Tips for Using Literature Circles in Your Middle or High School Classroom

Literature Circles can be an effective and engaging instructional strategy in middle school and high school English Language Arts classrooms. Literature Circles can accommodate a range of reading levels and class sizes which can help facilitate differentiated instruction to meet the diverse academic needs of students. Here are some ways we have used Literature Circles in our classrooms, but please feel free to leave a comment or question to continue the conversation as it relates to students in your classes.

Literature Circles in the Middle and High School Classroom


What are Literature Circles?

  • Students select a book of choice from a controlled range of options (usually, the books are related in some way, sharing a specific theme, time in history, author background, genre, etc.).
  • At regular intervals, students meet with a small group of peers who are reading the same book.
  • During the meetings, each student has a specific role and job/task, which helps to facilitate discussion on characters, plot, theme, and literary devices of their shared book. In addition to grade-level reading standards, this approach also ensures that students grow in their speaking and presentation skills. 

Why Use Literature Circles?

  • Students come with a wide range of experiences and abilities. Literature circles help to differentiate the curriculum without compromising the academic rigor.
  • Giving students a choice in what they're reading leads to increased motivation and engagement.

How To Do Literature Circles:

Step 1

Lay the groundwork. Model the roles and tasks with the class as a whole as you read a whole-class novel. Let students know that you are doing the tasks of specific roles required in Literature Circles so that they pay attention to what the job entails. I use To Kill a Mockingbird as my initial novel, and once a week, we all do one role. It may look something like this:

    • Week 1: All students write discussion questions and practice leading a discussion with a small group.
    • Week 2: All students look for literary devices and present them to peers.
    • Week 3: All students create art based on the novel, and then a few students volunteer to display and discuss their pieces with the class.
    • Week 4: All students look for vocabulary words.
    • Week 5: All students do contextual research.

Going over the roles as a class helps to scaffold the expectations for their own Literature Circles coming up. While Literature Circle roles are not the major focus of the initial unit, I'll assign them about once a week as a homework assignment so that the next unit flows smoothly. For the majority of my TKAM unit, I use a variety of activities and assessments from the Simply Novel To Kill a Mockingbird Unit.

Step 2

Pick Literature Circle books and introduce them to the class. I like to work around a theme and give a variety of texts that will be accessible for some and challenging for others. I use books related to the themes of racial tension and injustice to build on the To Kill a Mockingbird unit. Before students select one of these supplemental novels, I give a brief overview of the novel, including disclaimers for some of the more controversial topics. For example, I give students any trigger warnings (i.e. The Color Purple deals with abuse) in case some students aren't emotionally ready for that content. I also give them an idea about which books are more challenging to read so that they can select a book that is appropriate. Very rarely, I have to directly suggest that a particular student select a specific book. For the most part, they understand which level and content is appropriate for them.

Step 3

Students set up a schedule and pick roles. After students have selected a book, I help them join groups of 3-5 students who chose the same book. If I have a situation where only one student selects a particular book, I require them to switch. When there are more than 5 students interested in a particular book, I break them into 2 groups. When the groups are formed, students must make unanimous decisions about their reading schedule and roles for each meeting. They must have both the schedule and their roles approved by me prior to the first meeting.

Step 4

Have the meetings! Each meeting day, students pull desks together into small groups and present their work to their classmates (specific to their role). I walk around and listen in on conversations and collect all the work at the end.

Step 5

Since all students are reading books around a theme, consider creating writing prompts, class discussions, and other projects that are universal and relate to the overall theme of the unit.

Have you used Literature Circles in your classroom? What technique has been the most successful for you?

We'd love to hear your version, roles, questions, or comments!

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