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Literature circles: the details

In my first literature circle post, I gave an overall explanation about the purpose and how the initial meeting goes and left a few mini book reviews. In my second lit circle post, I pointed you guys to sources if you wanted to kick off your own. In this last (for now) lit circle post, I just want to get into the nitty gritty of how I implement this in my middle school classroom.

In Numbers:

3-5 students per group
4-5 weeks per book
2 independent preparation sessions per week
1 lit circle discussion per week
25 minutes per session
1 role per week
1 reflection per week

In terms of timing, I like to introduce the literature circle after having finished an especially hefty novel.  Currently, I aim to do about two to three literature circles a year, with one of them being thematically aligned with history.

With that said, here is how I introduce literature circles to my class. I use the roles provided to me by my instructor. I’d be happy to send it to you — just tweet me at @JuniaTweets and we can connect from there. The schedule below is based on a 5-days/week schedule. You can adjust in anyway you want!

Preparation Week (0)

Day 1:

  • Read a short story together in class.
  • Pick one that has special meaning. Gary Soto, Langston Hughes, and Sandra Cisneros all provide great short stories.

Day 2:

  • I walk students through the “Reporter” role.
  • We work on the handout together in class, and I model the depth I desire. Then I have students practice in partners “reporting” on the story, as I walk around. At the end of Day 2, students should know how to prepare and present as a Reporter.

Day 3: 

  • I walk students through the “Discussion Director” role.
  • We work on this together in class and I model how I would ask a question and wait for responses. Then I have other students try. At the end of Day 3, students should know how to prepare the “DD” role and how to facilitate a discussion.

I spend today doing “book talks” through all the book choices students have.  If I run out of time, I continue the next day.

Day 4: 

  • I walk students through the “Diction Detective” role.
  • This role is especially confusing to students who are not accustomed to focusing on how word choice could affect setting, theme, or mood. I love this role, and I nitpick like crazy! It’s amazing to see how far students grow in their understanding through this role. This is why I focus a day on this.

I then finish my “book talks” and hype students up to let them know that on Day 5, they will be choosing their books!

Day 5: 

  • I walk students through the “Artist” and “Bridge Builder” roles.
  • For the Artist role, I remind students to not just draw a scene but to focus on how color and symbols can reveal a more complicated concept. For the Bridge Builder, I explain the differences of each bridge and that specific instances trump generalizations.

As students work, I have two or three students go to the back of the room and “graze” through three to four books I have put out. (See: Trial and Error for more information about “Choosing Day.”)

Lit Circle Week 1 — The Weird Week

This week is rough and students will be confused. You will have to explain yourself often, and you will need to walk through this with them slowly. I promise, it’s worth the time!

Day 1:

(25 Minutes)  I announce groups, have students get together, and they plan out how they are going to finish the book by the 4th week. Some students divide pages, some students divide chapters, and some students try to pace themselves by reading more in the beginning and less at the end. They also assign roles for the first Book Circle meeting. I write everything down on a large chart, and I hand out role-specific sheets to each person.

Day 2:

(15-20 minutes)  Students get time to read and prepare for their lit circle. Normally, students would do this on Day 1, but since Day 1 was spent preparing for the rest, I give them an extra day to read in class.

Day 3:

(20-25 minutes)  Independent Preparation

Day 4:

Remind students to prepare!

Day 5:

Lit Circle Meeting 1! (25 minutes)  For the first Lit circle meeting, I give class-wide reminders. About every 5-6 minutes, I call out where students should be (“Reporters should be finishing up now.”) I walk around and take copious notes as I listen to students. I give constant positive feedback and suggestions.

At the end, I give students a self-reflection checklist. Then I provide time for students to assign roles for the next week. I remind them that this week, they did not get the weekend to prepare, but they will have more time this upcoming week to prepare. I go over really great contributions as well. I love this part because since each group is specifically prepared so that students are reading their level books and approaching discussions at a level of accessibility, I get to bring up students who are usually more wary or withdrawn and remark on their contributions.

Lit Circle Weeks 2-4: Regular Schedule

Day 1 and 3:

(25 minutes):  Independent Preparation

Day  5:

Discussion Group Meeting (20-30 minutes — depends on your kids!)

The first round of literature circles was definitely exhausting. I spent much time scrutinizing student contributions, encouraging students to ask “higher” questions, and walking around the classroom. It was also important to keep my mouth shut when it came to their discussions.

I am tempted to end this with “there is no single method to run literature circles,” but to be honest, I was taught this method through a mentor teacher and when I followed it step-by-step, it worked! The second time I did my literature circles with my students, I began to add more of what I wanted to see with my students and assign different roles. This was also because I gave this round a historical theme.

So, with that said, I would suggest that beginners should keep everything simple. Pick great books, do not overload on extra work for the students, and make this a privilege! I used DonorsChoose and received an awesome array of books because of the generosity of friends and of a local foundation. DonorsChoose loves literacy-based projects, so I really encourage you to look at these outside sources.

Questions? Comments?  I know this is a lot!  I just wanted to get this all out here though, before the school year begins.

Junia Kim About Junia Kim

Junia Kim is a middle school teacher in Oakland, CA. Her favorite genre is YA, her favorite author is CS Lewis, and her favorite YA book is Nancy Farmer’s The House of the Scorpion.



  1. Lolly Robinson Lolly Robinson says:

    We normally try to keep posts short, but I think Junia’s willingness to share EVERY detail for lit circle success was too good to pass up. If they are prepared well, lit circles are a great way to share trade books in the classroom without killing them with stupid quiz and discussion questions. And, As Junia points out, if you set them up right, you get a little time off to sit back and watch the students run the show.

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