Book Discussion Groups and Literacy Circles
The goal of Book Discussion Groups and Literature Circles is to engage students in literature through stories and topics that interest them. As students connect the ideas in stories to the issues in their own lives and the world around them, they also build higher-level thinking skills.
Practice in Action
What Is It?
Book Discussion Groups and Literature Circles use stories to engage students in discussions about what they're reading. Lively discussions give students a chance to ask questions and voice their opinions while building reading and analytical skills.
What Do I Do?
Choose a book or story that students are interested in reading. Ask them for their suggestions or for topics they would like to explore, or talk to their teachers to extend what they're learning in school. If you have many students with different reading levels, you may want to form small groups. Develop questions and model a discussion so that students understand how to analyze what they're reading. Be sure to talk about listening and respecting each other's opinions. After you have modeled a discussion, students can take turns leading and facilitating future discussions. You can give roles to other members of the group, such as writing a summary, keeping a list of new vocabulary, and recording questions and key points during the discussion. Encourage students to write down their own questions, reflections, or favorite quotes as they read. For students who are less comfortable speaking in a group, writing will help them prepare for discussions and develop their ideas more fully.
Why Does It Work?
Letting students choose their own books based on topics that interest them increases their incentive to read. Discussions engage students, and asking students for their opinions encourages participation, a sense of ownership, and an acceptance of different perspectives.
A primary way that English language learners become more proficient in English is through frequent, meaningful interaction with native English speakers. When conducting a small-group book discussion or literature circles, it's a good idea to group students with varying proficiency levels. Ask students choose roles within the group (e.g., "recorder," "facilitator," "reporter") and then rotate the roles so that all students have a chance to practice reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
All students, especially ELLs, benefit from exposure to learning strategies and study skills. Provide students with graphic organizers, list-making techniques, learning logs, or other tools that will help them formulate their reactions and questions as they read.
Provide students with a wide variety of multicultural, multilingual literature so they can select books that relate to their own unique backgrounds and interests.
Planning Your Lesson
Great afterschool lessons start with having a clear intention about who your students are, what they are learning or need to work on, and crafting activities that engage students while supporting their academic growth. Great afterschool lessons also require planning and preparation, as there is a lot of work involved in successfully managing kids, materials, and time.
Below are suggested questions to consider while preparing your afterschool lessons. The questions are grouped into topics that correspond to the Lesson Planning Template. You can print out the template and use it as a worksheet to plan and refine your afterschool lessons, to share lesson ideas with colleagues, or to help in professional development sessions with staff.
Lesson Planning Template (Word Document)
Lesson Planning Template Questions
What grade level(s) is this lesson geared to?
How long will it take to complete the lesson? One hour? One and a half hours? Will it be divided into two or more parts, over a week, or over several weeks?
What do you want students to learn or be able to do after completing this activity? What skills do you want students to develop or hone? What tasks do they need to accomplish?
List all of the materials needed that will be needed to complete the activity. Include materials that each student will need, as well as materials that students may need to share (such as books or a computer). Also include any materials that students or instructors will need for record keeping or evaluation. Will you need to store materials for future sessions? If so, how will you do this?
What do you need to do to prepare for this activity? Will you need to gather materials? Will the materials need to be sorted for students or will you assign students to be "materials managers"? Are there any books or instructions that you need to read in order to prepare? Do you need a refresher in a content area? Are there questions you need to develop to help students explore or discuss the activity? Are there props that you need to have assembled in advance of the activity? Do you need to enlist another adult to help run the activity?
Think about how you might divide up groups?who works well together? Which students could assist other peers? What roles will you assign to different members of the group so that each student participates?
Now, think about the Practice that you are basing your lesson on. Reread the Practice. Are there ways in which you need to amend your lesson plan to better address the key goal(s) of the Practice? If this is your first time doing the activity, consider doing a "run through" with friends or colleagues to see what works and what you may need to change. Alternatively, you could ask a colleague to read over your lesson plan and give you feedback and suggestions for revisions.
What to Do
Think about the progression of the activity from start to finish. One model that might be useful—and which was originally developed for science education—is the 5E's instructional model. Each phrase of the learning sequence can be described using five words that begin with "E": engage, explore, explain, extend, and evaluate. For more information, see the 5E's Instructional Model.
