May 5, 2021

Literature Circles: Selecting and Previewing Texts

Running literature circles in your classroom may seem daunting. Find out how I select books to offer students and having them preview those choices.

The idea of running literature circles in your classroom may be a daunting one. Maybe it is your first go or maybe it didn't work out all that well in the past. This series of blog posts will detail my experiences with literature circles in hopes of making your next go at it a little easier for you, more engaging for your students, and an enjoyable experience for everyone in the classroom. This first post is about selecting books to offer to students and having them preview those choices to find which books they'd like to read.

Selecting Books to Offer
Literature circle choices usually have some thread that binds them together. The choices may be all of the same genre, from the same time period, focused on the same topic, or connected to the same theme. How many book choices you offer will largely depend on your access to books, what your school has available and/or what you are able to purchase. You may also want to think about how many different discussion groups you want to manage in your classroom. More choices will likely mean smaller groups, but you could also break up larger groups of students reading the same book.

As you select books to offer as literature circle choices, you will want to consider offering a variety of difficulty levels,  lengths, and protagonists. Common Sense Media is a great resource for vetting the appropriate age level of a book if you are making a selection before you are able to read the book yourself. 

With class sized around 24 students, I like to offer six different choices. I don't mind having some groups that are smaller and some groups that are larger; three students is usually my minimum and six students is usually my maximum. Most of my book choices will be at grade level, but I like to have at least one choice that is below and one choice that is above grade level to meet different students' reading needs. I handle length the same way; most books will be of the same length, but I like to have at least one choice that is fairly short and one choice that is longer to meet different students' reading needs. When possible, I like to choose protagonists with a variety of ethnicities, backgrounds, and experiences

Physical Previewing
If you able to have students preview physical copies of the choices of books, I put one at least one stack of book choices at each group of student desks and give the students time to preview each of the books, telling them to look at the front cover and read the details on the back (and inside flaps if it is a hardback). I also encourage students to read a few pages to see if the book grabs their interest and the writer's style and organization appeals to them. When students are finished previewing the choices, I have them rank their choices and turn them in to me.

Digital Previewing
If students are going to be previewing the book digitally, I create a Google Slides with a slide for each choice. On each slide, I provide the image of the front cover and a summary of the book. I also include a link to Amazon and show students how to use the "look inside" feature so they can read a few pages. When students are finished previewing the choices, I have them rank their choices in a Google Form to allow for easy sorting.

Other Considerations
Depending on the number of choices I am offering and the number of copies of each I have available to give out, I may have students rank all of the choices or just their top three. In addition to ranking their books, I may also ask students if there are students they do and do not want to work with, the size of the group they'd like to discuss with, and their usual role in discussions : leader, participant, or listener. Since I don't typically start the school year with literature circles, I usually have an idea of which role students take on in discussions, but it is good for students to self identify as later that can be used to help the student set goals for how they will participate in discussions.

Find all of my resources for literature circles here.

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