How are Literature Circles collaborative learning?By Kelsey McGuinty

Collaborative Learning

It has been shown that students work best when they are engaged with what they are doing. While there are many different ways of doing this, it seems that collaborative learning works to promote this engagement as well as building social skills. Collaborative learning can be used when it comes to group projects and other assignments within a unit, but this type of learning can also be utilized as a means for an entire unit such as literature circles in a novel study as will be outlined in this page.
Using literature circles for a novel study is just one example of how you can use group learning in the Language Arts classroom. Even just Googling "novel study" you find so many different resources and different ways to get the students actively engaging with their material. However it is very advantageous for the student if literature circles are utilized in their classroom. Literature circles allow for an aspect of socialization that group work offers. It gives the students the opportunity to work with each other because, as you will read, there are roles that each student will have in their group giving everyone the responsibility of being a key member in their group. It is also understood that not every novel studied will be suitable for literature circles, that being said literature circles can also be used and manipulated in any way that makes it work for any novel in the ELA classroom.

The Novel Study - Literature Circles

There has been a lot of research done into various ways of teaching English language arts in the classroom and literature circles have been proven to be effective ways of teaching students English Language Arts. Using literature circles also fulfills the ELA General Learning Outcomes and the revolving roles in the circles allow students to take ownership of their own learning. Literature circles can also enhance classroom community because students learn to work together and assist each other and it is less humiliating to make a mistake in a small group of peers than it is in front of the whole class so it creates that support.

  • 1.1 Discover and explore
  • 1.2 Clarify and extend
  • 4.3 Present and Share
  • 5.1 Respect others and strengthen community
  • 5.2 Work within a group

The revolving roles in the circles allow students to take ownership of their own learning. Literature circles can also enhance classroom community because students learn to work together and assist each other and it is less humiliating to make a mistake in a small group of peers than it is in front of the whole class so it creates that support.

Literature Circle Roles

  1. Discussion Director: Responsible for initiating and maintaining discussion and keeping everyone on task. Also make sure every member contributes their role to the group.
  2. Summarizer: Take notes so that there is a brief summary of the discussion. It should include date, recorder’s name, and list of members present.
  3. Connector: You connect your book to other aspects of your life and your class that helped you understands different aspects of the book etc.
  4. Literary Luminary: Highlight passages that you find interesting, puzzling, moving, funny etc. Read them aloud to the group and explain why you chose them.
  5. Travel Tracer: Track where the action in the novel is taking place. Describe the setting in each chapter in detail either in words or illustration, web etc. and show and discuss with your group so that everyone in your group knows where things are happening.

Note: These roles can differ in title depending on which site you get them from. These roles in particular were taken from the following site:

Differentiation Strategies

For those students who find reading difficult or intimidating, there are a number of strategies that allow for these students to go through the same novel without the stress. A few of these options are:

  • Audio books- this allows for the student to follow along in their own book, giving them a chance to see the word while also seeing how it is pronounced. They are also fairly easy to access, and are not distracting to other students.
  • Larger print books- this is good for students who have problems following the smaller print of novels and/or have visual impairments.
  • Reading buddies- this strategy is good for a number of reasons. Firstly, it allows for a good reader to work with a reader who might not be as strong. It is also good because if either of them are having problems with the subject matter, they can help each other out.
  • Flexible grouping: Allows students to work with different individuals of varying abilities and can be based on student interest or need. Flexible grouping also recognizes that reading success is a function of both the text and the environment. Flexible grouping recognizes that every member has value because they all bring different experiences to the reading regardless of skill.

Classroom Management Strategies

It is important to introduce the literature circle in a very clear way. This will set up the rest of the unit. By going through all of the roles one by one each student can get a good idea of what is expected of them. This is a necessary step because in order for the daily literature circles to go smoothly, everyone needs to understand what their role is. This will also help to eleminate potential classroom management because each student will be busy with their role. It is also good to make sure that everyone understands the expectations of each role because the students will rotate through the different roles, making sure that they perform in each role atleast once through the novel study.
It is also vital to make sure that your students know how to participate in a group setting because this does involve much more than the traditional lecture or individual based assignments. Depending on the group it might be necessary to give a few minilessons on what it means to be an effective group member and how to commicate your thoughts in a respectful way.

Assessment Strategies

  • Pre-assessment: We recommend that a novel study like this be taught later in the year rather than at the beginning because you will have a better knowledge of each students’ baseline reading and language levels before starting the novel study and can accommodate as necessary. This way if you need to be the one to create the groups you will have a good understanding of who should go to together, who should not, etc.

  • Assessment for learning: The literature circles are extremely helpful for monitoring student learning during the unit, as well as your class discussions or anything you may do in your classroom that gives you an idea for where your class is at with their novel, this will hope to eliminate confusion before the end of the unit. The beauty of making your own literature circle activities for your novel study is that you can make it any way you want. It is however suggested that the actual roles are assessment for learning because you can use what the students write, and how they fill out their role sheets, as a way to see if they are reading the novel in such a way that supports what they should be paying attention to.

  • Assessment of learning: These assessments are definitely based on the novel and what you plan on doing with the novel. It also depends on the grade level. There are just so many options when it comes to a novel study. You can also choose to have some of your assessment based on the literature circles themselves and how the student participates with their group. The rubric down below is just one example of the kind of assessment you can do.
* The assignments can be adjusted for group projects if need be.


Helpful Resources

In the University of Lethbridge's curriculum lab you can find the following resources:
Campbell, Bonnie "Literature Circles and Response" - This helpful resource outlines everything from how to choose the right book for literature circles, to using literature circles in a grade one class, and also how literature circles can create a deepening response to literature. There are a number of different papers written by teachers from all over who have used literature circles in their classrooms. This personal response to literature circles is helpful to read because rather than reading why literature circles are good, this book offers real-life experiences from teachers who have used them. Their responses are good resources for novice teachers, as well as teachers who are using literature circles for the first time. A good read if you are thinking about using literature circles and want some further information regarding both personal experiences and looking at how it evokes deeper readings of a text.

Daniels, Harvey. "Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in the Student-Centered Classroom" - This resource is a handy guide on how to start up literature circles in the classroom. It begins with getting started and how to prepare and orient your students around the literature circles, includes materials and role sheets, and even onto how you can evaluate the work the students are doing. Daniels also writes about a key point regarding literature circles, they are simple. Once you get your students acquainted with how the literature circle works it is simple to photocopy extra role sheets and let the students run their own discussions. This book is a good resource because it is set up in a beginning to end kind of way, it starts with "Getting Started" and goes along the whole process from beginning to end including how to implement the circles for all age groups.

Flint, Amy Seely. "Literature Circles"- The book begins by discussing the author's personal response when she first saw literature circles in action, it then continues on to discuss how to include literature circles in your classroom. Flint also discusses an aspect of literature circles that is important, and that is the classroom environment. This is important because the environment of the classroom dictates how scaffolded the literature circles need to be. Which is something that teachers pay attention to on a daily basis, but it was good to see that in this resource because it is a key aspect of the classroom that needs to be paid attention to. Overall this small resource is a good read for a teacher looking into literature circles.

Rogers, Warren. "Literature Circles" by Warren Rogers - This book is helpful because it includes the theory behind literature circles and the process to use them in your own classroom. It also includes role handouts that you can replicate as much as you need. Finally it offers minilessons on how to manage a group effectively and also how to communicate effecively in a group setting, both of these lessons are geared towards teaching students how they can be productive group member.


Instructional strategies online:
Collaborative Learning:

Sousa, D. A., & Tomlinson, C. A. (2011). Differentiation and the Brain. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.