click here to download
a copy of a ballot as a pdf file
Teacher Selection: As you select books for literature
circles, here are some considerations to keep in mind:
of a Good Literature Circle Book
A good literature circle book touches something within the reader's
heart and mind and compels response. You can use some fairly
simple criteria to help you find such books.
example, consider these three questions: "Does the
book succeed in arousing my emotions and will it arouse children's
emotions? Is the book well written? Is the book meaningful?"
(Monson, 1995, p. 113).* In short, a good literature circle
book has substance -- something worth talking about.
addition to content, consider a book's layout -- number of pages,
size of print, inviting space on the page, use and placement of
illustrations. These can be crucial deciding factors for
students as they choose a book. If the configuration
of pages and print is too overwhelming, a book may seem insurmountably
difficult even though its content is riveting. As
veteran teacher Dan Kryszak says, "You can tell a well laid-out
book, as if it says, 'Hey, I've got a great story. Come
on in and relax and enjoy it' not 'Here it is -- BAM.
Hurry up or you'll never finish!'"
can you tell if a book will work? Here are some specific
considerations that teachers make when choosing books for literature
content -- action, suspense, dialogue, humor, controversy:
Most teachers look for books in which the story blasts off
from the first few pages. Books with action and conflict
automatically prompt response. As Janine King said,
"If students disagree with what the characters are doing,
they'll talk. If they think the character's making some
bad choices, they can get pretty riled up and want to talk
about that, too."
characters: As readers, we all want characters
we can come to know, characters so real that they could walk
down the street with us.
books with strong, colorful illustrations that support the
story: Illustrations can be as important as
story content in sparking response, particularly for beginning
* Monson, D. (1995). Choosing books for literature circles.
In B.C. Hill, N.J. Johnson, & K.L. Schlick Noe. (Eds.).
Literature circles and response. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon
Publishers, Inc., 113.
important to accept that the first few times, you may not be able
to find "perfect" literature circle books -- sometimes you
just have to start with what you can find.
are some possible ways to choose your first literature circle
your goals: First grade teacher Vicki Yousoofian's
goal for her first round of literature circles was "just to
start." To begin, Vicki chose the material she had closest
at hand: the basal anthology. She found a story
that would reinforce reading skills she was already teaching.
On the other hand, Adam Brauch knew his school library had
a class set of Bunnicula (1979) by Deborah and James
Howe, so he chose that. He wanted something funny that
he knew his third graders would enjoy. His goal was
to entice his students into literature circles through humor.
Because Janine King's goal was for her middle school students
to begin their discussions with a substantive book right off
the bat, she took time to find just the right book before
she started literature circles. Janine selected Mildred
Taylor's Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1976) because
she knew it had the depth and drama she sought.
what you have in your classroom: Sometimes it's
not your goals that drive your choice of books. You
may start with a story in the basal anthology or it may be
one book that everyone reads because that is what's available
or simply because there are enough copies for everyone.
In order to begin, you may have to settle for a less-than-perfect
what is available in your school: Your teaching
colleagues and the school librarian can be excellent sources
of good books that have worked in other classrooms.
One of the most effective book-finding strategies is "Walk
the School." Gather your colleagues and literally walk
through your school, looking in bookshelves, opening closets,
scanning the entire building for books that surely are there
but have been long overlooked. You may be surprised
at the literature treasury you unearth.
Many professional books include book lists. You might
start by looking through a text you or a colleague used in a
children's literature course. In addition, the Literature
Circles Resource Guide (Hill, Schlick Noe, and Johnson,
2000) provides sample book lists and a database of over 2,000
books for literature circles is searchable by theme, genre,
time period. The annotated bibliography in Literature
Circles and Response (Hill, Johnson, & Schlick Noe,
1995) offers high-quality books organized by themes. The
list includes picture books, easy chapter books, novels, informational
books, and poetry. You will also find helpful suggestions
in professional books that are not necessarily written about
literature circles. For example, Regie Routman's Invitations:
Changing as Teachers and Learners K-12 (1991, 1994)
Strategies for Teaching, Learning, and Evaluating (1999)
provide extensive lists of children's and young adult literature
categorized by grade level (p. 103b-166b). A effective
resource for multicultural literature is Violet J. Harris's
edited book, Using
Multiethnic Literature in the K-8 Classroom (1997).
In addition, an excellent resource for picture books is Ruth
Books: An Annotated Bibliography with Activities for Teaching
Writing (1998). A useful computer resource for
book selection is The
Horn Book Guide, Interactive (1998), a CD-ROM listing
over 29,000 short reviews of children's and young adult literature
from The Horn Book Magazine.
this sound familiar: "What is a good third grade book?"
Or how about this: "I teach sixth grade, and my students
read anywhere from first grade level through high school.
How am I going to find books at all those levels?"
You have to let go of the idea that you must
find books written specifically for a given grade level.
Remember that one of the benefits of literature circles is that
they allow students to work together to understand and enjoy books.
Therefore, students can respond to books in literature circles
that aren't necessarily right at their independent reading level.
Pursue books with a range of difficulty
the same way you look for any book -- talk with colleagues and
your students, look at the books themselves, help your students
learn to choose books that work for them. Comb all of the
book resources suggested.
And try out the book sets that we recommend. At each grade
level, we have included books that are easier to read and also
How Much to Read
Students reading picture books or short stories may be able to
read the entire selection before they discuss. For novels, a good
rule of thumb is to have students discuss at three points in the
book – after the first third or so, somewhere near the middle,
and at the end. You can divide the books into reading segments
– or you can guide students to look over the book, taking
into account how many discussion days you have set aside, and
divide up their book themselves. This will involve a couple of
focus lessons: How to identify good “discussion points,”
how to come to agreement on how much each group member can read
at one time, how to figure out logical stopping places.