Outcomes to Look For
How will you know that students learned what you intended them to learn through this activity? What will be your signs or benchmarks of learning? What questions might you ask to assess their understanding? What, if any, product will they produce?
After you conduct the activity, take a few minutes to reflect on what took place. How do you think the lesson went? Are there things that you wish you had done differently? What will you change next time? Would you do this activity again?
A Midsummer Night's Dream (6-8)
After reviewing key themes and new vocabulary, students read a short story, a book, or a play together.
Duration: 55 minutes
- Read with understanding and respond thoughtfully to the text
- Connect literature to oneself and the world
- Participate in a discussion, giving everyone a chance to speak
- Listen, ask questions, and respect others' opinions
- A Midsummer Night's Dream from Shakespeare for Kids
- Chart paper for listing main characters and key vocabulary
- Review selection and identify key themes and any new vocabulary.
- List main characters and vocabulary words on chart paper.
- Come up with three or four discussion questions.
What to Do
- Introduce key themes and new vocabulary.
- Introduce main characters and practice pronouncing their names.
- Read the selection aloud (take turns reading).
- Discuss reading selection, emphasizing connections to students' lives and the world around them. For example: Do you think this would ever happen to you? Why or why not? What would you do if you were in this character's position?
Outcomes to Look For
- Fluency in reading aloud
- Pronunciation that demonstrates understanding of what's being read
- Comments and answers that reflect an understanding of literature, themes, and vocabulary
- Comments and answers that reflect students' ability to make connections to themselves and the world
- Full participation in discussion, listening, taking turns speaking, and showing respect for others' opinions
What Is Manga? (8-12)
Japanese Manga and American graphic novels provide teen readers with opportunities for cross-cultural learning, development of discussion skills, and practice with essential comprehension strategies.
Duration: Four to five 30-40 minute sessions
- Practice social skills for a good discussion--listening to others, contributing in turn, questioning, forming opinions, and negotiating positions
- Learn to apply research-based comprehension skills to popular fiction-- analyzing formats, questioning, connecting to experience, visualizing, forming predictions, making judgments, etc.
- Description of good discussion process and behaviors
- Information on Manga (Japanese comic books) characteristics and culture
- Graphic Novels: Suggestions for Librarians
- Chart of comprehension skills (PDF)
- Investigate resources and advice for planning literature circles. Literature Cicles @ Web English Teacher
- Lead a discussion to determine students' exposure to Japanese Manga and American graphic novels (who's read what, what's popular?).
- Distribute information about Japanese Manga and discuss/chart what students already know/want to learn about the formats and topics in both Japanese and American graphic novels.
- Working with what students want to know and their own book recommendations (above), locate book sets for use in literature circles.
What to Do
- Allow students to form groups based on their preferred type of graphic novel, American or Japanese, in translation.
- Introduce discussion skills and behavior and demonstrate the use of the comprehension chart (both listed above) to guide the groups.
- Schedule a series of regular meetings, allowing half of the time for reading and half for discussion.
- Work with students to develop goals for these meetings (what they want to learn and achieve).
- As students read, have them use sticky notes to the mark the sections they want to talk about.
- Monitor groups during each meeting--coaching students if they have difficulties (such as staying on task or deepening the discussion) or asking a successful group to model for others.
- Work with students to develop extension activities (drawing a Manga episode, writing reviews, interviewing elders about favorite graphic novels, etc.).
Outcomes to Look For
- Student engagement and enjoyment in sharing responses to the popular fiction they have selected
- Evidence of good discussion skills (taking turns, listening attentively, generating questions, negotiating differences, etc.)
- Ability to apply comprehension skills independently and with peers
- Interest in extension activities and further learning
After reading a story aloud, students engage in a discussion about what was read, what it means, and the connections they can make between the literature, their own lives, and the world around them.
Duration: 30 minutes
- Read for a variety of purposes
- Recognize fluent, expressive reading
- Make connections between literature, students' own lives, and the world around them
- Comprehend, interpret, and engage in literature through discussion
- Listen, ask questions, and respect others' opinions
- The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant (1 copy per student)
- Review the story in advance, noting key themes and any new vocabulary words.
- Jot down any potential discussion questions.
What to Do
- Review the book title and cover with students, inviting any predictions.
- Read The Relatives Came aloud, pausing to ask questions and introduce any new vocabulary.
