Literature Circles

Students and educators meet in small groups to discuss, respond, and reflect on their reading. Sometimes the educator sets up general focus for the discussion, but often it will be set up by the group of students. During the literature circle, the students will gain global understanding of the text, a developing interpretation of the text, a personal reflection, and critical analysis of the text.

The Role of the Educator is:

  • to be a facilitator, and help to set up the circles
  • to read the books or articles and be a member of the group
  • to document what is happening and give feedback
  • to help reflect on the process with the students

Observers Will See:

  • students and educators share their reactions to the text as well as their reactions to the other members' interpretations
  • students and educators discussing books in a positive manner
  • students taking notes and bring their notes to the circle

How It Works 

Key Features of Literature Circles:

  • Students choose their own reading materials.
  • Small temporary groups are formed, based on book choice.
  • Different groups read different books.
  • Groups meet on a regular, predictable schedule to discuss their reading.
  • Students use written or drawn notes to guide both their reading and discussion.
  • Discussion topics come from the students.
  • Group meetings aim to be open, natural conversations about books.
  • In newly forming groups, students play a rotating assortment of task roles.
  • Educators serve as facilitators.
  • Evaluation is by educators' observation and student self-evaluation. A spirit of playfulness and fun pervades the room. When books are finished, readers share with their class mates, and then new groups form around new reading choices.

Daniels, Harvey. 1994. Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in the
Student-Centered Classrooms. York, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.

Classroom Applications

In one classroom with 17 students in grades 6/7/8, students picked various books related to World War II. After discussion the issues in their small groups, the students then had new, heterogeneous groups of people who read different books. The new groups discuss themes and sharing interesting parts of their respective books. "Because the students have already discussed their reading in the original groups, they usually feel confident about their opinions, making the mixed-level groups less intimidating. Those discussions put everyone on equal footing, and give all of the students a chance to learn from each other" (p. 9).

Schleper, David. 1996. Talking About Books. Perspectives in Education and Deafness, 14 (3), January/February.

Good Places to Get Started

We suggest:

Set up several books related to the theme, and then ask students to list their first, second, and third choices. Then decide from that, trying to match interests and abilities. Some good books to use about Martin Luther King, Jr. would be The Story of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Johnny Ray Moore (Level D), Thank You, Dr. King by Robin Reid (K), The Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. by R. Conrad Stein (Q), and Meet Martin Luther King, Jr. by James T. De Kay (S).

These books are excellent for helping educators use literature circles in the classrooms:

  • Hill, Bonnie Campbell et al. 2001. Literature Circles Resource Guide: Teaching Suggestions, Forms, Sample Book Lists and Database. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon Publishers, ISBN 1-929024-23-1.
  • Day, Jennie Pollack et al. 2002. Moving Forward with Literature Circles. NY: Scholastic, ISBN 0-439-17668-9.
  • Daniels, Harvey. 2002. Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs and Reading Groups. York, ME: Stenhouse, ISBN 1-571- 10333-3.

Supportive Research and Descriptive Literature

Day, Jeni Pollack, Dixie Lee Spiegel, Janet McLellan, and Valerie B. Brown. 2002. Moving Forward with Literature Circles. NY: Scholastic, ISBN 0439176689.

Evans, Karen S. 2001. Literature Discussion Groups in the Intermediate Grades: Dilemmas and Possibilities. Newark, DE: International Reading Association, ISBN 0-87207-293-2.

Hartman, Maria. 1992. Talking and Writing: Deaf Teenagers Reading Sarah, Plain and Tall. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 36 (3), 174-181.

Kelly, P.R., N. Farnan, and J. J. Richardson. 1996. Reading Response: A Way to Help Children with Learning Difficulties Think About Literature. Reading and Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties, 12, 137-148.

Martinez-Roldan, C.M., and J.M. Lopez-Robertson. 2000. Initiating Literature Circles in a First-Grade Bilingual Classroom. The Reading Teacher, 53, 270-281.

Samway, Katherine Davies, and Gail Whang. 1996. Literature Study Circles in a Multicultural Classroom. York, ME: Stenhouse, ISBN 1- 57110-018-0.

Schleper, David R. 1996. Talking about books. Perspectives in Education and Deafness, 14 (3), January/February, 7-10.

Web Resources

Literature Circles for Young Students

Theory to Practice: Literature Circles

What Are Literature Circles?


Allen, Janet. On the Same Page: Shared Reading Beyond the Primary Grades. Portland, ME : Stenhouse Publishers, 2002.

Chase/Pheifer & Associates. Literature Circles: Classroom Teacher's Resource Kit - Literature Circles. Thiensville, WI : Chase/Pheifer & Associates, 2003.

Chase/Pheifer & Associates. Read Write Talk: Literature Circles. Thiensville, WI : Chase/Pheifer & Associates, 1999.

Daniels, Harvey. Literature Circle : Voice and Choice in Book Clubs & Reading Groups. Portland, Maine : Stenhouse Publishers, 2002.

Day, Jennifer Pollack, et al. Moving Forward with Literature Circles: How to Plan Manage, and Evaluate Literature Circles to Deepen Understanding and Foster a Love of Reading, Grades 3-6. New York : Scholastic Professional Books, 2002.

Hill, Bonnie Campbell. Literature Circles and Responses. Norwood, MA : Christopher-Gordon Publishers, 1995.

Hill, Bonnie Campbell. Literature Circles Resource Guide: Teaching Suggestions, Forms, Sample Book Lists and Database. Norwood, MA : Christopher-Gordon Publishers, Inc., 2001.

Noe, Katherine Logan Schlick. Getting Started with Literature Circles. Norwood, Mass. : Christopher-Gordon Publishers, 1999.

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