for students, evaluation forms, and post-book club projects.
5. Set a workable timeframe for literature circles in the classroom
By this I mean you’ll want to make sure you allow students enough time to complete the work before each meeting. My book clubs generally run for about 2 1/2 weeks. It’s important to know that you won’t get as much other work done when you have a book clubs session going. I cut back on student work in other subject areas because my goal is to support the book club experience as much as possible.
You’ll also need to plan for teaching students how to participate in book clubs. You will have mini-lessons on a variety of topics to make sure students have the background information they need to be successful. I have a list of possible mini-lessons in the book club packet I use. Find it here.
I require students to have their own choice novel to read when they’ve completed their reading page goal and book club packet work for the next meeting. You’ll always have students who are eager and capable of completing the work ahead of time as well as students who struggle to meet the reading and work goal. Acknowledge this and have work in place for this inevitable situation. It may be that you have figurative language work, which fits so well with the book club experience.
So, there you have it. Book clubs take work on your part, but the time you put in will pay off BIG TIME!
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