In this previous post, I introduced the idea of starting a literature circle in your co-op or with a group of friends. Let’s say you’ve picked your theme and your books. So what does an actual literature circle look like?
Literature circle looks a lot like an English class but without the writing and grammar components. It’s all about reading, discussion, and fitting things together. As I discussed in the first part of this post, my classes are 10 weeks long, featuring three books dealing with a single theme.
You could have a class/book club in which you just discuss the book, but I suggest a directed approach that requires more interactive reading at home and a somewhat structured (with room for tangential ideas) classroom discussion.
- Homework with discussion questions. I generally devote three weeks to each book, so I divide the chapters by three and assign that many chapters per week. (I use chapters rather than page numbers, since students might have different editions of a book.) If you are using a study guide by Glencoe, Shmoop, or another resource, select 5-10 questions for homework, or read the chapters and come up with your own questions. Think of the questions as a discussion guideline rather than busywork. Which questions will foster the most discussion?
- Discussion. Obviously, this is the most important part of the class. We discuss the questions given on the homework as well as others that come up. I love watching where these discussions go, but I always have to reign the kids back to the main topic eventually.
- Poster presentation. This is one of the most valuable parts of our literature circle because the students are delving deeper into the topic on their own. Generally the posters are biographical, but they could be topical, as well. For example, for our African-American Experience class, we gave each student the name of a famous African-American, ranging from Phyllis Wheatley to Barack Obama. Each student puts together a poster with biographical facts, photos, quotes, and other information. Students then give a 3-5 minute “speech,” during which they introduce their person. Rather than doing all the poster in one or two classes, I like to have 2-3 students present each week.
- Guest speaker. We usually take one class period for a guest speaker. We ask our guest to prepare a short (5 minute) talk about his/her experience and then have our class ask questions. For our World War II Perspectives, my father, a WWII veteran, came to speak to the class. For our African-American Experience circle, we had a fascinating session with my co-teacher’s father, who was among the first five African-American students integrated into the public school system in our town.
This is the basic format for my literature circles, but, of course, homeschooling is all about flexibility. Again, my literature circles are for middle-school students. If you are leading a circle for elementary students, you would probably want to add in hands-on activities, including games and crafts, to enhance the reading.
So what have my students learned from literature circles?
- To read carefully and pointedly, and to connect different perspectives on a single theme.
- To discuss and gently analyze literature without the pressure of exams and essays
- To make connections in literature to real life
- To conduct research on a topic and put together a poster presentation
- To speak in front of their peers
Starting a literature circle involves planning and organization, but the results are well worth the effort. You’re preparing your kids for upper-level literature courses; they just know that they are having fun. Again, there is something especially exciting and enriching about discussing literature in a group setting. Most kids love discussing books; they just don’t necessarily know it!
Sarah Small has been homeschooling for 11 years. She has her master’s degree in English/creative writing. She writes about homeschooling, family, and life in general at SmallWorld at Home. She also offers SmallWorld’s WordSmithery, an ongoing series of free creative writing lessons.