To Educate the Human Potential, p. 11.
Literature circles are often used in a Montessori upper elementary environment as part of a student-centered, reader-response based literature program. I had my first encounter with using literature circles in my own upper elementary classroom. And like anything where there is freedom of choice, the student response and enthusiasm for reading was unparalleled.
A literature circle is a small group of students who come together to read and discuss the same book. Each student assumes a different role within the group. The students take turns leading discussions and assuming roles that expand on their ability to analyze text in different ways. The teacher, in true Montessori spirit, acts as the facilitator, and allows the discussion to be controlled by the students.
How to Make the Literature Circle a Success
Teachers who are new to Montessori may worry about giving up control and allowing students to construct their own meaning from texts. After all, how can students possibly know what a book is about if teachers don’t tell them?
However, literature circles are part of the carefully planned Montessori environment. There is much work that goes on behind the scenes before the literature circle takes place, preparing students for success. First, the teacher identifies which books will be discussed. Will there be a theme, for instance, to coincide with a cultural topic, or will the books be selected from award-winning children’s authors? Perhaps, they will all be coming of age stories.
Once the teacher has decided the theme or types of books the students will discuss, she determines how many groups there will be. She then chooses enough titles for each group, making sure to have ideas for two or three books beyond that to give students a good variety.
Literature Circle Roles and Responsibilities
The teacher also decides the roles that students will take on in in each group. Going over the duties and responsibilities of each role beforehand is important so that students understand what is expected of them. Literature circles usually include the following roles:
If you have large groups, you might even have someone in charge of organizing, planning, and preparing snacks!
The students’ roles change each time the group meets, with new roles being decided upon before the students adjourn their session.
Students are held accountable for their work and for their learning by their peers. If someone does not do his or her job, the whole group suffers. After the final literature circle, students are each asked to write a reflection of how the literature circle went, including both what worked well and what they would improve.
Literature circles allow everyone a chance to participate and contribute. Small group discussion provides a more comfortable environment than speaking in front of a large class, and students feel empowered to analyze and construct their own meaning from a text.
|Literature Circles are...||Literature Circles are not...|
|Reader response centered||Teacher and text centered|
|Part of a balanced literacy program||The entire reading curriculum|
|Groups formed by book choice||Teacher-assigned groups formed solely by ability|
|Structured for student independence, responsibility, and ownership||Unstructured, uncontrolled "talk time" without accountability|
|Guided primarily by student insights and questions||Guided primarily by teacher- or curriculum-based questions|
|Intended as a context in which to apply reading and writing skills||Intended as a place to do skills work|
|Flexible and fluid; never look the same twice||Tied to a prescriptive "recipe"|
To learn more about literature circles, please visit:
Aguilar, Elena. An East Oakland Odyssey: Exploring the Love of Reading in a Small School. http://insideteaching.org/quest/collections/sites/aguilar_elena/index.htm
Curtis, Christopher Paul. Annenberg Learner. “Teaching strategies: literature circles.” https://www.learner.org/workshops/tml/workshop5/teaching3.html
Montessori School of Bali. “Literary circles.” November 28, 2017. https://www.montessoribali.com/literary-circles/
Noe, Katherine L. Schlick. Literature Circles Resource Center. http://www.litcircles.org/index.html