Literature Circles: Holding Teacher Led Discussions

August 05, 2021

If you are new to literature circles or want enjoy talking about books with your students, teacher led lit circle discussions may be the way to go.

If your students aren't ready for student led discussions during literature circles, teacher led discussions are another option. As I shared before, I am not a fan of using assigned roles during literature circles because students can become overly focused on their role and then don’t have much else to contribute to the discussion. While I've found success with student led discussions, I have found just as much success with teacher led ones.

The Benefits of Teacher Led Discussions
Selfishly I enjoy the teacher led discussions more because I get to take on a much more active role in the discussions and appreciate the joyful interactions with my students as we talk about a book I love and they are hopefully loving just as much. If you are new to literature circles and are nervous about relinquishing too much control (no judgement; I'm type A all the way), teacher led discussions may be a good starting point and you can work toward allowing students to run their own discussions.

When I run student led discussions, they are usually on a weekly basis and students have read a large chunk of text. When I run teacher led discussions, I try to squeeze in two a week because they are a shorter format. To avoid repetitiveness, I alternate discussion preparations between selecting meaningful passages to discuss and generating discussion questions to share with the group. 

If you are new to literature circles or want enjoy talking about books with your students, teacher led lit circle discussions may be the way to go.

Selecting Meaningful Discussion Passages
Before I ask students to select a meaningful passage to discuss from their own text, we practice with a shared text. I use the read aloud that accompanies my literature circles unit, but you could just as easily use a short story, poem, or nonfiction piece that connects to the theme, topic, or genre of your literature circle books. In addition to practicing selecting passages, I provide reflecting questions to prompt students as they select and respond to a passage of choice. The day before a discussion, I give students time to select a passage and write their response to it. Giving some time in class makes it more likely that all students will be prepared and participate.

When we share these passages the next day during our discussion, we use the "Save the Last Word for Me" strategy. One student shares a passage, and all other students respond before the original student shares their response.  I have the original student share a page number before reading the passage out loud so others in the group can follow along in their own books and reread as needed. If possible, I also post the passage on the board for group members to reference. 

If you are new to literature circles or want enjoy talking about books with your students, teacher led lit circle discussions may be the way to go.

Supporting Students
Responding to a passage like this is definitely something my sixth grade students are not used to and the first few times we do this, they may need prompting questions from me as well as sentence frames to help them respond. I do give students the opportunity to pass on responding to a passage someone else has selected (but they can't do this more than once per discussion). I also model different possible responses to the same passage. 

Students may need to work on selecting and passage that sparks a response from others. Sometimes the passage selected is a little too short and sometimes it needs a little context. For more practice, have students do a sort of "sparking" versus "not sparking" passages.

If you are new to literature circles or want enjoy talking about books with your students, teacher led lit circle discussions may be the way to go.

Generating Discussion Questions
I use a similar process for developing discussion questions. I first have students practice with a common text. I provide question stems along side sample questions from that common text. Once students are in their discussion groups we practice again by sorting questions that spark responses versus those that don't. Similar to when groups are discussing selected passages, the student who shares a question is the last to share their response to it and students do have the option to pass. I push students to use specific text evidence as they respond to their peers questions and provide sentence frames so students can build on each others' responses.

Assessing Discussions
Regardless of whether students have selected passages or generated questions, I use the same rubric to score the discussions. Students are graded on their preparation for the discussion, the quality of their comments, and the evidence of them listening to others. Because these are shorter discussions that I facilitate live and grade on the spot, there's no need to record them. However, as students get more comfortable with these types of discussions, you could have students rotate in the role of facilitator and record them for later review by you. 

Read on to learn about the online discussions students are engaged in when I'm running live ones.

If you are new to literature circles or want enjoy talking about books with your students, teacher led lit circle discussions may be the way to go.

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