- After reading, ask students the discussion questions, or use comments that came up during the reading to generate questions for discussion.
- Questions may include: Have your relatives ever come to visit? Where did they come from? How did they travel? Where did they sleep? What did you do together? Does your family go to visit relatives? Why do you think people travel so far to visit relatives?
- Through questioning and modeling, help students connect the story to their own lives and to universal themes.
- To model connections, you might say: I remember one summer when my two cousins from Texas came to stay... Or I wonder why some people don't visit their relatives so often... In general, model the types of connections that you want children to make in the discussion.
- Some children will make connections easily and engage in discussion readily; others will need more prompting. Support student participation by asking open-ended questions and modeling your own connections as shown above.
Outcomes to Look For
- Student engagement and participation
- Comments and answers that reflect an understanding of the story, key themes, and word meanings
- Students take turns talking and listening and respect others' opinions
- Comments and answers that reflect students' ability to connect the literature to their own lives and the world around them
Explore these resources to assist in implementing the Book Discussion Groups and Literature Circles practice in your program.
Technology Tip for this practice
Keep students coming back to your afterschool program by involving them in an online project. All you need is a single computer with Internet access. Go to ePALS Classroom Exchange to find groups of students interested in reading the same book your students are reading. Post a set of discussion questions to be used for book discussions. Then share with those that have joined your virtual literature circle the results of your students' book talks as well as notes that come to you from other groups in the project. ePALS, a free, protected resource, not only provides access to multilingual online classroom communities, but will also give you great ideas for getting started collaborating online.
ePALS Classroom Exchange www.epals.com
A Web resource for educators interested in student-led book discussion groups, featuring book recommendations, classroom management ideas, links to related sites and organizations, and news of relevant publications and events.
- Literature Circles Resource Center
Created by the Seattle University School of Education, this site offers tips on choosing and procuring books, discussion guidelines and prompts, sample themed units and extension projects.
Dickinson, D. & Smith, M. (1994). Long-term effects of preschool teachers' book readings on low-income children's vocabulary and story comprehension. Reading Research Quarterly, 29(2), 105-122.
Gambrell, L. (1996). What the research reveals about discussion. In L. Gambrell & J. Almasi (Eds.), Lively discussions! Fostering engaged reading (pp. 25-38). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Spielberger, J. & Halpern, R. (2002). The role of after-school programs in children's literacy development.Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall Center for Children.
General Literacy Web Resources
- SEDL Reading Resources
- Bank Street College of Education Guide to Literacy for Volunteers and Tutors
- International Reading Association
- Literacy Information and Communication System (LINCS)
- Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement
- RAND Reading Study Group
- Institute for the Development of Educational Achievement
- Federal Resources for Educational Excellence (FREE)
- Reading Rockets
- The Children's Literature Web Guide
- Fun Brain
- Teaching Reading, K-2, A Library of Classroom Practices
General Literacy Text Resources
- Fountas, I. & Pinnell, G. (1996). Guided reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. A comprehensive resource for implementation of guided reading activities
- National Research Council. (2000). Starting out right: A guide to promoting reading success.Washington DC: National Academy Press.
- Braunger, J. & Lewis, J.P. (1997). Building a knowledge base in reading. Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. This synthesis of research on how children learn how to read provides a baseline for educators and policymakers to consider in helping all children to meet higher standards.
- Novick, R. (2002). Many paths to literacy: Language learning and literacy in the primary classroom.Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. This resource provides guidance on selecting children's books, and specific strategies to build comprehension from emergent literacy to independent reading.
- Curtis, M. & Longo, A. (1990). When adolescents can't read: Methods and materials that work.Cambridge, MA, Brookline Books.
- RMC Research Corp. (2001). Put reading first: Helping your child learn to read. A parent guide. Preschool through grade 3. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy.
Describes the kinds of early literacy activities that should take place at school and at home to help children learn to read successfully. Designed for parents, based on the findings of the National Reading Panel.
- Armbruster, B.B., Lehr, F., & Osborn, J. (2001). Put reading first: The research building blocks for teaching children to read, kindergarten through grade 3. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy. Summarizes what researchers have discovered about how to teach children to read successfully. It describes the findings of the National Reading Panel Report and provides analysis and discussion in five areas of reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension.