Literature Circles provide elementary students with valuable opportunities to discuss literary works in detail, and to develop better reading and writing skills. E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web can be successfully utilized to enhance the quality of elementary curriculum and to create a new interactive reading climate in classroom. Regardless the type of the book for discussion, the teacher must ensure that students are prepared for the discussion and that they understand the plot and the context of the discussed text. Literature Circles offer direct opportunities for improving student reading, writing, and literacy skills, along with the development of self-confidence, self-esteem, and socialization skills between learners.
Literature Circles Focus Paper
Literature Circles provide elementary students with valuable opportunities to discuss literary works in detail, and to develop better reading and writing skills. Literature Circles offer a new interactive instructional approach to reading curriculum, making students read, generate their own ideas, and discuss them in class. Literature Circles form a new student-centered instructional strategy and help create a new open atmosphere in class, where every student plays the role assigned to him, and where every student has the right to express his thoughts relating to the discussed literary work.
In general terms, Literature Circles are “student centered reading activities for a group of 4-6 students at any grade level. Each member of a circle is assigned a role which helps guide the group discussion” (Day & Spiegel, 2002). Literature Circles offer students a chance to control the pace of their own learning; they are encouraged to share their concerns and thoughts regarding the novel or its specific details. In other words, Literature Circles may also be described as “temporarily formed small groups that read and discuss the same text” (Daniels, 1994). To become prepared for the discussion, each group member should be assigned a specific role. Discussion groups meet several times to discuss the same text in more detail; after each discussion session, student discussion roles are rotated. As soon as the group completes text analysis, the results of the discussion may be delivered to a wider audience. At this point of learning, the teacher may choose a different text and a different set of participants, who will meet “to conduct their own wide-ranging, self-sustaining discussions” (Day & Spiegel, 2002).
The choice of books for elementary school students should meet several essential criteria: the book should be simple and understandable to the reader; the reader should not find more than 2-3 unknown words per page; the reader should clearly understand what he (she) is reading; reading fluency is critical for the success of the Literature Circle. E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web meets all these criteria and can be successfully utilized to enhance the quality of elementary curriculum and to create a new interactive reading climate in classroom. Certainly, students are free to choose their own text for discussion, but in this case Charlotte’s Web may serve a good example for exploring the benefits, issues, and implications of Literature Circles in elementary school curriculum. It is important that the teacher divides the class into several different groups, with several different texts assigned to each group. It is even more important that groups meet on regular basis and that every student is prepared to scheduled discussion of his (her) portion of the chosen text. Finally, children themselves are to generate new discussion topics, play various roles, and be able to evaluate the quality of their literary achievements in the close teacher-student interaction. In any kind of Literature Circle, the teacher is always the facilitator of the discussion, creating appropriate climate, organizing the process of discussion, assigning student roles, and observing the benefits students obtain during Literature Circle activities.
Regardless the type of the book for discussion, the teacher must ensure that students are prepared for the discussion and that they understand the plot and the context of the discussed text. Before holding the first meeting with students, the text of Charlotte’s Web will be divided into several separate sections, with each section assigned to a different student. Each student will be given a specific role (e.g., that of connector, alternate facilitator, character captain, vocabulary enricher, or artful adventurer). The first discussion will take place as soon as all students complete their portion of reading and are prepared to discuss their reading experiences with other group members. A role worksheet may help students maintain the natural course of discussion by performing their roles competently. Students should make written notes to understand the discussed text in depth.
The Literature Circle may start with a brainstorming activity, where each student will be asked to find the central theme of the novel: is it loyalty, friendship, hardship, or realities that make the story so attractive? Students must be able to support their arguments and ideas. This activity will set the direction for further discussion, where participants will have to use information from their portion of the text to prove or refute the relevance of the discussed topic. Sample questions may include: “What traits of character have turned Charlotte and Wilbur into good friends?”; “How can you prove that Charlotte was Wilbur’s true friend?”; “Can you see any human character traits in these animals?”, etc. The results of the discussion may also be reflected in the form of a written web, where students will need to write down the major themes, character traits, and plot details, to form an objective view of the book. It should be noted that in Literature Circles, teachers “are passive participants, tracking students’ involvement and understanding the text” (Day & Spiegel, 2002). Thus, the group is free to put its own discussion questions, to decide what portion of the text should be read by each participant, and how the roles will rotate during the next Literature Circle. At the final stage of literary discussion, the group will be asked to present its findings to the rest of the class. Students will assess each other; self-assessment results will be combined with the results of the teacher’s assessment. A written survey will help evaluate possible gaps in student knowledge and help them choose another book for discussion.
Literature Circles offer a new interactive approach to learning in elementary classroom. Literature Circles form a collaborative vision of how knowledge can be delivered and evaluated in elementary school. Literature Circles offer direct opportunities for improving student reading, writing, and literacy skills, along with the development of self-confidence, self-esteem, and socialization skills between learners. To prevent Literature Circles from failure, the teacher must ensure that students are free to choose the book for discussion, to generate discussion ideas, and to direct the discussion in a way to satisfy their learning needs. Ultimately, Literature Circles teach elementary students “the ability to identify and achieve goals based on the foundation of knowing and valuing oneself” (Day & Spiegel, 2002).
Daniels, H. (1994). Literature circles: voice and choice in the student-centered classroom.
Portland: Stenhouse Publishers.
Day, J.P. & Spiegel, D.L. (2002). Moving forward with literature circles: how to plan,
manage, and evaluate literature circles to deepen understanding and foster a love of reading. Theory and Practice.