Time for Reading
Time should be structured into the day for students to read their
literature circle books. Students can do this independently,
as partners, or in a larger group. Teachers often worry
that inexperienced and challenged readers will not be able to
participate fully in literature circles because the books are
too hard for them. You may find that you need to make special
accommodations so that all students can read their books and participate
effectively in literature circle discussions. Here are some
ways to help students who are either inexperienced or who have
difficulties with reading:
- Beginning Readers
Young students can accomplish the reading in a variety of
ways. You can read the books with them during shared
reading time. Then, they can read the books a second
time with an adult volunteer, older reader, or at home with
family members. Students can also read with a class
partner. By this time, they have had several exposures
to the book and it should be fairly familiar. First
graders do not need to be able to read a book on their own
in order to talk about it.
- Challenged Readers
Literature circles can have great benefits for students who
are not strong readers. Third grade teacher Mary Lou
Laprade explains about one of her struggling readers:
"When he read aloud, he would stumble and I know he was embarrassed.
But when he sat at book club, he had some insights that none
of the others had even thought of. He got the chance
to hear books and discuss books that would have been out of
his reach if he were stuck with the simple books at his own
level." Guiding challenged readers through their literature
circle books may include the strategies mentioned above as
well as these:
Provide additional time to complete the reading
Read the book with resource teachers or other specialists
Partner read the book with a classmate
Listen to the book on tape and read along.
Multiple Copies of Books
Teachers use some or all of the following ways to obtain multiple
copies of books for literature circles:
Share book sets
with other teachers at your grade level in your school and
perhaps neighboring schools;
Use bonus points
from your students' book orders to buy book sets;
Work with your
school and public libraries to gather multiple copies;
through your Parent/Teacher/Student Association to buy books;
garage sales, and bookstores that sell used books.
to Structure: General Guidelines: Reading
Here are some suggestions
for guiding students to select their literature circle books.
The process of choosing a book to read is remarkably similar across
grade levels -- first graders follow pretty much the same procedure
as do middle school students.
Students How to Make Good Book Choices
We've all had students who chose a literature circle book for
the reason that Hannah did: "Out of all those books, it
was the only one calling my name." Students may need guidance
to select books that call their names as well as books that they
can read. Help students understand that making
effective choices goes beyond finding the shortest (or longest)
book. Selecting a book that holds your interest and gives
you something worth discussing with others is part of becoming
a critical reader.
There are several simple strategies for students
to use as they choose a book that's right. Commonly known
as the "five finger rule" or the "rule of thumb," one strategy
is to pick up a book and begin to read anywhere. If you
come to a word or place in the text that is hard, put up a finger.
If you get to the end of a page or two and all five fingers are
extended, the book may be too difficult for you. Another
process (Ohlhausen & Jepsen, 1992)
guides students to identify books that are "Too Easy," "Just Right,"
and "Too Hard."
their book talks, many teachers set the books on the chalk tray
or on a table, arranged according to difficulty. You do
not need a readability formula to tell you how difficult a book
will be for your students to read. Examine it. Flip
through the pages. Look at the language, typeface -- even
the size of the print. Ask other teachers and students what
they would say about its level. These informal -- and quick
-- assessments can give you the information needed.
Guiding students to make good choices for themselves
-- and then honoring those choices yourself -- is not always easy.
If we decide what books are at a child's "reading level," then
we're taking away choice. Sometimes, you may just have to
trust a child to make a good choice -- and then support her as
Choice Most teachers discover that the
best way to engender ownership and "buy in" for literature circles
is to give students choice in the books they read. No matter
what books you have chosen, scrounged, or discovered -- allow
students to select the one they want to read. A key element
of choice is offering a range of books that fit what you know
about your students' abilities and interests. If your
overall goal is for students to delve deeply into a book and construct
meaning collaboratively with others, you'll probably want the
groups to be heterogeneous by gender, experience, and ability
-- keeping students' choice as a high priority.
Through Book Talks Informal introductions
invite students to select and read a book by sharing just enough
information to entice them without giving anything away.
You might read aloud a short selection to give students a sense
of the language and story. Better yet, ask students
who have already read the book to give the book talk. This
will be easier and more effective later in the year as more books
have been read in your classroom.
Build in Time
to Preview the Choices Many teachers
provide time for students to sample the book choices as they decide
which one they want to read. If you give the book talks
in the morning, for example, you might leave the books out during
recess and lunch so that students can do a "hands on" perusal.
Allowing enough time at this point is an effective way to honor
your commitment to choice.
First, Second, and Third Choices When
students are ready to choose, distribute either pre-printed ballots
or small pieces of blank paper on which students write their name
and list one to three book choices (see ballots below).
The key here is to help students understand that their first choice
is the book they most want to read; their second and third choices
should also be books that sound interesting and that they would
be able to read if they cannot have their first choice.
Groups Although student choice is at
the core of literature circles, it is really choice with teacher
guidance. You know your students well, and you should take
the lead in forming the groups, taking into consideration what
your students have chosen. Four to five members is an ideal
group size -- enough to generate discussion but not too many to
stifle individuals. Janine King uses a simple and effective
method for forming groups in her sixth grade classroom.
The process takes about 10 minutes and can easily be done while
students are at recess. She spreads out the ballots
on a table to get an overview of which students have selected
which books for their first choices. She writes the book
titles on a tablet with five