Literature Circles: Grouping Students & Holding The First Meeting

July 27, 2021

Create literature circle discussion groups, in which students will feel comfortable sharing and build excitement with their first group meeting.

Group dynamics are important during literature circles. If you want to get beyond surface level responses, students must be comfortable with you and other students. Your classroom must be an environment where they feel comfortable sharing and not be concerned with what constitutes the "right" thing to say. In addition to selecting texts and having students preview them, before getting into literature circles you will need to make sure students are ready for a departure from a typical novel study.

Building Up To Literature Circles
Literature circles is not something I jump right into at the beginning of the year. I start the year with shorter fiction and nonfiction pieces, then a whole class novel study, then more shorter fiction and nonfiction pieces before I introduce literature circles, which are usually a new concept to sixth graders. 

We frequently work in different collaborative groups, some assigned by me and some chosen by students, so by the time we reach our literature circle unit, students are comfortable working in groups and with many different students. Through all of the different texts we have read, students have also moved away from low level questioning answered with basic text details to higher level thinking requiring careful selection of text evidence. They know that I'm not looking for one "right" answer so they shouldn't be either. 

Setting Up Literature Circle Groups
After students have previewed the texts and ranked their preferences, I first match as many students as possible with their first choice, especially students who I know have struggled to engage with books in the past. Then I review the list of who students do and don’t want to work with and make any shifts as necessary. Depending on class dynamics, I may lean toward including students in a group who are close friends or including students who I know will challenge each other's thinking as they read.

I usually offer six book choices and end up with one group per title per class, with two to six students in each group in each class. These are the groups that will have live discussions. I also create groups across my classes for the “online discussions” my students have. I like to have at least four students in a group, but will allow two or three students when I know they feel strongly about the book selection and won't need much motivation from other students to keep up with their reading.

Once I have the groups sorted out, I create a Google Classrooms for each book choice and have students join these groups on day one of our literature circles. Setting up these Google Classrooms just for literature circles makes it easier to assign text specific assignments to all of my classes at once. I can also more easily assign a shared Google Doc to a specific group of students.

The First Meeting
Literature circles come with a certain level of excitement because students get to select a book rather than being assigned one, and I want to continue to build on that excitement during their first meeting. The first order of business is to review the reading calendar. 

You may choose to create a reading calendar for students, including the days they'll meet for discussions as well as the pages they should be reading each day or week. Another possibility is to allow students to create their own reading calendars around the days you've designated for discussions. This is an opportunity to continue to build excitement. Students are thrilled that they get to decide what they'll read and when. Students may choose to divide the pages or chapters into equal sections or tailor their calendars around personal commitments. After the reading calendar is decided upon, I make a copy and post it in the group's Google Classroom for easy access. As with books that we read together in my classroom, students know that they can always read ahead, but are not allowed to spoil the book for others.

Then we make bookmarks! I use this video to teach students how to make a basic corner bookmark. Once they've got a basic corner bookmark, we do a Google image search for ideas on how to take it to the next level. Bookmarks transform into bunnies, cats, owls, monsters, cartoon characters, and more. This activity is fun and practical. Students now all have a way of marking where they are in their book and the book marks help identify whose book is whose.

The last and arguably most important thing to do during this first meeting is to give students time to read and talk about their books. I give students 15-20 minutes daily to read in class (in a 80-90 minute block period), but on the first day I may limit it to 10 to let students read a few pages and then informally chat with their group about what they are liking about the book so far. This is also an opportunity to talk about the pace at which students read and how much time they'll need to dedicate to reading each day or week to keep up with their group's reading calendar.

Read on for how I structure student led literature circle discussions.

Create literature circle discussion groups, in which students will feel comfortable sharing and build excitement with their first group meeting.

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