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Teaching Strategies: The Power of Literature Circles

Janelle Cox

If you’ve ever been in a book club, then you know how amazing the benefits can be. A literature circle in your class is pretty much the equivalent of an adult book club: It encourages thoughtful discussion, except that literature circles are much more structured. In fact, literature circles have become the cornerstone for many reading programs in the classroom. Studies have shown that when you implement literature circle teaching strategies, it can have a positive impact on students’ attitudes towards reading, as well their reading abilities, which makes them very powerful teaching strategies to use.

Teaching Strategies: Literature Circles Explained

The overall design of a literature circle is to gather students together into a small group to discuss a piece of literature. Each reading group selects their own book and each group member is given a role or a job to complete. Similar to a book club, students get the opportunity to discuss and reflect what they read in the story or chapter with their group, and engage in critical thinking. Teachers love this strategy because it allows students to take control of their own learning.

The Students’ Roles

Students each have a specific role when using this strategy. Here are the five roles that each student would have while in a literature circle.

  • The Discussion Director – This job entails the student coming up with a list of questions that the group may want to discuss about the chapter they are reading. Their task is to have students in the group talk about the big ideas and share their reactions to the chapter. Some general questions they can ask are, “What is the most important idea in this section?” “Predict what you think will happen next in the book” and “What surprised you the most in this chapter?”
  • The Connector – The connector’s job is to find connections between the chapter that was read and the outside world. Their task is to connect what is happening in their own life (school, home, etc.) with the book.
  • The Illustrator – The job as the illustrator is to draw a picture of something that happened in the chapter read. They can draw a graphic organizer like a story map, or a just a simple sketch.
  • The Literary Illuminator – The literary illuminator’s job is to choose a few parts of the chapter that they thought were special, and that the group would like to hear read again. It’s ultimately up to them to decide which part is worth hearing again. They can read it aloud or have the group reread it to themselves.
  • The Word Wizard – The job of the word wizard is to be on the lookout for important words, or words that are unfamiliar throughout the text. They are allowed to use a dictionary to find out the meaning, then put the meaning into their own words and discuss the words with the group. They are essentially a vocabulary searcher.

The Teacher’s Role

The teacher’s role is simple: Serve as a facilitator. In addition to that, they help develop the groups (or circles), provide a variety of books from one theme or one author for students to choose from, as well as all materials needed. They keep the students on task and help to provide ideas for group discussion, as well as create extension projects like a reader’s theater to help further students’ knowledge and learning.

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Why You Should Try this Strategy

There are three main reasons why all classrooms should use literature circles. The first: Students gain control of their own learning. Second, students gain independence and get the opportunity to learn from their peers. Third, students get a chance to use their voice instead of always listening to the teacher talk. Here we’ll break down these three reasons a little further.

Students Gain Control of Their Learning

One of the many benefits of using literature circles in your classroom is that it gives your students a voice and choice when it comes to their own learning. When students get to choose their own reading materials, they will be more apt to want to read the book. Granted, the teacher allows them to choose between a few books of their choosing, but it’s still a choice the students get to make and not the teacher. Research has shown that when students are offered a choice, they tend to be more motivated to learn which leads to deeper engagement.

Students Gain Independence

Much like cooperative learning, literature circles make students depend upon themselves and their peers. They teach students to use each other as resources to help them complete their task. This independence will not only help students in this subject, but all of their subjects in school.

Students Get a Voice

Most of the school day is spent listening to the teacher teach. Literature circles offer students the opportunity to voice their opinion, work with others, as well as talk to students they may never talk to outside of the classroom. It also helps them learn communication skills that they’ll use for the rest of their lives.

Literature circles are a powerful tool to use in your classroom. If you really want to get your students excited about reading, then allow them to choose their own books and talk about them with their peers.

What do you think of using literature circles as teaching strategies? Do you use them in your classroom? We would love to hear your thoughts about this topic in the comment section below.


Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @empoweringed, on Facebook at Empowering K12 Educators, or contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.