Literature Circles Made Easy

I love using literature circles, or book clubs, during my guided reading groups! I love them because they make lesson planning simple, they give me the opportunity to introduce new authors and series to my students, they give my students the opportunity to practice skills learned in a mini lesson and most importantly...the kids LOVE them! They cheer when it is their day to meet with me and they grumble if we have to cancel due to assemblies or fire drills. Having my students get excited about reading, puts a huge smile on my face.

I have written about literature circles before but I get lots of questions from coworkers and Facebook followers about my literature circles, so I thought I would share the answers here.

When do you find time for literature circles?
I meet with my literature circles Monday-Thursday during my guided reading small group time. My students are divided into four groups. I meet with two groups on Mondays and Wednesdays and the other two groups on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I have an hour to meet with my small groups, so that gives me 30 minutes with each group. I do my very best to devote the majority of every minute of small group to my literature circles. I don't use a text book and I don't use worksheets. Instead we get lost in our books!

What does the average literature circle look like in your class?
My group will come to the back table and get their books out of the box we keep them in. While I am getting other centers settled, my students know that they should go back to the chapter we read last time to review and remind themselves of what is happening in the book. We will then spend the next 20 or so minutes reading. We read many different ways. Sometimes we choral read. Sometimes we popcorn read. And most recently (thanks to my super smart partner teacher), we have been doing silent reading. While they silently read, I have been tapping one student as a time. When I tap them, they begin whisper reading right where they are at until I tap again. We will spend our last 8-10 minutes either discussing what we read or working in our interactive notebooks. Since our meetings are so similar every time, it makes it very easy to lesson plan!

How do you assess reading skills through your literature circles?
I assess through observation, discussions and interactive notebooks. I am able to assess fluency by listening as my students read. After reading a chapter, I ask questions of specific students that target skills we have been working on in our mini lessons. For example, right now we are working on RI.2 which is identifying the main idea and details in informational text. So after we read a chapter, I might say, "Please tell your shoulder partner what the main idea is and use the text to support your claim." Then I just listen in and make marks on my mastery checklist. Any student that didn't answer (maybe they did more listening), will be asked the question specifically the next time we meet and read a new chapter. I know that everyone won't get the skill marked off on the checklist at the same time, but as we continue meeting, I am able to assess everyone at some point.

I also like to use graphic organizers to assess my students. I don't use one every day. I tend to use these more towards the end of our unit on a particular skill. My students glue them into their reading notebooks. I don't want to take too much time away from our reading. Sometimes, I will just observe as students are writing in their notebooks and make notes in my mastery checklist. Other times, I need a percentage grade to be able to add to a report card. If that is the case, I will grade them with a rubric later. These are the organizers that I use in my literature circles.

Book Auctions
Ok, I know this wasn't a question, but these book auctions are so much fun, that I have to tell you about them! Almost anytime we finish a book in my class (a whole group read aloud or a literature circle book), I bring in the next book in the series or another book by the same author. Any child that wants to read that book can put their name on a raffle ticket. I pull one name (while the kids drum roll on their desks). That student gets two weeks to read the book. Then they return it to me and I choose another ticket. I just keep the tickets in  Ziploc bags and label them with the particular book they are for. Almost every week, we are raffling off books to read. My kids are so incredibly excited to read these books! Some of them can't wait to win the auction and so they are going home and begging parents to buy the book. Hello?! Kids begging for books??? This is a teacher's dream come true!

After auctioning the book a few times, I put in in our classroom library. Someone will get lucky and find it there!

Where do you get your books for literature circles?
I got many of my sets of books through Donors Choose. It's so easy to write a grant through Donors Choose. You get to pick the exact titles that you want to ask for. You can send a link to your project to friends, family and your class parents. However, many of my projects have been funded completely by strangers! After it is funded, a big box of goodies arrive in the mail!

How do you organize and store your book sets for literature circles?
I purchased two long and shallow plastic tubs from Walmart 9about $6 each). Each tub is able to fit two rows of books. And both of the tubs fit neatly on one shelf in my cabinet. The buckets are easy to slide out so I can look at the titles.

What are your all time favorite books for literature circles?

I teach third grade. I absolutely love children's books, so it can be very difficult to pick favorites. But I will try!
The World According to Humphrey (perfect for teaching point of view!)
Frindle (perfect for character traits and how they change during a story)
Amelia Bedelia Means Business (great for figurative language and multiple meaning words!)
Lemonade Wars (great for integrating math into literature!)
For informational text, I have lots of the Magic Treehouse Fact Trackers and Who Was? books. I like to choose subjects that align with our social studies and science units.

I hope this helps inspire you to make your literature circles simple and meaningful! I'd love to hear from you. Do you use literature circles? What tips have you found that make them simple to manage. How do you ensure that students are spending most of the allotted time reading? What are your all time favorite books for literature circles?

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